The Examination of Hamlet and Laertes as Foils

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William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet relays Hamlet’s quest to avenge the murder of his father, the king of Denmark. The late King Hamlet was murdered by his brother, Claudius, who took the throne and Hamlet’s mother Gertrude for himself. Hamlet is beseeched by the ghost of his father to take vengeance upon Claudius; while he swears to do so, the prince inexplicably delays killing Claudius for months on end. Hamlet’s feeble attempt to first confirm his uncle’s guilt with a play that recounts the murder and his botched excuses for not killing Claudius when the opportunity arises serve as testimony to Hamlet’s true self. Hamlet is riddled with doubt towards the validity of the ghost and his own ability to carry out the act necessary to avenge his father. His depression and feigned insanity both serve as impairments to his mental health and sense of judgment, which all impede his ability to focus on his goal. Laertes, the son of Claudius’s royal advisor Polonius, serves as a direct foil to Hamlet in his response to the news of his own father’s death, and the immediate action he takes in order to avenge Polonius.

A foil character can be the complete opposite of the protagonist, or incredibly similar but for one key difference. In the case of Hamlet and Laertes, the latter applies. The likeness between the two is unmistakable through the progression of the play. The second scene of Act I reveals that both men are not permanent residents in Elsinore, or Denmark. Hamlet attends school at Wittenberg in Germany, where he lived previous to his father’s death. Laertes says, in response to Claudius’s questioning his hurried departure, “Yet now, I must confess, that duty done/My thoughts and wishes bend again toward France/And bow them to your gracious leave and pardon,” (I.ii.55-57). Laertes wants to return to France, and does so in the next scene. In addition to living in separate countries from where they were born, Hamlet and Laertes are both adept fencers....
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