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In Act V, scene ii, Shakespeare introduces a minor character into Hamlet in the person of Osric. Osric’s instrumental function in the play is extremely limited; he brings word to Hamlet that the King has requested the prince to engage in fencing match with Laertes. This transfer of information could have been handled by an anonymous messenger and need not have been dramatized at all. Because the narrative part that Osric performs is so small and his appearance on stage so arbitrary, we are given to wonder why Shakespeare wrote the character into the play. Osric’s character is distinctive. He is a foppish courtier, who is dressed fashionably and given to excessive courtesies, calling Hamlet ‘‘My lord,’’ even as the Danish prince insults him to his face, calling him a ‘‘waterfly.’’ Osric’s pretentiousness is emblematic of the false façade of well-being that envelops the Danish court under a king who has murdered his own brother, wed his sister-in-law, and concealed his crimes from the people. He is also a foil to the depiction of Yorick through Hamlet’s fond memories in the first scene of Act V; the court jester is a genuine fool and Osric is a disingenuous fool. Osric also provides Hamlet with an opportunity for comic relief following the death of Ophelia and his ruminations in the graveyard scene. In a sense, by puncturing Osric’s false front, Hamlet renounces his own prior disposition toward play-acting.
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