Foils



Foils

A character that might parallel yet contrast another is said to be a foil. A foil is used to clarify character traits as well as issues in stories and plays. An example of this would be Iago and Othello from the Shakespeare play Othello. Othello is a trustworthy and upstanding individual who has a slight problem as far as spontaneity is concerned. Iago, on the other hand, is deceptive and manipulative, but Iago thinks things out thoroughly. Shakespeare uses these two characters against each other to further bring out their good and bad traits. This idea of a foil seems to be a recurring tool that Shakespeare uses in his plays. Shakespeare clarifies character traits in Hamlet by the use of foils.

One of the best examples of foils in the play is Hamlet against Laertes. At the beginning of the play, we all know that Hamlets father was killed. He has this trait in common with Laertes later on in the play when his father Polonius is killed by Hamlet. At this point, both me are seeking vengeance for a fathers death. This shows perhaps, Hamlet’s “fatal” or “tragic” flaw. Hamlet hesitates at every opportunity he has to kill Claudius with Laertes is willing to seek vengeance immediately. Laertes says:

“How came he dead? I’ll jot be juggled with:
To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit
That both the worlds I give to negligence,
Let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged
Most thoroughly for my father.”

At this point, we really see that Laertes is ready to die and that he does not care about what will happen to him in the next life. Hamlet is plagued by this idea of what will happen next and thus cannot fulfill his task. Another thing these two men have in common is Ophelia. Both men love her only in different ways. Hamlet loves her as a man would love a wife and a Laertes loves her as a brother would love his sister. When she dies, both men mourn her death. Another thing that perhaps works to Hamlet’s credit is that Laertes is fooled by the duplicity of Claudius and the “retardation” of his father Polonius whereas Hamlet can see the treachery in Claudius and mocks Polonius whenever he talks to him.

Another pair of people Shakespeare uses, as foils are Hamlet and Horatio. Horatio is Hamlet’s best friend and pretty much the only person throughout the play that is not “two-faced.” Hamlet praises Horatio as a just and temperate man, who “is not passion’s slave,” who suffers life’s ups and downs with a clear and sound mind. The fact the Hamlet praises and admires Horatio suggests that he admires something that which he does not have. Hamlet is not capable of acting in the same way as Horatio. Whenever Horatio speaks, he is calm, cool, and collected. On the other hand, after Hamlet has decided to put on his “antic disposition,” he appears to be insane. He talks in riddles and does not make any sense. Hamlet even catches himself “loosing himself” after he has seen the players and is talking to himself. He sees that he cannot show the same coolness and emotion that Horatio can and this upsets him.

“’Swounds, I should take it: for it cannot be
But I am pigeon-livered and lack gall
To make oppression bitter, or ere this
I should have fatted all the region kites
With this slave’s offal: bloody, bawdy, kindless villian!
O, vengaence!
Why, what an ass am I! This is most brave…”

From this quote we see that Hamlet does not like himself for not being able to deal with his problem accordingly. This also implies that had the same circumstances been given to Horatio, he would have handled the situation better than Hamlet.

Yet another pair that Shakespeare puts in the play as foils are Queen Gertrude and Ophelia. A common trait that they both share is that the are both loyal and obedient to their men. (By this I am in no way being sexist) Gertrude pretty much does whatever Claudius tells her to do as does Ophelia when Polonius talks to her. Another thing they share is that they are both knowing participants in the plots to deceive Hamlet as they are also both one of