In Hamlet, itseems as though every character in some way, acts as a foil to Hamlet. Givinhgthe relationship, the three major man foils to Hamlet are Fortinbras, Laertesand Claudius. It seems Shakespeare created these foils in order for hisaudience to gain a better understanding of Hamlet, by giving him characters torelate to. Hamlet revolves mostly around his deep thoughts and performedmadness, which helps us in understanding his psychological processes.
But bythe art of paralleling the three different characters (Claudius, Laertes andFortinbras) with Hamlet, Shakespeare reveals much deeper about Hamlet’spersonality than just through his own personal thoughts and actions. Hamlet’ssituation seems to be almost similar to the situation of these three men,respectivel. He’s a father- murderer as well as someone whose father wasmurdered, and through Claudius and Laertes actions and reactions, we canevaluate Hamlet more thoroughly as a character.Fortinbras: Shakespearereveals many importance throughout the play using Hamlet and Fortinbras’scharacters. To consider those importance, the comparison between the two isvery essential.
Such comparison reveal a lot about both the characters and thestory of the play as a whole. There is a lot similar between both of thesecharacters and at the same time they have equal differences. The similaritiesbetween these two are that the character Fortinbras in Hamlet is a young princeof Norway.
He has been used as a foil for the main character Hamlet, who is thePrince of Denmark. Both Hamlet and Fortinbras have lost their fathers. Hamlet’sfather, King Hamlet, was murdered by his uncle Claudius and Fortinbras’ fatherwas killed by King Hamlet in the battle. Both Hamlet and Fortinbras have vowedto take revenge of their fathers’ deaths. However, their way of taking onrevenge is the completely opposite of each other. On one hand, Hamlet, afterlearning the truth about his father’s death that it was a murder committed byClaudius , promise to take revenge, after waiting and making sure what was theabsolute truth before his very first attempt to take revenge on Claudius. Evenafter confirming that Claudius is the murderer, Hamlet hesitates to kill him.
On the other hand, Fortinbras has been planning on revenge even before the playbegins. As the play opens, we learn in Act 1 that Denmark is in a state of alert.The audience comes to know that the country has been preparing for a war, andfrom Horatio, the audience also learns that the young Fortinbras is gettingready his “lawless resolutes” for action against Denmark for thekilling of his father and for the return of lands previously owned by Norway,(Hamlet I.i. 79-107). They both also differ when it comes to the way ofexpressing their grieve for their dead fathers. Hamlet is more melancholy andtormented by his thoughts for about two months while Fortinbras is shown asvery rash and bold who acts on his first instincts (i.e.
revenge) and does notoverthink. These are the basic differences between Hamlet’s and Fortinbras’ characters. Laertes: Anothercharacter who acts as a foil for Hamlet is Laertes. He is the son of Poloniusand brother of Ophelia (Hamlet’s love interest).
The reason they both act asfoil to each other, is since each son has had a father murdered in cold blood.They both relate in their circumstances, however both differ in their reactionsto the death of their respective fathers. The basicsimilarity between these two characters is that Hamlet’s father, King Hamletwas poisoned by his uncle Claudius, who then takes the crown and marries hismother.
Resulting in Hamlet being discarded as heir. Similarly Laertes fatherPolonius was also murdered by Hamlet (accidently). This not only makes himparallel to the situation of Hamlet, but also makes him a foil against himwhich ultimately resulted to the death of both him and Hamlet. They both believedthat the murderers had dishonoured their fathers as well as themselves so theyboth reacted (took different approaches in attempt) to restore their familyhonor.
The major contrast between these twocharacters is their reactions to their fathers’ deaths. After Hamlet learnsthat his father is killed he states that; “Haste me to know’t, that I, withwings as swift as meditation or the thought love, may sweep to myrevenge.”(1.5.29-31). This quote suggest that Hamlet is going to get revengefor his father’s death right away, however throughout the play, Hamlet isconflicted often contemplating revenge, rather than taking action. This setshim apart from Laertes as he, after his father’s death doesn’t sit aroundthinking about the consequences his actions might bring, he just acts. “Tohell, allegiance! Vows to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to theprofoundest pit! I dare damnation.
To this point I stand, That both the worldsI give to negligence, Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged. Mostthoroughly for my father.” (4.
5.140-145) Claudius: The major foil for the protagonist of theplay is Hamlet’s uncle and the new king, Claudius. He is the main villainaround whom the whole plot of murder and revenge revolve.
He murdered hisbrother King Hamlet and married his wife, thus becoming a major foil for princeHamlet. A comparison can be drawn between Hamlet’sand Claudius’s manipulation, ambitiousness and the means by which they givefalse impressions about their character. Although they are contrastingcharacters, yet they both share many similarities. In act 3.2 when Claudiusdelivers his monologue on the nature of his deeds, it showed that how similarhe and Hamlet were throughout the play. Claudius’ language shows indecision, ofa man who is trapped by the oaths he made to himself: “Pray can I not, /Thoughinclination be as sharp as will./My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent, / And like a man to double business bound/ Istand in pause where I shall first begin, / And both neglect” (3.
3.40-3).On onehand there is a part of him that wants to exonerate himself of his sins,perhaps by accepting the punishment fit for his cruel crime.
But on the otherhand, he doesn’t want to give up the throne and power that he acquired fromthis act. This shows how his guilt is stronger than his will to repent. Similarly Hamlet has the “strong intent”of avenging his father’s death, but this intent is many times defeated byinternal debates and confusions about the outcome of his actions. He too isdouble business bound. He always weighs two courses of action against eachother which leads to him ending up neglecting both courses. Claudius and Hamletare both are very selfish in nature. Claudius wants to be the king of Denmark.For this, he killed Gertrude’s husband because he wanted to marry Gertrude andhave the throne for himself.
“Anon comes in a fellow, takes off his crown,kisses it, and pours poison in the KING’s ears, and exit.” (III, ii, 126).Claudius does not care about Gertrude but yet he makes her feel that he lovesher just to remain as King.
Similarly, Hamlet is also very selfish. He hates Claudiusthe most and the only thoughts that clouds his head are killing Claudius toavenge his father’s death. “Haste me to know’t, that I, with wings asswift As meditation or the thoughts of love, may sweep to my revenge.
“(I,v, 29-31). As hamlet only thinks about his revenge, he does not considerOphelia’s feelings and treats her very badly. Hamlet is so caught up in histhoughts, that he even kills Ophelia’s father considering him to be Claudius.This tells that they both do not care about anybody but themselves. This is thereason that the relationship between Hamlet and Ophelia and Claudius andGertrude did not last. While Hamlet and Claudius are verymanipulative, they both have different approaches in their manipulation offriends, family and colleagues.
While Claudius work on gaining people’s trustso that they are willing to go above and beyond in order to please or help him(ex- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spy on Hamlet for Claudius), on the otherhand, Hamlet purposely turns everyone against him and causes everyone to thinkhe has gone crazy to disguise his plan to revenge his father’s death. (ex- WhenHamlet kills Polonius while he was behind the curtain spying on him). UnlikeHamlet, who is very impulsive, Claudius thinks about his actions before he actsupon them. He wants to make sure he makes a decision that will be the best forhim. He is aware of the fact that if he just kills Hamlet, the people of thekingdom, who love prince Hamlet will turn on him and he can lose his power ofKing.