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Laertes and Fortinbras as Foils in Hamlet.

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Laertes and Fortinbras as Foils in Hamlet Foils serve an important part in any literary work, and they are particularly potent in Shakespeare's complex and profound plays. They shed new light on the protagonist's complex character, and foils give the audience a medium with which to sympathize with him. They allow the audience to see what divergent paths the main character could have taken. In Macbeth, the foils of Banquo and Malcolm serve to underscore the corruption of Macbeth's rule, and in Romeo and Juliet the characters of Benvolio and Tybalt allow the reader to understand Romeo's character more thoroughly. Suffice it to say that foils play a necessary and unmistakable role in Shakespearean tragedy. In Hamlet, it is the characters of Laertes and Fortinbras that act as foils, by giving the audience a more complete view of the protagonist, Prince Hamlet. ...read more.


After learning of Polonius' murder, he rushes back from France, gathers men around him, and bursts into Claudius' court. He demands vengeance and is ready to exact his revenge on whomever is deserving. After learning that Hamlet murdered Polonius, Laertes declares his intent to kill Hamlet, even if he has "[t]o cut [Hamlet's] throat i' the church" (IV.vii.127). Furthermore, Laertes' scheming with Claudius shows that vengeance is of a higher priority than honour. He is willing to poison Hamlet while pretending to be a gentleman, even after he has accepted Hamlet's gracious apology. Laertes' actions allow the audience to see what Hamlet could have done had he not acted in such an honourable, yet slow, manner. Those actions, when contrasted with Hamlet's, show both the positive and negative elements of quick action and little thought. The audience can better judge the methods of Hamlet after seeing, through Laertes, where the alternative methods lead. ...read more.


At the end of the play, it is Hamlet who lays dead and Fortinbras who assumes the crown of Denmark. Foils such as Fortinbras and Laertes exist merely to show the audience divergent paths of action, and to enhance the character of the protagonist, in this case Hamlet. They do not reflect what he should have done; only what he could have done. In the case of Laertes, the audience is left with the feeling that Hamlet took the nobler path, since he went about his revenge in a just manner. But in the case of Fortinbras, the audience usually feels that if only Hamlet had been more decisive, he could have avoided his tragic end. Regardless of what the right course of action was, the similarities and differences between Hamlet and his foils serve a definite role in the portrayal of the hero. Without them, Hamlet would have appeared as a shallow, one dimensional character, but in their presence he is one of the most memorable in all of English literature. ...read more.

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