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Hamlet Is Not A Hero When Compared To His Foil Characters

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The very first rule of “Seneca’s 7 Rules of Revenge Tragedy” states that the son seeks revenge for some wrong done against his father. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, this rule was reason for all the irrational decisions made by Prince Hamlet throughout the long and complex plot of the play. In order to help the audience understand the reason for all of Hamlet’s actions or, in the case of this play, the lack thereof, Shakespeare used 3 foil characters who, similarly to Hamlet, wanted to avenge their fathers. The first of these characters was not one created by Shakespeare himself, but an allusion he made with the Greek myth of Neoptolemus, or better known as Pyrrhus, whose father was killed in the Trojan war.

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The second character in Hamlet who acts as a foil for Hamlet is Fortinbras, the Prince of Norway, whose father was killed by Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet. The last character to act as a foil for Hamlet in terms of getting justice for his father is Laertes, whose father Polonius was killed by Hamlet himself during the play. Compared to the three foils who are all quick to action when it comes to getting revenge, Hamlet’s hesitation is brought to light, which impacts the way the audience perceives him as a hero. The Greek myth of Pyrrhus and Priam was very well known during the fifteenth century, which was when the play Hamlet was written. The story of Pyrrhus and Priam was an allusion made by Shakespeare in order to compare Hamlet’s quest for revenge with that of Pyrrhus. The Greek myth took place during the Trojan War during which Pyrrhus father Achilles was killed by Paris, the son of Priam.

After the death of his father, Pyrrhus decided to get revenge on Paris as well as on his family, which is what led to him murdering Priam. Pyrrhus was known to be merciless for murdering the old and helpless Priam, as well as his other victims during the Trojan war. In Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet brought up the story of Pyrrhus when talking to The Players who were in the kingdom to perform a play. He asked the players to recite one of his favourite speeches from the story, which coincidentally was the one about the death of Priam. “I remember, one said there were no sallets in the lines to make the matter savory nor no matter in the phrase that might indict the author of affectation, but called it an honest method, as wholesome as sweet, and by very much more handsome than fine.

One speech in it I chiefly loved. “Twas Aeneas” tale to Dido and thereabout of it, especially where he speaks of Priam’s slaughter. ” Hamlet mentally compared himself to Pyrrhus who avenged his father the way Hamlet was planning to do with Claudius. Having Pyrrhus, who was quick to action and remorseless when getting revenge on Paris, as a foil for Hamlet, stressed the hesitation of the prince throughout his plan to get revenge on Claudius. The second foil for Hamlet was Prince Fortinbras of Norway who, unlike the other characters, received a reward for his actions. His father, the King of Norway was killed by Hamlet’s father, King Hamlet during a fight for territory. Following this occurrence, Fortinbras was determined to overtake Denmark in avenge for his father’s death. He, unlike Hamlet, was very vocal about his plan which showed great determination on his part while making Hamlet seem cowardly in comparison. To his disappointment, Fortinbras’s uncle; the King of Norway, did not allow him to take over Denmark but instead gave him permission to overtake a small, almost irrelevant part of Polish land.

When Hamlet found out about Fortinbras’s plan, it made him realize, possibly for the first time, how hesitant he has been compared to Fortinbras who achieved his goal, no matter how dangerous. “Witness this army of such charge led by a delicate and tender prince, whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d makes mouths at the invisible event, exposing what is mortal and unsure to all that fortune, death and danger dare, even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great is not to stir without argument, but greatly to find quarrel in straw when honor’s at the stake. ” Seeing Fortinbras and his army risk their lives for a piece of land as small and worthless as it was, simply to be honoured, made Hamlet question his lack of actions in avenging his father. This part of the play earned Fortinbras the audience’s respect as well as Hamlet’s, which is shown at the end of the play when Fortinbras is rewarded by being named King of Denmark. Finally, the most obvious of Hamlet’s foils is Laertes, the son of Polonius who was killed by Hamlet himself in Act III, Scene iv. After finding out about his father’s death as well as his improper burial and the death of his sister Ophelia, Laertes returned from Paris, furious and seeking revenge. In reaction to his anger, Claudius was able to convince Laertes, who at the time was willing to do anything to get revenge, that Hamlet was at fault. The two planned a duel with the goal to kill Hamlet and avenge. ““A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice requite him for your father” “And for that purpose, I’ll anoint my sword. ””

However, their plan backfired ending the play with tragedy. In this case, Laertes determination was so strong, that it led to his own violent death but although this was an unfortunate end to his plan of revenge, it, once again, brought out Hamlet’s failure in avenging his father until the very end of the play by showing the dedication he lacked through Laertes actions. Hamlet’s character is very well known as one who hesitates and overthinks. Although this is quite clear simply due to the fact that it took him an entire play to get revenge on his uncle, the three foils used by Shakespeare strongly bring out Hamlet’s unfortunate qualities. The story of Pyrrhus demonstrates the lack of mercilessness Hamlet had for his father’s murderer, making him seem like a coward in the eyes of the audience. Fortinbras obedient but honourable actions bring out Hamlet’s lack thereof and finally, Laertes determination and quick plan of action brings out the extensive amount of time it took Hamlet to follow his late father’s wishes.

Overall, the three foils for Hamlet take away any admiration the audience may have for his revenge plan since clearly, although he did succeed towards the end, he was an embarrassment compared to the others with the same intentions.

15 Jun 2020

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