Foils in Shakespeare's "Hamlet"
Hamlet, written in 1600 by William Shakespeare, offers one of the most complex and unique storylines in literature history. The cause of its excellence is primarily based on Shakespeare's profound use of his characters. The main character, Hamlet, is a reflective and thoughtful young man who is often hesitant and indecisive. This personality attributes to his hamartia, or tragic flaw. Shakespeare further demonstrates this throughout the play with the use of foils. A foil is a minor character used to help develop or understand a major character. The foil must have some similarities with the major character in order to create a link with him, but must also be different in order to show or distinguish something about the major character. The two characters that Shakespeare uses to accomplish this are Fortinbras and Laertes.
William Shakespeare emphasizes Hamlet simply as a man by exposing his strengths and weaknesses through the contrast provided by Fortinbras as a foil.
Hamlet acknowledges the convolution of man when he declares: "What a/piece of work is man: how noble in reason, how infinite/in faculties; in form and moving, how express and/ admirable; in action, how like an angel...and yet...quintessence of dust" (II, 2, 298-303). At his first appearance, young Fortinbras is shown to be inferior to Hamlet as seen in the line: "...young Fortinbras,/Of unimproved mettle, hot and full..." (I, 1, 95-96). This statement is in strong contrast to Hamlet who, in scene two, is described by King Claudius as "sweet and commendable" (I, 2, 87). As the play develops, however, Hamlet's weaknesses are highlighted as Fortinbras works to earn his name as an audacious soldier. Fortinbras' uncomplicated, simple-minded determination towards revenge of his father's death contrasts with Hamlet's sporadic efforts towards the same goal. Fortinbras' first appearance in the...