Characters in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet interestingly both, act as a mirror and a foil to the character prince Hamlet from Act’s 1 to 4. Minor characters Fortinbras, Laertes and Player queen express personality traits, physical actions and inner feelings both similar and extremely different from Hamlets.
Fortinbras is the first characters we (without even trying) can compare to Hamlet. Right away, in Act one, we discover Both young men share a passion for avenging their father’s death. After hearing from Ghost Hamlet, prince Hamlet makes it his mission to successfully carry out a plan for avenging the death of Hamlet1. Coincidently, this too is Fortinbrases plan (since learning of Hamlet 1 death). Fortinbras acting as a foil to Hamlet, Decides to handle his plan in a much more active, direct way; he attempts to fight for what his father lost. In Act one Claudius tells us, “Young Fortinbras…/ thinking by our late dear brother’s death/Our state to be disjoint and out of frame, /Colleaguèd with the dream of his advantage,/ Importing the surrender of those lands/ Lost by his father” (Scene2). Though Fortinbras does not go through with the attack on Denmark, the attempt serves as a foreshadowing for later acts by Fortinbras that even Hamlet closely evaluates concluding Fortinbras as something like him, but better. Hamlet reveals his feeling in a soliloquy, “this army of such mass and charge/Led by a delicate and tender prince,/Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed/… How stand I then,/That have a father killed, a mother stained,/Excitements of my reason and my blood/ And let all sleep— (Act4 Scene4). Comparatively, Fortinbras is not the only son in the play who acts as a foil to Hamlet.
Laertes has similar issues with the situation surrounding his father’s death. Both Hamlet and Laertes share feelings of anger when it comes to how properly their father’s bodies were mourned. However, these characters are set apart untimely labeling Laertes as a foil for Hamlet as each of them handled their feelings of anger very differently. Hamlet talks aggressively to himself about the unfitting time period in which his father was mourned and Laertes addresses King Claudius directly and says, “No trophy, sword, nor hatchment o’er his bones,/No noble rite nor formal ostentation— That I must call ’t in question” (Act4 Scene5). Hamlet and Laertes also share the feeling of animosity when it comes to the sexuality of the women related to them. Hamlet has hostile feelings about his mother Gertrude’s sexuality as far as relations between her and his uncle (current King Claudius). As Laertes similarly feels uncomfortable with his sister Ophelia being sexually charged (he doesn’t know she is active) by Hamlet. Both characters feel similarly about this situation although again handle it very differently. Laertes tries to talk sense in to his sister by calmly talking to her. In Act 1 Scene 3 he says “Then if he says he loves you/ It fits your wisdom so far to believe it…. Fear it, my dear sister/ And keep you in the rear of your affection,/Out of the shot and danger of desire”. While as we know Hamlet causes a huge scene (Act3 scene4) yells at his mother, scares her and kills Polonius.
As it is clear there are some foils for Hamlet floating around, there also is some mirrors of Hamlets character throughout the play. I couldn’t help but notice the close similarity between player queens feelings about remarrying, Act3 Scene2, (in the mouse trap play) and Hamlets feelings about Gertrude getting hitched to Uncle Claudius. Player queen is pretty clear about how wrong it would be to remarry after player King dies as she says, “Nor earth to me give food, nor heaven light…../ Both here and hence pursue me lasting strife / If, once a widow, ever I be wife!”. The actor playing an actor seems to share the exact feelings regarding this situation as Hamlet does. In Act1 Scene2 Hamlet says,” Within a month/,Ere yet the salt of most unrighteous tears/Had left the flushing in her gallèd eyes,/She married.” These Characters help bring out traits of main character Prince Hamlet on several occasions throughout the play. By acting as both, direct foils and mirrors of Hamlets inner feelings, personality traits and physical actions, we are able to expand our observation of the plot and deepen our knowledge of character development for this piece.