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Shakespeare's longest play is replete with different types of characters. Shakespeare includes stock characters and foils in his tragedies for different purposes, but they often add comic relief
- Polonius as stock character
Polonius is the older man who is adviser to King Claudius. Once a brilliant man, Polonius now becomes entangled in his thoughts and confused in their direction. Thus, the humor of Polonius arises not from what he says, which is often wise advice, but from the order of his thoughts and his loquaciousness, as well as his timing. For example, in Act II, when Hamlet directs the players to perform a drama that similar to what has happened to his father so that he can watch Claudius and the queen, Polonius interrupts a player who says, "The mobled queen---'" with "that's good" (2.2.465) or other comments such as "This is too long." In this scene, critics feel that Shakespeare pokes fun of his less sophisticated of the audience whose tastes are less developed than what he desires. Polonius is also ridiculous as he exploits his own daughter to learn more about Hamlet so that he can ingratiate himself with the King.
Providing comic relief, Polonius is a stock character because he represents a type, the older man of former wisdom who, in his failures of not recognizing his debility becomes comical as a meddler and, like other stock character fathers, he exploits his daughter to assist him in his social gain.
- Fortinbras as a foil
In contrast to Hamlet, who has moved only from soliloquy to soliloquy in his deliberation about avenging the death of his beloved father, the young prince Fortinbras of Norway is readily preparing to risk his life for the honor of his father. In Act IV, Hamlet observes of Fortinbras,
Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit, with divine ambition puffed,
Makes mouths at the invisible event
Exposing what is amoral and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. (4.4.47-53)
It is after this reflection of Hamlet that he delares, "This is I/Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.227),and, inspiried by Fortinbras, takes action to avenge his murdered father.
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