Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hamlet Foils

1) Reading Hamlet reminded me of a humorous moment in my life. I was a young soldier in the US Army's Airborne School, preparing to make my first jump out of an airplane. Every logical and rational thought I had was telling me not to do it, but there was also a raw urge pushing me to do it. There was no reason for me to jump, except that it was what I just had to do. Compared to life, this decision was very minor. Many of us are faced with much larger decisions, with very real and permanent consequences. So why do some of us back away from them, while others seem to just plunge right into them? The answer is not as simple as some would believe.

(2) Hamlet was faced with a decision upon learning that Claudius murdered his father. Should he believe the ghost, and avenge his father's murder? Or is the ghost evil, trying to coerce him into killing Claudius? Throughout the play, we see Hamlet's struggle with this issue. Many opportunities arise for him to kill Claudius, but he is unable to act because he cannot convince himself to believe the Ghost. Shakespeare uses Laertes and Fortinbras as foils to Hamlet, in order to help us understand why Hamlet acts the way he does.

(3) Foils are used in plays so that the readers are better able to understand the major character (Hamlet). In a foil, the minor character is similar in many ways to the main character so that we will compare the two. However, it is through these similarities that we are able to see the more important differences between the two. [Short paragraph]

(4) The major foil for Hamlet is Laertes, the son of Polonius. The most obvious similarity is that they are both young men. They also come from relatively similar backgrounds, a Danish aristocratic upbringing. They also both have some college education. This leads us to another similarity; [Semicolons vs. colons] they both have the ability to use logical and rational reasoning. However, they do differ on their applications of logical reasoning.

(5) We see this logical and rational reasoning in Hamlet, in Acts 1& 2 when he sets up the "mouse trap" for Claudius, in order to determine if he is guilty of murdering his father. Hamlet's ability to think many moves ahead and predict what the king's reaction will be if he is guilty, shows a type of reasoning beyond a normal person. [Hmmm] In Laertes we see a logical and rational reasoning process when he decides not to kill Claudius, but rather join the king in a plot to kill Hamlet. Laertes is smart enough to listen to the king. However, he could not have known that the king was being deceitful. We can see that both Hamlet and Laertes try to use their wits to solve problems.
(6) There is also another similarity between the two; [Semicolons vs. colons] they both are very concerned about the significant female in their lives. Hamlet is very concerned about his mother's relationship with Claudius, and he obsesses over it. For example in the closet scene in Act 3, Hamlet tells his mother not to sleep with Claudius anymore. He wants his mother to be virtuous, and he forcefully urges her to do so. Laertes is also concerned about a female character, his sister Ophelia. He expresses his concern over her relationship with Hamlet. He makes a point of telling this to her before he leaves for France. He warns her that Hamlet will just hurt her in the long run, because he most likely will not marry a woman of her rank. He also makes a point that she too should remain virtuous and not loose [sic; a dangerous error here -- some readers will wander off track thinking about the connotations of "loose" in this context.] her virginity to Hamlet.
(7) A less obvious similarity between the Hamlet and Laertes is the scrutiny that they are under from their parents. Hamlet is being watched carefully by Claudius and his mother, through his childhood friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. The king and queen have asked them to determine Hamlet's state of mind. Polonius also sends his man, Reynaldo, to France in order to determine what Leartes’s habits and behaviors are. Booth sets of parents do this under less than honest conditions. Instead of asking directly, they use deceit in order to find out the truth.

[As you examine other essays in this set, note how some writers simply state that Hamlet and Laertes are similar without stating any similarities. This paper is much stronger in that it devotes four distinct paragraphs to establishing the similarities. Whereas in many essays I ask for evidence or examples, no one can say that this writer does not have reasons for comparing Laertes to Hamlet. A major focus of this course is to improve your ability to make a statement and support it. This writer demonstrates here that he or she knows how to do this.]

(8) All of these similarities help us to see the more important differences between Hamlet and Laertes. The major difference is that Laertes takes his family honor seriously. Unlike Hamlet[,] he does not do it in a selfish way. He takes immediate action, rather than waiting and playing games. We see Laertes storm the palace with an angry mob when he hears of his father[']s murder, and he calls the king "vile" to his face. Hamlet, upon learning that his father was murdered, just talks and contemplates what to do, rather than move to action and avenge his death. He clearly had many opportunities to act, but he was unable to bring himself to action. Secondly, Laertes is up front with his sister about her relationship with Hamlet, while Hamlet waits until late into the play to confront his mother about her marriage to Claudius. We will clearly see that Hamlet's inability to act quickly is a major problem for him in this play.

(9) What this foil between Laertes and Hamlet shows us is that they are similar in some of their concerns. However, the differences show us the motivation behind their concerns and actions. Hamlet thinks mostly about himself, and how his consequences will affect him and his world. [Here I would like to see more evidence.] Laertes is genuinely concerned with his family honor. We see this when he argues with the priest over his sister's burial rites. He honors his sister, rather than worrying about the consequences of yelling at a priest. [Nice] Hamlet most likely would have said nothing because he would have analyzed the consequences. There is a definite pattern in how they both act, Laertes with force and emotion[,] and Hamlet with reserve and fear. ["fear?" I want evidence.]
(10) Finally, the most important interaction between Laertes and Hamlet is in the duel in the last seen. ["scene"] It is only at this time that Hamlet takes a stand. However, after Laertes reveals the king's plot to him, Hamlet finally seizes the opportunity to avenge his father's murder. Laertes lays ["lies"] dying, as Hamlet finally ends the conflict. Without the obvious truth from Laertes, Hamlet might never have taken action. It seems ironic[,] however, that Hamlet only acted after he knew he would die. More ironic is that he did not kill Claudius for revenge of his father, but more out of anger and hatred. Some may also note that Hamlet only acted after his mother had died, leaving us with the another question. Did Hamlet kill Claudius to avenge his mother's death? [The ideas in this paragraph are very nice.]

(11) A second foil to Hamlet is Fortinbras, the young prince from Norway. The similarities are quite obvious. [*1] Fortinbras is a son of a king, as is Hamlet. Also, military defeat and sickness have weakened Fortinbras['] father. Hamlet[']s father has been murdered, and his stepfather is a morally weak and deceitful man. More importantly, Fortinbras and Hamlet seek to avenge the deaths of their fathers. Fortinbras does this by attempting to mount an army against Poland, and to regain respect for his father. This is where the differences come into play. [Very nice details]

(12) Fortinbras actually takes action to seek revenge for his father's defeat. Hamlet does not. He is unable to bring himself to action, and spends most of his time in a state of madness. The only time he acts decisively is when he kills Polonius, and again that was from a moment of anger. Another notable difference is the respect they show their fathers. Upon hearing of Fortinbras['] plan to attack Denmark, his father [uncle] orders him to cease, and Fortinbras obeys. Hamlet does not obey his father's command to avenge his murder, and to leave his mother alone. Instead he doubts his father (the ghost), rather than accept his request. [In spite of the error, this is still nice detail.]

(13) What this foil shows us is that Hamlet is not a character that displays the ability to act as a king. He was unable to act decisively, and he constantly questioned the world. He sought a truth, in a world that is not always truthful. He could not act until the truth was laid out in front of him. Fortinbras and Hamlet never exchanged words, but Fortinbras thought that Hamlet would have made a good king. Perhaps in death he seemed like a good king, [;] however most readers would know that wouldn't be true. [The main idea of this paragraph is excellent, but be careful in making claims about what other people will or will not do.]

(14) Through the use of Laertes and Fortinbras as foils for Hamlet we are able to understand why Hamlet was unable to act quickly in avenging his father[']s death. He was indecisive due to his selfishness and quest for the truth. He would not let family honor be the reason for acting quickly to avenge his father's death. Fortinbras enabled us to see what Hamlet could not be, a true king. Some may ask why did he not act sooner? Hamlet couldn't, [--] his own ideas kept him from acting. He believed that the world held some special truth that would reveal itself to him if he looked hard enough. The tragedy is that the truth was revealed after he was already sentenced to death.