Laertes and the Ghost as Foils in Shakespeare's Hamlet

Laertes and the Ghost as Foils in Shakespeare's Hamlet

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Laertes and the Ghost as Foils in Hamlet         

 

The play, Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, could be considered as a modern day soap opera. It contains everything from murder to betrayal and a lot of drama. Each character appears to be going through some sort of problem in the play. Of all the characters, Hamlet has the most hardships. In order to show why Hamlet makes the choices he does, who he is, and what he is about, Shakespeare creates Laertes and the ghost as foils for Hamlet. The foils allow the reader to gain a much more profound understanding of Hamlet.

     To fully understand the concepts of foils in a play, one must understand what a foil means. According to The Random House College Dictionary [sic], a foil is, " A person or thing that makes another seem better by contrast" (511). By showing the similarities and differences between a minor character (Laertes or the ghost) and a major character (Hamlet), Shakespeare allows the reader to grasp a better understanding of Hamlet. Another purpose of a foil is to merely be there for the major character to talk to. The ghost achieves this function by coming around to speak with Hamlet. This is the only reason for the ghost to exist in the play. With the help of Laertes and the ghost, the reader has an enhanced understanding of Hamlet and his actions.

     To see Laertes as a foil for Hamlet, you must first examine the similarities. The most obvious are the age and sex of the characters. Hamlet and Laertes are both of the relative same age, and they are both males. Their fathers are both dead. Laertes' father's murder was committed by Hamlet. While speaking with his mother, Hamlet, "Thrusts his rapier through the arras" (692). Polonius is behind the arras. He kills him. Hamlet's father is also murdered. According to the ghost, "'Tis given out that, sleeping in my orchard, a serpent stung me. So the whole ear or Denmark is by a forged process of my death . . . the serpent that did sting thy father's life now wears his crown" (648). The ghost tells his son to, "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder" (648). This causes Hamlet to become revenge oriented. Laertes is also driven to revenge due to his father's death. Due to this revenge, the men both are stabbed by a poisonous sword, which kills them both.

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    The differences are just as important to the foil as similarities. As stated in the similarities, both of the men's fathers are murdered. However, the way they are murdered is different. Hamlet's father is murdered by Claudius, and Laertes’ father is murdered by Hamlet. King Hamlet is murdered by poison and Polonious is stabbed by a sword. Each of these differences helps to add to the significance of Laertes as a foil for Hamlet. Due to the fact that both are out for revenge, they kill each other to avenge their father's murders. These differences, the different murders of their fathers, make for the duel, which causes the death of both of the men.

     The ghost is also a foil for Hamlet in the play. Some of the similarities between the ghost and Hamlet are that they are both males and they are related to one another. King Hamlet is the father of Hamlet. Their social class is the same due to the fact that they are related. Another similarity is that they both have a love for the Queen, Gertrude. When the ghost was speaking with Hamlet he said, "Taint not thy mind nor let thy soul contrive against thy mother aught. Leave her to heaven" (650). This shows his love for his wife even after she married his brother. Another similarity is the fact that they both die by poison. All of these similarities can create a link between the ghost and Hamlet as a foil.

     The differences between the ghost and Hamlet are the fact that obviously, one is dead and one is alive (at least in the meeting). However, the way they die is different. King Hamlet died by poison and Hamlet died by a poisonous sword. King Hamlet's death is important to the play because, without his murder Hamlet would not have a reason to avenge his father's death [because he would not be dead]. Revenge would no longer be his prime motivation in life. The ghost is a minor character in the play and only speaks with Hamlet. The sole reason for the ghost being in the play is to be there for Hamlet to speak with. 

     The ghost and Laertes are important characters in the play Hamlet. Without them, you would not fully understand what causes Hamlet to do the things he does. [You haven't given very many specific examples of this.] Through the similarities you see how the foils can be related to one another.. Foils simply enhance your perception of the character. [Change just the names, and this paragraph could be used to conclude an essay on foils in A Doll's House. That makes the conclusion a bit too broad.]
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