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A character that might parallel yet contrast another is said to be a foil. A
foil is used to clarify character traits as well as issues in stories and plays.
An example of this would be Iago and Othello from the Shakespeare play Othello.
Othello is a trustworthy and upstanding individual who has a slight problem as
far as spontaneity is concerned. Iago, on the other hand, is deceptive and
manipulative, but Iago thinks things out thoroughly. Shakespeare uses these two
characters against each other to further bring out their good and bad traits.
This idea of a foil seems to be a recurring tool that Shakespeare uses in his
plays. Shakespeare clarifies character traits in Hamlet by the use of foils. One
of the best examples of foils in the play is Hamlet against Laertes. At the
beginning of the play, we all know that Hamlets father was killed. He has this
trait in common with Laertes later on in the play when his father Polonius is
killed by Hamlet. At this point, both me are seeking vengeance for a fathers
death. This shows perhaps, Hamletís "fatal" or "tragic" flaw. Hamlet
hesitates at every opportunity he has to kill Claudius with Laertes is willing
to seek vengeance immediately. Laertes says: "How came he dead? Iíll jot be
juggled with: To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and
grace, to the profoundest pit That both the worlds I give to negligence, Let
come what comes; only Iíll be revenged Most thoroughly for my father." At
this point, we really see that Laertes is ready to die and that he does not care
about what will happen to him in the next life. Hamlet is plagued by this idea
of what will happen next and thus cannot fulfill his task. Another thing these
two men have in common is Ophelia. Both men love her only in different ways.
Hamlet loves her as a man would love a wife and a Laertes loves her as a brother
would love his sister. When she dies, both men mourn her death. Another thing
that perhaps works to Hamletís credit is that Laertes is fooled by the
duplicity of Claudius and the "retardation" of his father Polonius whereas
Hamlet can see the treachery in Claudius and mocks Polonius whenever he talks to
him. Another pair of people Shakespeare uses, as foils are Hamlet and Horatio.
Horatio is Hamletís best friend and pretty much the only person throughout the
play that is not "two-faced." Hamlet praises Horatio as a just and temperate
man, who "is not passionís slave," who suffers lifeís ups and downs with
a clear and sound mind. The fact the Hamlet praises and admires Horatio suggests
that he admires something that which he does not have. Hamlet is not capable of
acting in the same way as Horatio. Whenever Horatio speaks, he is calm, cool,
and collected. On the other hand, after Hamlet has decided to put on his"antic disposition," he appears to be insane. He talks in riddles and does
not make any sense. Hamlet even catches himself "loosing himself" after he
has seen the players and is talking to himself. He sees that he cannot show the
same coolness and emotion that Horatio can and this upsets him. "íSwounds, I
should take it: for it cannot be But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall To make
oppression bitter, or ere this I should have fatted all the region kites With
this slaveís offal: bloody, bawdy, kindless villian! O, vengaence! Why, what
an ass am I! This is most brave..." From this quote we see that Hamlet does
not like himself for not being able to deal with his problem accordingly. This
also implies that had the same circumstances been given to Horatio, he would
have handled the situation better than Hamlet. Yet another pair that Shakespeare
puts in the play as foils are Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. A common trait that
they both share is that the are both loyal and obedient to their men. (By this I
am in no way being sexist) Gertrude pretty much does whatever Claudius tells her
to do as does Ophelia when Polonius talks to her. Another thing they share is
that they are both knowing participants in the plots to deceive Hamlet as they
are also both one of the contributing factors to Hamlets degrading mental state.
Yet another similarity in their characters is that they both seem unaware of the
evil guiding them. Although it is ambiguous as to who murdered King Hamlet,
nowhere does it say
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Characters in Hamlet, Fiction, English-language films, Film, Literature, British films, Prince Hamlet, Laertes, Hamlet, Ophelia, Polonius, Gertrude
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