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A foil is a means by which an author or playwright reveals one character in contrast with another character. In Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare, the use of a foil is evident among the characters Hamlet and Laertes. Although adversaries, Laertes and Hamlet share several characteristics which make them similar, enabling the audience to learn more about each character individually. There are a variety of supports regarding this discussion throughout the play. Their love for Ophelia, association with their respective families and their similar but differentiated purpose for angered actions, are the primary examples to show the character revelations through a contrast of Hamlet and Laertes.
Hamlet and Laertes share a different but deep love and concern for Ophelia. Prior to his departure to France, Laertes provides advice to Ophelia concerning her relationship with Hamlet. Laertes voices his concern of Hamlets true intentions towards Ophelia and advises her to be careful of Hamlets love. Laertes also constantly reminds Ophelia that Hamlet will have probably have an arranged marriage and that Ophelia will be wasting time with Hamlet. Hamlets strong love for Ophelia fades after she rejects his closeness. Hamlets broad love for Ophelia caused Hamlet serious suffering after the affection toward Ophelia was rejected.
Hamlets appearance changes accordingly with this rejection of love from Ophelia, Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other, and with a look so piteous in purport, As if he had been loused out of hell. (II, i, 82 - 84). When Laertes learns of the death of Ophelia, shock and sadness overcome Laertes, similarly, Hamlet is shocked and sad over Ophelias death. Hamlet and Laertes are so deeply disturbed at the death of Ophelia they jump into her grave and fight each other. Although Hamlet and Laertes both despised each other, both Hamlet and Laertes loved Ophelia. Hamlet was infatuated with Ophelia, which was obvious during his constant suffering over her rejection of Hamlet. It is also evident at Ophelia s funeral that Hamlet still had feelings for Ophelia, I loved Ophelia; forty-thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum. (V, i, 263 - 265).
It is arguable whether or not this was an act by Hamlet just to oppose Laertes, but the love that Hamlet and Laertes had toward Ophelia is clear. At Ophelia s funeral the opposition between Hamlet and Laertes causes the audience to learn how each characters love for Ophelia was evident yet different. Hamlet and Laertes are similar in the way they associate with their families. Laertes highly respects and loves his father Polonius, And so have I a noble father lost. (IV, vii, 25). Similarly, Hamlet holds a great respect for his dead father, this is clear in the scene with Gertrude, See what grace was seated on this brow: Hyperion s curls; the front of Jove himself. (III, iv, 57 - 59).
After the death of Polonius and Old Hamlet, Hamlet and Laertes struggle to seek revenge on the assassins. Hamlet and Laertes are very dominating when it comes to the women in the family. Laertes gives Ophelia guidance on her relationship with Hamlet. In the same way, Hamlet is able to persuade Gertrude he is not mad and persuade her to follow his instructions. Hamlet directs his mother to convince Claudius of Hamlets madness.
Hamlet is able to make Gertrude feel guilt towards her actions toward Old Hamlet s death, Thou turns mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct. (III: iv, 90 - 93). Also, Hamlet tells Gertrude not to sleep with Claudius. The fathers of Laertes and Hamlet both attempted to use spies to gain information on their sons, although not Hamlet s real father Claudius was Hamlet s uncle as well as stepfather. Claudius used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to gather information on Hamlet.
In comparison, Polonius used Reynaldo to check up on Laertes. Hamlet and Laertes share similar aspects within their families, again providing the audience with individual traits and actions of each character. Laertes and Hamlet both display hasty reactions when angered. Once Laertes discovers Polonius has been murdered Laertes immediately assumes that Claudius is the murderer. As a result of Laertes assumption about Claudius, Laertes automatically 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 Ill be revenged most thoroughly for my father. (IV, v, 128 - 134) clearly show the audience what is going on in Laertes s mind, displaying his desire for revenge at any cost. Similarly to Laertes assumption of his fathers killer, Hamlet suspects the person spying on his conversation with Gertrude is Claudius, Nay, I know not: is it the King? (III, iv, 28). Hamlet consumed with rage automatically digs the sword into the curtain attempting to kill Claudius, but instead kills Polonius. Fury and frustration excite hamlet and Laertes s rash actions. Sudden anger causes both Hamlet and Laertes to act quickly, giving little thought to the consequences of their actions.
Hamlet and Laertes demonstrate rash behavior when frustrated. Hamlet becomes outraged at the fact that Claudius was spying on him, which results in Hamlet killing Polonius accidentally. Laertes becomes very angry and frustrated at the death of his father and wants vengeance against Claudius. Momentary rage overcomes Laertes and Hamlet, which prompts them to act rashly. Condensed, Hamlet and Laertes both have a strong love for Ophelia. Hamlets deep love for Ophelia is evident in Hamlet s reaction to Ophelia s rejection.
In the same way, Laertes care and affection are revealed by the advice to Ophelia. The families of Laertes and Hamlet contain similar attributes. Hamlet and Laertes hold a high admiration for their fathers and are willing to even kill the king to enact revenge. Using characters as foils is not a technique that is used only by Shakespeare or other famous authors and playwrights, it is evident in everyday life. There are examples of foils in people s everyday lives, being in their family, among relatives or even among friends. Finding information about Hamlet through Laertes and vice versa is similar to finding out traits of one s mother compared to their father.
In conclusion, learning about one person through a contrast with another is how people choose their friends and their enemies. 325
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