1 Nektilar

Fortinbras Foil To Hamlet Essay Introductions

The Foils in Hamlet Essay

871 Words4 Pages

Foils in Hamlet        


A foil is a minor character that helps the audience better understand a major character. A foil may exist as a comparison character, with similarities between the two, as well as differences that bring to light an important contrast between the foil and the main character. A foil may also just be someone for the main character to talk to, so we can know and understand their thoughts and feelings. Foils help us understand the obvious as well as the arcane. In the classic tragedy Hamlet, we see William Shakespeare employ foils to illustrate both examples. They become important literary tools that help the reader rationalize the concurrent theme of the play -…show more content…

In the end, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are naively loyal to Hamlet, and this becomes their downfall. They know that Hamlet has killed Polonius, and yet, they take no precautions as they accompany Hamlet to England. Their trust in both Claudius and Hamlet gets them killed. Hamlet’s reveals his mistrust of his schoolmates in a conversation with his mother, and refers to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as, "...my two-school fellows, whom I will trust as adders fanged..." 

     Hamlet’s friendship with his third colleague from this group is much different compared to that of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Horatio, also a classmate at Wittenburg, does not appear initially to occupy the same social status as did the former two. He addresses Hamlet and says, "The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever." So Horatio may be from a lower social-economic class. Like Hamlet, he sees a ghost, but is not sure that the ghost was the king, as he admits to only seeing the king once before, another argument for Horatio’s unfamiliarity with the royal family. 

     Horatio’s most important role as a foil does not become evident until the end of the play. His conversation with Hamlet just before the fatal duel with Laertes provides us with an insight into Hamlet’s state of mind. Horatio advises Hamlet to back down if he does not like the circumstances, and Horatio will attest to Hamlet’s

Show More

In the play Hamlet, we see a man who is driven to revenge after the murder of his father. However this man, the titular character of the play, Hamlet, is indecisive and goes through a variety of problems in his quest for revenge. He is supported or schemed against by a variety of characters, many of who act as a character foil to Hamlet. A foil is used as a parallel and contrasts the main character, letting us better see his various traits, reasoning behind decisions or important differences. In Hamlet, his prominent character trait of indecisiveness and other traits are revealed and better seen when compared and contrasted to the rest of the cast.

One of these foils is the character of Laertes. Laertes and Hamlet both share a common goal, revenge for the murder of their father. However, the way they go about this is different. Unlike Hamlet, he is ablaze with motivation and action, and says that he will throw “conscience and grace to the profoundest pit”. (A4, S5 150) But, Laertes is very shallow and Hamlet is a genius in comparison. Yet, it is his intelligence and tendency to over think which is Hamlet’s flaw.

However, we do see that in anger both Laertes and Hamlet can be very rash and impulsive and bring problems upon themselves. When Laertes learns of his father’s death he immediately assumes it was Claudius. As a result of Laertes’ speculation, he instinctively moves to avenge Polonius’ death. “To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation: to this point I stand, that both worlds I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.” (A4 S5 149-154) Hamlet also thrusts out in rage in an attempt to kill Claudius he stabs through the curtain and kills the hiding Polonius instead.

Another foil we see is Ophelia, the “love” of Hamlet. Hamlet says he is in love with her and pines for her, but, the most important plot in the play is not that of romance, and so it is not the contrast/comparison of character like Romeo and Juliet that can be made. Instead, only in revenge and death do we see her as a character foil. After her father’s death she goes truly mad, as seen by the singing in Act 4, Scene 5. One of the most debated topics surrounded Hamlet is whether or not Hamlet truly goes mad by the end of the play, or if it is only an illusion concocted by him. I believe that in seeing Ophelia as a character foil, with her real madness, Hamlet’s wasn’t real and he was indeed in control the entire time. We also see the weakness of her character and strength of Hamlet’s. Her death is debated as being a suicide, and only someone who was weak and mad would turn to that solution. In contrast, we see Hamlet consider suicide himself in Act 3 Scene 1 but not go through with it, instead working towards his goal of revenge.

The characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also act as foil to Hamlet. They are always seen together, acting together and working together. This is a stark contrast to Hamlet, and how he acts alone. Hamlet is frequently by himself with the play and does much of what he does alone, without any help. Other than his confidant/friend Horatio, he frequently acts alone. This is further shown by the betrayal of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were seen as Hamlet’s friends in the beginning of the play. They are also simpler than Hamlet and of a lower class and have a less educated manner of speaking. When talking to Hamlet we see the contrast and see the intelligence of Hamlet. They also act as pawns; following the King’s will blindly which is a contrast to Hamlet’s independence.

Hamlet’s best friend Horatio is also a foil to him. Though they are similar and are friends, there is some contrast and Hamlet can be seen as an equal with him, instead of lording over many of the other characters which he does by his status/rank or with his wit and intelligence. Horatio is sensible, level-headed and reasonable more often than not. When Horatio sees the Ghost he initially doubts its existence but when does belief it is truly there he logically goes to inform Hamlet immediately. When Hamlet then goes to follow the Ghost, Horatio warns him and says he to be careful, as the Ghost may be an evil spirit, something Hamlet didn’t consider as he blindly followed the Ghost. Horatio is a stalwart friend and is consistently a reliable source of information and warnings. He cares for Hamlet and when Hamlet is about to die, he goes to drink from the poisoned cup but Hamlet stops him, telling he must tell the story of what transpired here.

The final character foil to Hamlet is Fortinbras. Both are noble princes, their father’s killed and their Uncle now on the throne. They both seek to regain the throne and avenge their father’s deaths. However, they go about this in a different manner despite their common goals. And though they come from a similar background, various differences come in to play to show Hamlet’s weakness. The contrast lies in their motives; Hamlet wishes to kill Claudius for personal revenge while Fortinbras works in the name of Norway and of honour. This difference shows their inaction and action, while Hamlet is doing this for personal reasons; he is bound by personal morals and hesitates to kill Claudius, like the instance of when Claudius is praying in the chapel, because he believes killing him then would send him to heaven. Since Fortinbras’ mission is not one of revenge, he does not debate over any moral dilemmas. And so, Fortinbras takes action while Hamlet has no initiative and spends most of his time in a state of “madness”. Hamlet also has the weakness of his father’s murder not being public knowledge. While Hamlet has to scheme and plan against Claudius secretly and tread carefully, Fortinbras is free to march his armies and plan openly. Hamlet struggles with his anger and has difficulties killing those are guilty; he becomes jealous of Fortinbras and his ability to lead and channel his anger in retaking the land he lost and seeing no problem in killing those who are innocent. Hamlet wishes to be Fortinbras and it is because of this, that we clearly see Hamlet’s flaws. Fortinbras showed us Hamlet’s tragic flaw, his indecisiveness and inability to act.

In conclusion, the tragic flaw of Hamlet, his indecisiveness is clearly seen when we look at character foils. It is the similarities and differences between Hamlet and the other minor characters that further our understanding of him.  Through comparison and contrast, we see Hamlet’s traits, characteristics and flaws. Although Hamlet is the main character of the play, it is through the minor characters that we can truly see who Hamlet is and the reasoning behind his decisions.

Leave a Comment


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *