the foils of hamlet In his plays, Shakespeare often puts the antagonists in circumstances similar to or resembling the problems of the main character or hero. He does this in order to give us a clear perception of what the characters are like, through contrast or similarity between them. These literary experiments are called foils. In Hamlet, Shakespeare gives us many foils for Hamlet, the main character. One major foil is Ophelia. Hamlet and Ophelia have both lost their fathers. In the beginning of the play it seems that Hamlet is mourning too much and over reacting, but when Ophelia loses her father it makes Hamlet s mourning seem subtle. Ophelia is very affected by her father s death and it eventually leads to a factor in her insanity and death. This changes the way we look at Hamlet and Ophelia. Another foil for Hamlet is Polonius, Laertes and Ophelia s father. Hamlet and Polonius are both very quick to speak or and lash out in excitement. Both of them have made major mistakes because of this unwanted trait. Hamlet has, on many occasions, spoken too quickly or acted out of rage or ignorance and hurt himself and others. When Polonius spies on Hamlet and the Queen, Hamlet thinks that it is the king who is spying behind the curtain, and without knowing who it really is he stabs Polonius and kills him. Polonius also has the same problem, but with much tamer results. Polonius usually ends up just making himself sound like a babbling fool by not thinking things out first. He never really hurt anyone and his slaying by Hamlet s sword makes Hamlet seem more the fool. This foil gives Hamlet the image of a violent person that doesn t know how to control his emotions, and in this instance he almost becomes the antagonist. Hamlet also has foils that aren t as close to him. Like the young Fortinbras, the nephew to the king of Norway. Fortinbras father, the king was killed, and his uncle, the king s brother took over the crown. The exact same thing happened to Hamlet. Both countries also have a prince who feels that they were robbed from the crown. Fortinbras, in contrast to Hamlet, takes an active role in Norway s leadership. In act IV scene 4, he leads an army on to Poland. He also does this because he want s to avenge his father s death by taking what he believes to be rightfully his. Hamlet spends most of his time sulking or complaining, and it makes him seem a little spoiled and cowardly, as if he doesn t want to face the world. He keeps his plot for revenge a secret. In somewhat the same manner Laertes is a foil to Hamlet. He too seeks revenge for his father s death, and does it very openly. He goes as far as getting a mob together supporting him to be king. It seems radical but it probably would have been better for Hamlet to go about things this way. If he hadn t kept it in the castle a lot of bad things wouldn t have happened. Hamlet could have saved a lot of trouble if he went about things the way Laertes did, but then we would have a boring play. Another thing for Hamlet and Laertes is their love for Ophelia. Obviously they are completely different kinds of love, but both are extremely strong. Laertes cares greatly for his sister and gives her strong advice concerning her and Hamlet. He warns her against keeping a relation with him, showing that he doesn t like Hamlet. After Ophelia rejects Hamlet, his love dies off and he gets pale and sickly, showing how much he cared for her. It is strange that both these characters care so much for Ophelia but hate each other to death. When Ophelia dies, both are shocked and enraged. In the end at her burial they both end up jumping into Ophelia s grave and fighting each other over her dead body. Their extreme love for her and profound hate for each other is almost a mystery. Laertes also, like his father, has the same rashness and spontaneity as Hamlet. There are many, many foils throughout this play, some completely obvious, and some scarcely noticeable. In Hamlet , Hamlet has a foil with almost ever other character in it. Foils greatly enrich all literature and tell us much more than meets the eye about a specific character and the decisions they make. Literary Phenomena like this make great stories masterpieces. Page 1
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Hamlet is supposedly centered on one character; Hamlet himself, but the play is driven by plots and schemes that are derived from other characters in the play. The plot of Hamlet is constantly being heightened by the characters that are a part of the play, they help to manipulate the story in a way that places an emphasis on reflecting many struggles that one might encounter in life, but all compiled into one story. In the play Hamlet, the character Polonius incites many happenings that cause misconstrued emotions in other characters, this is due in large part to his position as a confidant to many main characters, thus causing much confusion because he is acting as a middleman and manipulates others characters feelings to lead up to final conflict.
Polonius is a man that confuses most, but intrigues all. For the beginning of the play he is the readers guide, and helps to inform the reader of all that is happening within the lives of the main characters. He was not meant to be a main character, but any character that is put in the position of an informant, instantly becomes a main character. To be an informant, is to be one who shines a new light on the situation at hand, and that fills in information where information is needed. Polonius is a character in the play for just long enough to give the reader a good start with what is going on.
Polonius is the one character who communicates and interacts with every other character in the play. Retrospectively he pieces the play and the characters together to make them more understandable to the reader. Communication is what Polonius does well, but it is also what he does for his living. I hold my duty as I hold my soul (2.2.44) puts emphasis on his dedication to the King, but at the same time he has dedication to his daughter, Ophelia, his son, Laertes, and the Queen, Gertrude. His connections with these powerful people is a great example of how they are all getting information from Polonius, and using it to reap their own havoc. Polonius position as the middleman gives him an indescribable amount of power, that he takes advantage of. He uses what others tell him to supply others with valuable information, all the way up until his sudden demise.
Polonius changes very little throughout the several Acts for which he is present, but that doesn t take away from his importance as a character. He establishes himself as a liar and as someone that is not to be trusted, constantly going behind the backs of others. We see an example of this when Polonius was spying on his daughter and Hamlet, You need not tell us what Lord Hamlet said; we heard it all (3.1.174-175). He spies on others in many different ways, this is only an example of how he physically spied on
Hamlet and Ophelia, he has many other methods. He constantly gathers information on others, and uses it to boost his own standings with Claudius.
Throughout Polonius involvement, he is portrayed and depicted as someone that uses others, even his own daughter, but he can be viewed in a different light as well. Polonius was simply doing what every human being strives for; he wanted to know the whole truth about everything. He used his knowledge in a negative manner, but he maintained his composure and did what he needed to do. He had his limits, and it can certainly be fathomed that he could have done much more damage than he actually did. He was the confidant to many people, and knew a lot about everyone, but he only told the king what he really needed to know, he was just doing his duty as Claudius partner. Hamlet to Claudius, I ll call upon you ere you go to bed, and tell you what I know. (3.3.35-36) He maintained his sense of duty to the Claudius, but that information session would never happen because Polonius was killed by Hamlet shortly thereafter.
Polonius sense of loyalty to Claudius was maintained up until the last minutes of his life, things would never be the same without him there. Claudius lost his informant, Ophelia and Laertes lost their father, and Gertrude lost her confidant. With the demise of Polonius came the demise
of the play. Without that buffer between characters, conflicts began to arise directly. It can be gathered that Polonius was what kept everyone together, yet apart at the same time. He was what kept direct conflicts out of the picture, and now that he was dead, the pinnacle of conflict came into play. There was no one there to confuse the characters, so there was nothing left to do but confront eachother, hence, the death of Polonius lead to the deaths and demise of the other characters.