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(1) In many short stories and plays there are persons involved which [who] help characterize other main characters. This process of characterization is called a foil. [A foil is not a process.] "A foil is a minor character, who by similarities and differences, reveals characteristics of a more important character, and who, as an element of plot, is there for the more important character to talk to" (Vavra). The foils in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, help the reader understand the main character; [, not ;] Hamlet.

(2) Hamlet’s "excellent good friends", Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, are prime examples of a foil (Act 2, Scene 2 line 218). [Note] Claudius, the king, sent for them explicitly to find out what has been bothering him. [Ref - "him" here grammatically refers to Claudius, not to Hamlet.] When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern arrive in Denmark, Hamlet is aware that something is amiss. He begins to question them in a puzzling manner. Through Hamlet[']s questioning of them, we learn that Hamlet is very observant of suspicious behavior. This is seen again in Act 3, Scene 2 when Hamlet has the "players" perform a play of his father’s murder. Throughout the theatrical performance, Hamlet had no doubt that Claudius, his uncle, murdered his brother for the throne.

(3) The realization of his father’s murder begins with the conversation he had with his father’s ghost. The ghost tells him to "revenge his foul and most unnatural murder"(Act 1, Scene 5 line 26). [Note] Because of his father[']s murder[,] he begins to go insane. This insanity, or madness, increases during the play’s progression. The idea of madness is suggested later on in the play when Laertes learns of his father’s death. Laertes’s madness comes about suddenly, rather than gradually. The characters, Hamlet and Laertes, have other comparisons [similarities?] which help characterize Hamlet.

(4) Laertes, brother of Ophelia, has a unique type [Can a "type" be "unique"?] of love, known only to brothers and sisters. He cares for his sister, and advises her to stay distant from Hamlet, because his love for her might be false. Hamlet has a strong love for her, but until the end of the play it is questionable, to both the reader and the other characters. When he sees that she has died, he states his love for her, "forty-thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum" (Act 5, Scene 1 lines 243-245).

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Laertes and Hamlet both have short tempers, which in turn pushes them toward imprudent actions. When conversing with his mother, Hamlet accidentally stabs and kills Polonius, the kings’ [king's] servant. Hamlet, acting on sudden anger along with his madness thought that it was Claudius whom he killed. "How now? A rat? Dead for a ducat. Dead!" (Act 3 Scene 4 line 25). [Why is the quotation relevant here?] This, in conjunction with Leartes drawing his sword upon Claudius when he hears of his father’s death, proves that he [Hamlet? or Laertes?] too does not realize his reckless behavior.

(5) Hamlet’s encounter with the clown (gravedigger) [Similarities to show that the clown can be considered a foil?] reveals some subtitles [sic] about his character. One of which is a fascination with death. [Frag -1] The gravedigger tosses up skulls and Hamlet contemplates on whom they once were. "This might be the pate of a politician"; "or of a courtier"; "why may not that be the skull of a lawyer" (Act 5 Scene 1 lines 68-86). When Hamlet holds the skull of Yorik, the dead kings’ [king's] jester, he finds himself thinking back to when he was a child. "He hath bore me on his back a thousand times, and now abhorred in my imagination it is" (Act 5, Scene 1 lines 162-164). After looking at the skulls, Hamlet says, "Is this the fine of his fines and the recovery of his recoveries, to have his fine pate full of fine dirt?" (Act 5 Scene 1 lines 92-94). This hints that Hamlet is pondering the thought of death’s worth. Does Hamlet start to question whether or not killing Claudius is meriting? The gravedigger also brings out happiness and cherished memories from within Hamlet. He revealed that Hamlet had a joyous life as a child, and was not always inflicted with this madness.

(6) Throughout William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, [Titles] minor characters reveal the hidden characteristics of Hamlet. From his two friends, who exposed a cunningnous within him, to a gravedigger that was called a clown, the character of Hamlet was deciphered. Although Hamlet was going mad all through the play, he did "win" in the end. His character was sneaky, loving, psychotic, incestuous [evidence?] and even humorous at times. The importance of literary foils is apparent [in] all short stories and plays [You cannot generalize from one example, Hamlet, to "all."]; without them the main characters would be viewed, and characterized differently. The significance of the foils in Hamlet allows the reader to have a clearer understanding of the main character and theme behind the play.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet as read in Barnet, S., Berman, M., Burto, W., Stubbs, M. Literature for Composition, (1996) (pages 628-735) New York, NY: Harper Collins.

Vavra, E. Dr. – Definition of "literary foil" taken from class notes.
Spring semester, 1998
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