How does Laertes serve as a foil to Hamlet, highlighting both similarities and differences between their characters in Hamlet?

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A foil is a character who usually contrasts with the protagonist in order to reveal the character of the protagonist more clearly. Hamlet's father has been murdered, and his ghost has tasked Hamlet with exacting revenge on his murderer (Hamlet's uncle, Claudius ). However, Hamlet takes a really long...

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time to achieve his revenge, and lots of innocent (or relatively innocent) people die as a result of his inaction and indecision. Ultimately, he only manages to kill his father's murderer just before he himself dies.

Laertes, on the other hand, learns that his father, Polonius, has been murdered, and he immediately returns to Denmark to avenge his father's death. Where Hamlet drags his feet and takes forever to even come up with some plan, Laertes rushes home, ready to hold his father's killer responsible right away. When he learns that Hamlet is responsible for his father's death, he comes up with a plan to kill the prince. However, this plan is rather dishonorable, especially considering Hamlet's very sincere apology and obvious remorse for his actions concerning Polonius; further, everyone believes Hamlet to be mad—can an insane person truly be held responsible for his actions? Therefore, I'm not sure we can really say that either character's actions are preferable: Hamlet's inaction and Laertes's rash action both result in unnecessary deaths and bloodshed.

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Consider the scene where Laertes confronts King Claudius. What differences do you notice between Laertes’s interactions with the King and Hamlet’s? In what way is Laertes a foil for Hamlet? (A foil is a character who contrasts with the protagonist.) Use textual evidence.

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Laertes is a foil to Hamlet in several ways. There are some important similarities between these two characters. They are both young men who have spent time away from court, and both lose their fathers. In Hamlet's case, the death of King Hamlet occurred before the play's action started. For Laertes, however, his father's death is a pivotal event in the play. Whereas Hamlet had been the more serious youth, Laertes now turns away from his frivolous behavior.

Because Hamlet kills Polonius, Laertes is obligated to avenge his death. This responsibility both establishes another similarity between them, as Hamlet is also seeking revenge on his father's killer, and makes them enemies. Another parallel is that they both have Ophelia's best interests at heart. But here, too, they diverge. Hamlet speaks harshly to Ophelia, trying to get her to leave the dangerous court. After she dies, Laertes blames Hamlet for her death, which adds another family member who must be avenged.

Ultimately, they are so close that they die together, with Laertes first understanding his errors about Hamlet and Claudius. In dying they come even closer, as both are killed by the poison-tipped sword, which represents Claudius's treachery, not in a fair duel as would befit their honorable natures.

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