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Laertes And Fortinbras As Foils To Hamlet Play: Hamlet Playwrite: William Shakespeare

1947 words - 8 pages

Oftentimes, the minor characters in a play can be vital and, among other things, function to further the action of the play or to reveal and illuminate the personalities of other characters. To help the reader understand a character with greater depth, writers sometimes use a literary device called a foil. A foil is a character that contrasts strongly with another. In Shakespeare's great tragedy Hamlet, Laertes, Fortinbras, and Hamlet find themselves in similar situations. While Hamlet waits for the right time to avenge his father's death, Laertes learns of his father's death and immediately wants vengeance, and Fortinbras awaits his chance to recapture land that used to belong to his father. Although Laertes and Fortinbras are minor characters, "Shakespeare molds them in order to contrast with Hamlet" ("Foils in Hamlet"). Fortinbras and, to a greater extent, Laertes act as foils to Hamlet with respect to their motives for revenge, execution of their plans, and behavior while carrying out their plans.Fortinbras, who schemes to rebuild his father's kingdom, leads thousands of men into battle, attempting to capture a small and worthless piece of Poland, after his uncle warned him against attacking Denmark. The added land will do little to benefit Norway's prosperity, but this campaign may cost "two thousand souls and twenty thousand ducats" (IV.iv.26). This shows that "pride is a driving factor behind Fortinbras' plan" (Wilson 34) because he is willing to put the lives of his compatriots at risk for a minimal gain. Laertes, on the other hand, is compelled to seek revenge because he loses his father and eventually his sister. "The root of Laertes' revenge appears to be the love for his family" (Prosser 52) because he proclaims that he will "be revenged / Most throughly for [his] father" (IV.v.153-154). This shows that Laertes will either avenge his father's death or die trying. While Fortinbras and Laertes are driven by pride and love, Hamlet seems to act out of desperation. His uncle, Claudius, has killed his father, taken the throne, and married his mother. This leaves Hamlet "feeling as if his world has been crushed" (Eliot 97). By killing Claudius, Hamlet would not only avenge his father's death, but also dethrone a murderer and restore some order to his world.In addition to each character's motive, Shakespeare uses imagery and allusion to illuminate differences in character traits. Shakespeare hints about the nature of Fortinbras simply by choosing this name. The name "Fortinbras is very similar to fortitude" (Clemen 231), which is firmness of the mind. Fortinbras fulfills this description when he persists in trying to reclaim land by attacking Poland. Instead of giving up on reclaiming his father's land, when his uncle tells him not to attack Denmark, he sticks to his plan by taking a piece of Poland. The name Laertes is also significant because in Greek mythology, "Laertes was the father of Odysseus and helped his son reclaim the throne"...

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