Is Laertes really a foil to Hamlet?
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Is Laertes really a foil to Hamlet?
In Hamlet, common opinion states that Shakespeare probably created Laertes as a foil to Hamlet. A foil is a character whose traits are opposite of those of another character and who thus points out to the reader the strengths and weaknesses of another character. Laertes and Hamlet have much in common; they have deep love for Ophelia, desire for revenge at any cost, and similar association with their families, but as foil characters they handle themselves differently in the same situations.
Hamlet and Laertes share a different but profound love for Ophelia. Laertes has a strong brotherly love for Ophelia which was apparent when he spoke to Ophelia before he left for England. He provided advice to Ophelia pertaining to her relationship with Hamlet. He tells her of his concerns for Hamletís true intentions and wishes that she be very careful. Laertes loves his sister very much and does not want her to become hurt. Hamlet also loves Ophelia, but his love is more like a crush or an infatuation. He wrote her love letters and gave her gifts. His true love is shown not when they are together, but when Ophelia rejects Hamletís love. Hamletís appearance and disposition changes when his love has been denied, as seen in Act 2. Ophelia\'s death causes sadness in both Laertes and Hamlet. Hamlet and Laertes are so distraught that they fight each other in Ophelia\'s grave. Although Hamlet and Laertes despise one another, they both loved Ophelia.
Revenge at any cost causes Hamlet and Laertes to act impulsively. Hamlet, while avenging his fatherís death, presumes Claudius is spying on him and his mother and impulsively stabs the spy hiding behind the arros. His actions caused him to murder Polonius instead of Claudius. In contrast to Hamlet, Laertes, upon hearing about his fatherís death assumes the slayer is Claudius. Without thought, Laertes moves to avenge his fatherís death (Act 4, Scene 5, lines 128-134); this shows Laertesí desire to seek revenge at any cost. Hamlet and Laertesí reactions are prompted by frustration and anger. Revenge causes both of the men to act impulsively, giving little thought to the outcomes of their actions.
Laertes and Hamlet associate with their families in similar ways. Laertes and Hamlet both highly respect their fathers. After the death of both of their fathers, Laertes and Hamlet want to seek revenge on the assassins. Hamlet and Laertes are both also dominant when dealing with the women in their families. Laertes gives forceful advice to his sister as Hamlet gives demanding advice to his mother about Claudius and the circumstances surrounding the death of Hamlet Sr. Claudius, although not Hamletís real father, and Polonius, Laertes real father, both spy on their sons. Polonius has Reynaldo spy on Laertes in England and Claudius has Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spy on Hamlet. Laertes and Hamlet share comparable aspects in their families.
Laertes and Hamlet demonstrate many of the same characteristics as foil often do. They are both deeply in love with Ophelia, Laertes in a brotherly way and Hamlet was infatuated with her. The also were both capable of seeking revenge and acting spontaneously, not worrying about the effects of their actions. They hold similar views of the members of their families, deep respect for their fathers and are dominant toward the females in their families. Both of the young men being foil characters to each other, have many similar characteristics, but handle the situations differently.
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