Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio, as Foils to Hamlet Essay

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Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio, as Foils to Hamlet

"What a piece of work is a man!" (II, 2, 305). In his statement Prince Hamlet, in his role as the star character in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, acknowledges the complexity of man; as "infinite in faculties. . . express and admirable. . . like an angel [or] like a god. . . and yet. . . [a] quintessence of dust" (II, 2, 307) is man described. Shakespeare emphasizes the observation by casting Hamlet as "a man," exposing his strengths and weaknesses through the contrast provided by Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio, as foils to the tragic hero.

At his first appearance, young Fortinbras is shown to be inferior to Hamlet; being "of unimproved metal, hot and
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Fortinbras' leadership of the Norwegian army further weakens Hamlet in the eyes of the reader, as he is unable to lead himself to bring his plan to fruition.

The differing plans of action (or inaction) adopted by Fortinbras and Laertes, though leading to the same goal, also serve to emphasize Hamlet's strengths and weaknesses. Of the three, Fortinbras is the most successful: he plans "to recover. . . by strong of hand. . . those lands / So by his father lost" (I, 1, 102), acts by "[sharking] up a list of landless resolutes" (I, 1, 98) and raising an army, is "suppress[ed]. . . [and] Receives rebuke from [old] Norway" (II, 2, 61), replans with his "three thousand crowns in annual fee / And his commission to employ [the] soldiers" (II, 2, 73), "march[es] over [the Danish] kingdom" (IV, 4, 3) and finally succeeds to "embrace [his] fortune" (V, 2, 378). Hamlet, however, is easily distracted by his emotions: his intent to "set [the injustice of his father's murder] right" (II, 1, 188) weakens gradually as he is subjected to the "[loss of] all [his] mirth" (II, 2, 298) during the two months from the visitation of the ghost until he finally acts with his "Mouse-trap" (III, 2, 235) "wherein [he] catch[es] the conscience of the king" (II, 2, 607). The sudden injection of mirth and his slump into another low as he "speak[s] daggers to [Gertrude]" (III, 3, 389) cause

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