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How is Laertes a Foil for Hamlet?

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Throughout Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet goes on a quest to take revenge against his father’s murderer. Some characters support Hamlet, while others scheme against him. Laertes is one of those who share the same goal with the main character. Both of them share a motivation to seek revenge for their fathers’ murders.

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Shakespeare’s Hamlet manages to use multiple foils to contrast the main character’s actions. Laertes, for example, has a common goal with Hamlet, which is revenge. He is first introduced as a young Danish lord who enjoys studying abroad. However, he discovers that someone has killed his father, Polonius. As a result, he immediately returns to Denmark to kill Claudius. He believed the man is responsible for Polonius’ death. He has not checked if Claudius is the killer and acts based mainly on assumptions. In the same way, Hamlet accidentally killed the wrong person, thinking that it was his father’s murderer.

On the one hand, both Hamlet and Laertes share the themes of family and revenge. However, Hamlet remains broody and serious throughout the play. He often ponders about the questions of life and death. In act 3, his monologue starts with the words “To be, or not to be…” shows his inner worries. Laertes, on the other hand, prefers to act carelessly. His revenge is not well-thought-out, which makes him act emotionally. The duel between Hamlet and Laertes serves as a resolution to their conflict. Laertes dies of his own blade’s poison.

Fortinbras, a prince of Norway, intends to fight for the land his father has lost in a dispute. After his death, Fortinbras’ uncle becomes the king, which parallels Hamlet’s circumstances. Fortinbras’ files in his attempt to gain back Danish territories. Instead, he agrees to fight Poland but accepts his loss yet again. Fortinbras acts as a foil to Hamlet due to their similar goals. However, the characters have few things in common. For example, Hamlet does not stop until his father is avenged during the climax of the story. Fortinbras, on the other hand, is willing to accept that revenge is troublesome in his situation.

Fortinbras, Hamlet, and Laertes want to seek revenge for their fathers’ death. While Laertes and Hamlet are motivated to kill the murders, Fortinbras is set on regaining the throne. Hamlet and Laertes’ motives are personal, while Fortinbras acts in the name of Norway and obligations to his people. On the other hand, Fortinbras and Laertes contrast Hamlet throughout the story. They do not overthink philosophical dilemmas and take action right away. Hamlet prefers to scheme, plan, and have inner moral debates before acting.

Another essential character foil to Hamlet is Ophelia, his love interest and Laertes’ sister. She acts in the same state of madness as Hamlet. Ophelia’s death shows her mental problems because she decides to kill herself. Hamlet contemplates suicide as well, which demonstrates his inner struggles. Ophelia’s state is parallel to that of Hamlet. She does not hesitate to act on it, unlike Hamlet. Similar to Hamlet, Ophelia goes mad after her father’s death in act 3. However, Hamlet manages to put aside his struggles as he moves towards a bigger goal of revenge.

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IvyPanda. "How is Laertes a Foil for Hamlet?" November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/q/how-is-laertes-a-foil-for-hamlet/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "How is Laertes a Foil for Hamlet?" November 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/q/how-is-laertes-a-foil-for-hamlet/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'How is Laertes a Foil for Hamlet'. 25 November.

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