In the play Hamlet, William Shakespeare uses the characters of Laertes and Horatio as foils to the tragic figure of Hamlet. Because Hamlet’s character is in contrast to them, he becomes more vivid for the reader.
Best services for writing your paper according to Trustpilot
* All Partners were chosen among 50+ writing services by our Customer Satisfaction Team
In the lawless and poisonous “unweeded garden” , that is the court of Denmark, it seems to Prince Hamlet that an educated, thoughtful, just and morally upright person can set things right only by sacrificing his own life. In order to rescue his country from the evil corruption caused by his stepfather, King Claudius, Hamlet is willing to take extreme measures to the security of his country.
Laertes, Polonius’s son and brother of Ophelia, has returned in secret from France after he has heard the rumour of his father’s death. He feels very depressed and distressed about that. As Laertes, accompanied by his followers, breaks into the castle, the first person he sees is the King. At the time, in Laertes’ mind, there is nothing more important than his concern for his father’s death. Impetuously, he rushes to the King addresses King Claudius to a “vile king” , takes out his sword and points it threateningly at the King, demanding of him where his father’s corpse is. Also he immediately declares that nothing can stop his “will, not all the world” and will “husband them so well” . He is ready to take revenge at any cost.
I dare damnation: to this point I stand,
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.
In the scene of Ophelia’s grave, Laertes’ love to Ophelia is expressed when Laertes leaps into the grave and says
Hold off the earth a while,
Till I have caught her once more in mine arms:
Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead,
Till of this flat a mountain you have made
To o’ertop old Pelion or the skyish head
Of blue Olympus.
Obviously, it is a disrespectful way to confront the King. On the other hand, although Laertes acts rudely and in a hot-headed manner, he only wants to revenge his father’s death and his sister’s insanity.
To approach the King in such a manner, although rude and impetuous, nevertheless shows that Laertes is courageous. This is a contrast with Hamlet whom has repeatedly delayed his revenge for his father’s murder. There is no question that Hamlet is also brave, but throughout the play in contrast to Laertes, Hamlet procrastinates, considers, reconsiders and waits. Perhaps Hamlet has achieved moral grandeur in overcoming evil and righting the wrongs, but the reader is left to consider the innocent that died in his course: Ophelia, Polonius, Laertes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
How does Horatio’s character acts as a foil for Hamlet? Horatio is a young Dane, intelligent scholar and the best friend of Hamlet. They have studied together at the University of Wittenberg and now Horatio has returned from the university for the funeral of Hamlet’s father and the appearance of Hamlet’s father’s ghost. From Horatio’s words, the reader realizes that Hamlet is unaffected and beloved by his people. For instance, when Hamlet notices King Claudius is the murderer of his father, he confides in Horatio, and tells him of his plans to reveal King Claudius’ conscience and guilt. Horatio is the only person who assists Hamlet in observing King Claudius’ reaction to the play of The Murder of Gonzago.
Hamlet does not play the prince in front of his friend, Horatio, even though he is the prince of Denmark. Moreover, he feels comfortable in telling and sharing with Horatio about his grief over the queen’s marriage and the treachery of his old friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. In contrast, Horatio is a good listener, and keeps his thought to himself. Even though Hamlet acts like a madman in the court, he takes off his mask while Horatio is with him.
The last scene of the play is a very important one in which the friendship between Hamlet and Horatio is impressed on the reader. Before the duel, Horatio tries to dissuade Hamlet from fighting with Laertes. It is because he does not want Hamlet to get hurt, or killed, and because he does not want to lose his wager. However, Hamlet explains that he is willing to accept his destiny. Horatio is very loyal to Hamlet. After Hamlet is wounded with a poisoned sword, which is a trick made by Laertes in the duel, Horatio intends to drink the poison wine and die with his friend.
In conclusion, using the comparison of Hamlet with the two foils: Laertes and Horatio, it is a successful way to emphasise and highlight Hamlet’s character. Although Laertes’ impetuous manner makes him appear out of control, however, his behaviour is due to the emergence of his love for his father and sister. Whatever secret Hamlet tells to his dependable confidant, Horatio, Horatio breathes not a single word to other. He is so loyal and truthful to Hamlet. From the two foils to Hamlet, his character becomes even more clear. Hamlet has more procrastination than courage and that is what leads him to his tragedy. His unaffected behaviour to his friend causes him totally beloved by Horatio.