A foil is a means by which an author or playwright reveals one character in contrast with another character. In Hamlet, a play by William Shakespeare, the use of a foil is evident among the characters Hamlet and Laertes.
Although adversaries, Laertes and Hamlet share several characteristics which make them similar, enabling the audience to learn more about each character individually. There are a variety of supports regarding this discussion throughout the play. Their love for Ophelia, association with their respective families and their similar but differentiated purpose for angered actions, are the primary examples to show the character revelations through a contrast of Hamlet and Laertes.
Hamlet and Laertes share a different but deep love and concern for Ophelia.
Prior to his departure to France, Laertes provides advice to Ophelia concerning her relationship with Hamlet. Laertes voices his concern of Hamlet’s true intentions towards Ophelia and advises her to be careful of Hamlet’s love. Laertes also constantly reminds Ophelia that Hamlet will have probably have an arranged marriage and that Ophelia will be wasting time with Hamlet. Hamlet’s strong love for Ophelia fades after she rejects his closeness.
Hamlet’s broad love for Ophelia caused Hamlet serious suffering after the affection toward Ophelia was rejected. Hamlet’s appearance changes accordingly with this rejection of love from Ophelia, “Pale as his shirt, his knees knocking each other, and with a look so piteous in purport, As if he had been loused out of hell. (II, i, 82-84). When Laertes learns of the death of Ophelia, shock and sadness overcome Laertes, similarly, Hamlet is shocked and sad over Ophelia’s death.
Hamlet and Laertes are so deeply disturbed at the death of Ophelia they jump into her grave and fight each other. Although
Hamlet and Laertes both despised each other, both Hamlet and Laertes loved Ophelia. Hamlet was infatuated with Ophelia, which was obvious during his constant suffering over her rejection
of Hamlet. It is also evident at Ophelias funeral that Hamlet still had feelings for Ophelia, I loved Ophelia; forty-thousand brothers Could not, with all their quantity of love, Make up my sum.
(V, i, 263-265). It is arguable whether or not this was an act by Hamlet just to oppose Laertes, but the love that Hamlet and Laertes had toward Ophelia is clear. At Ophelias funeral the opposition between Hamlet and Laertes causes the audience to learn how each characters love for Ophelia was evident yet different.
Hamlet and Laertes are similar in the way they associate with their families.
Laertes highly respects and loves his father Polonius, And so have I a noble father lost. (IV, vii, 25). Similarly, Hamlet holds a great respect for his dead father, this is clear in the scene with Gertrude, See what grace was seated on this brow: Hyperions curls; the front of Jove himself. (III, iv, 57-59) .
After the death of Polonius and Old Hamlet, Hamlet and Laertes struggle to seek revenge on the assassins. Hamlet and Laertes are very dominating when it comes to the women in the family. Laertes gives Ophelia guidance on her relationship with Hamlet. In the same way, Hamlet is able to persuade Gertrude he is not mad and persuade her to follow his instructions.
Hamlet directs his mother to convince Claudius of Hamlet’s madness. Hamlet is able to make Gertrude feel guilt towards her actions toward Old Hamlets death, “Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grained spots as will not leave their tinct.” (III: iv, 90-93). Also, Hamlet tells Gertrude not to sleep with Claudius.
The fathers of Laertes and Hamlet both attempted to use spies to gain information on their sons, although not Hamlets real
father Claudius was Hamlets uncle as well as stepfather. Claudius used Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to gather information on Hamlet. In comparison, Polonius used Reynaldo to check
up on Laertes. Hamlet and Laertes share similar aspects within their families, again providing the audience with individual traits and actions of each character.
Laertes and Hamlet both display hasty reactions when angered. Once Laertes discovers Polonius has been murdered Laertes immediately assumes that Claudius is the murderer. As a result of Laertes’s assumption about