The use of foils in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a complex play that explores the many facets of human nature, including love, revenge, and madness. One of the most interesting artistic elements of the play is Shakespeare's use of foils to highlight the character traits of the protagonist, Hamlet. By juxtaposing Hamlet with other characters who have similar or contrasting traits, Shakespeare creates a powerful commentary on the human condition.
Perhaps the most prominent foil in "Hamlet" is Prince Fortinbras of Norway. Like Hamlet, Fortinbras is a prince who seeks revenge for the death of his father. However, while Hamlet hesitates and struggles with his own morality, Fortinbras acts decisively and without hesitation. This contrast between the two characters highlights Hamlet's indecisiveness and underscores the consequences of his inaction.
Another important foil in the play is Laertes, the son of Polonius. Like Hamlet, Laertes is a young man who seeks revenge for his father's death. However, while Hamlet is motivated by a desire for justice, Laertes is consumed by a desire for vengeance. This contrast highlights the difference between justice and revenge, and suggests that revenge can be a destructive force that leads to tragedy.
Shakespeare also uses the characters of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as foils for Hamlet. Like Hamlet, they are university students and childhood friends of the prince. However, while Hamlet is tormented by his father's death and his own moral struggles, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are indifferent to the events around them and blindly follow the orders of the king. This contrast highlights Hamlet's intelligence and introspection, and underscores the danger of blind obedience to authority.
Perhaps the most significant foil in the play is the character of Hamlet's father, King Hamlet. While the elder Hamlet is dead for most of the play, his memory looms large over the events that unfold. In many ways, the younger Hamlet is defined by his relationship to his father, and his quest for revenge is motivated by a desire to honor his father's memory. This contrast underscores the generational conflict that underlies much of the play, and suggests that the actions of one generation can have profound consequences for the next.
In conclusion, Shakespeare's use of foils in "Hamlet" is a powerful tool for exploring the many facets of human nature. Through his portrayal of characters who are similar or contrasting to Hamlet, Shakespeare creates a complex commentary on the human condition, and raises important questions about morality, justice, and the consequences of action and inaction. By using foils to highlight the character traits of the protagonist, Shakespeare creates a timeless work of art that continues to resonate with audiences today.