Laertes and Fortinbras as Foils to Hamlet Play: Hamlet Playwrite: William Shakespeare

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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"...