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Compare And Contrast The Characters Of Hamlet And Horatio Essay

In the play Hamlet, we see a man who is driven to revenge after the murder of his father. However this man, the titular character of the play, Hamlet, is indecisive and goes through a variety of problems in his quest for revenge. He is supported or schemed against by a variety of characters, many of who act as a character foil to Hamlet. A foil is used as a parallel and contrasts the main character, letting us better see his various traits, reasoning behind decisions or important differences. In Hamlet, his prominent character trait of indecisiveness and other traits are revealed and better seen when compared and contrasted to the rest of the cast.

One of these foils is the character of Laertes. Laertes and Hamlet both share a common goal, revenge for the murder of their father. However, the way they go about this is different. Unlike Hamlet, he is ablaze with motivation and action, and says that he will throw “conscience and grace to the profoundest pit”. (A4, S5 150) But, Laertes is very shallow and Hamlet is a genius in comparison. Yet, it is his intelligence and tendency to over think which is Hamlet’s flaw.

However, we do see that in anger both Laertes and Hamlet can be very rash and impulsive and bring problems upon themselves. When Laertes learns of his father’s death he immediately assumes it was Claudius. As a result of Laertes’ speculation, he instinctively moves to avenge Polonius’ death. “To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation: to this point I stand, that both worlds I give to negligence, let come what comes; only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.” (A4 S5 149-154) Hamlet also thrusts out in rage in an attempt to kill Claudius he stabs through the curtain and kills the hiding Polonius instead.

Another foil we see is Ophelia, the “love” of Hamlet. Hamlet says he is in love with her and pines for her, but, the most important plot in the play is not that of romance, and so it is not the contrast/comparison of character like Romeo and Juliet that can be made. Instead, only in revenge and death do we see her as a character foil. After her father’s death she goes truly mad, as seen by the singing in Act 4, Scene 5. One of the most debated topics surrounded Hamlet is whether or not Hamlet truly goes mad by the end of the play, or if it is only an illusion concocted by him. I believe that in seeing Ophelia as a character foil, with her real madness, Hamlet’s wasn’t real and he was indeed in control the entire time. We also see the weakness of her character and strength of Hamlet’s. Her death is debated as being a suicide, and only someone who was weak and mad would turn to that solution. In contrast, we see Hamlet consider suicide himself in Act 3 Scene 1 but not go through with it, instead working towards his goal of revenge.

The characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern also act as foil to Hamlet. They are always seen together, acting together and working together. This is a stark contrast to Hamlet, and how he acts alone. Hamlet is frequently by himself with the play and does much of what he does alone, without any help. Other than his confidant/friend Horatio, he frequently acts alone. This is further shown by the betrayal of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, who were seen as Hamlet’s friends in the beginning of the play. They are also simpler than Hamlet and of a lower class and have a less educated manner of speaking. When talking to Hamlet we see the contrast and see the intelligence of Hamlet. They also act as pawns; following the King’s will blindly which is a contrast to Hamlet’s independence.

Hamlet’s best friend Horatio is also a foil to him. Though they are similar and are friends, there is some contrast and Hamlet can be seen as an equal with him, instead of lording over many of the other characters which he does by his status/rank or with his wit and intelligence. Horatio is sensible, level-headed and reasonable more often than not. When Horatio sees the Ghost he initially doubts its existence but when does belief it is truly there he logically goes to inform Hamlet immediately. When Hamlet then goes to follow the Ghost, Horatio warns him and says he to be careful, as the Ghost may be an evil spirit, something Hamlet didn’t consider as he blindly followed the Ghost. Horatio is a stalwart friend and is consistently a reliable source of information and warnings. He cares for Hamlet and when Hamlet is about to die, he goes to drink from the poisoned cup but Hamlet stops him, telling he must tell the story of what transpired here.

The final character foil to Hamlet is Fortinbras. Both are noble princes, their father’s killed and their Uncle now on the throne. They both seek to regain the throne and avenge their father’s deaths. However, they go about this in a different manner despite their common goals. And though they come from a similar background, various differences come in to play to show Hamlet’s weakness. The contrast lies in their motives; Hamlet wishes to kill Claudius for personal revenge while Fortinbras works in the name of Norway and of honour. This difference shows their inaction and action, while Hamlet is doing this for personal reasons; he is bound by personal morals and hesitates to kill Claudius, like the instance of when Claudius is praying in the chapel, because he believes killing him then would send him to heaven. Since Fortinbras’ mission is not one of revenge, he does not debate over any moral dilemmas. And so, Fortinbras takes action while Hamlet has no initiative and spends most of his time in a state of “madness”. Hamlet also has the weakness of his father’s murder not being public knowledge. While Hamlet has to scheme and plan against Claudius secretly and tread carefully, Fortinbras is free to march his armies and plan openly. Hamlet struggles with his anger and has difficulties killing those are guilty; he becomes jealous of Fortinbras and his ability to lead and channel his anger in retaking the land he lost and seeing no problem in killing those who are innocent. Hamlet wishes to be Fortinbras and it is because of this, that we clearly see Hamlet’s flaws. Fortinbras showed us Hamlet’s tragic flaw, his indecisiveness and inability to act.

In conclusion, the tragic flaw of Hamlet, his indecisiveness is clearly seen when we look at character foils. It is the similarities and differences between Hamlet and the other minor characters that further our understanding of him.  Through comparison and contrast, we see Hamlet’s traits, characteristics and flaws. Although Hamlet is the main character of the play, it is through the minor characters that we can truly see who Hamlet is and the reasoning behind his decisions.

A Compare/Contrast of Hamlet through his foils – Laertes, Fortinbras and Horatio.

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It is without doubt that William Shakespeare has created many unique, thought – provoking characters. Hamlet is by far Shakespeare’s most compelling character. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, various character traits, exhibited by Hamlet, can be seen through his foils. Similarities with Hamlet and Horatio’s education, as well as their levels, can be drawn. However, Hamlet’s character is in constant change and even philosophical. Fortinbras, without question encompasses many of Hamlet’s qualities. They are both born with nobility, along with a similar lineage. However, Fortinbras is more aggressive and even sneaky.

Laertes, Hamlet’s late antagonist, is both impulsive and righteous. However, they differ in terms of their nobility, as well as their father’s behaviour. The character traits exemplified by Hamlet also comprise his foils. In relation to Hamlet’s three foils, Horatio is the most dissimilar. When Horatio first enters the play, Hamlet says, “And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio. ” (I,ii,171) Hamlet is making reference to the city that their university, which they both study at, is located. With respect to education, these two characters are one; they are both deemed scholars.

One characteristic also shared between the two is their courage. When the ghost first appears Horatio fiercely challenges him, “By heaven I charge thee speak. ” (I,i,58) Ghosts are unique in the respect that they are the supernatural; they are able to walk through doors, be immune to fires and even ascend. Thus, upsetting a ghost is certainly a courageous act as Horatio is easily susceptible to consequence. Another similarity, these two characters demonstrate is their belief in God. When the ghost leaves Horatio says, “Before my God, I might not this believe. (I,i,65) Hamlet also makes reference to an afterlife, “But that the dread of something after death, /The undiscovered country from whose bourn/No traveller returns. ” (III,i, 85-87) In this portion of his soliloquy, Hamlet is making reference to afterlife, a belief held in conjunction with religious people. Although this was a religious time period, not all characters make references to God, thus this quality is worth addressing. Hamlet and Horatio have many personal characteristics that are similar. Like all other characters, Hamlet and Horatio have their differences. A major dea exemplified throughout the play is that Horatio is a static character, one that does not develop. Hamlet however is bipolar, demonstrating moods that are at one moment excited and the other dreadful, to name a few. When Hamlet is first introduced in the play, his mother says, “Good Hamlet, cast they knighted colour off/And let thine eye look for a friend on Denmark. ” (I,ii,69-70) From her comments, it is obvious that Hamlet is suffering. Upon the arrival of the players, Hamlet transforms into a more inquisitive mood and says, “I’ll have grounds/More relative than this. The play’s the thing/Wherein I’ll catch the conscious of the King. (II,ii,615-617) Another difference between Hamlet and Horatio is Hamlet’s philosophical nature. This is one of Hamlet’s only constants throughout the play. Hamlet demonstrates this quality through many of his soliloquies. In the most famous speech in literature Hamlet says, To be, or not to be, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, Or to take arm against a sea of troubles Any by opposing end them. (III,I,65-67) In this speech, Hamlet is intelligently contemplating living through pain and suffrage rather than committing suicide and ending the harsh life.

Hamlet and Horatio differ in terms of consistency and a lack of trait. In relation to Hamlet’s three foils, Fortinbras is the most similar. Fortinbras and Hamlet are both born into nobility; their fathers were both rulers of their respective countries. However, this similarity runs deeper then readers first imagined. Fortinbras and Hamlet are in identical scenarios; they have dead fathers with uncles governing their country. Another similarity between these two are the purpose they are presently seeking. When the guards notice activity in the mills, Horatio says,

Now, sir, young Fortinbras, Of unimproved mettle hot and full, Hath in the skirts of Norway here and there Sharked up a list of lawless resolutes, For food and diet, to some enterprise That hath a stomach in it, which is no other, … But to recover of us, by strong hand And terms compulsatory, those foresaid lands So by his father lost. (I,i, 109- 115) In this speech, it is obvious that young Fortinbras is out for revenge. He is not content with what happened to his father. After a visit by the ghost, Hamlet says, “Prompted to my revenge by heaven and hell. ” (II,ii,596).

In this soliloquy, Hamlet mentions his existential purpose in life, which is to extract revenge for his father, as he too is unhappy with the current conditions. These two characters share similarities that they have been born into. As much similar they are, Hamlet and Fortinbras have several differences. A major distinction between Hamlet and Fortinbras is that Fortinbras is more aggressive with his intent. In Claudius’s opening speech, he says Of this his nephew’s purpose, – to suppress His further gait herein, in that the levies, The list and full proportions, are all made Out of his subject. And we here dispatch. I,ii,30-33) In this speech, it is clear that Fortinbras is more driven in his purpose and has the ‘wheels in motion. ‘ In one of Hamlet’s soliloquy’s he says, But in fiction, in a dream of passion Could force his souls so to his own conceit That from her working all his visage waned, Tears in his eyes, distraction in his aspect (II,ii, 563-566) Hamlet’s philosophical nature is not helping his main objective. One can argue that he has had reasons not to act when he has been given chance. However, this is clearly an instance when he should stop portraying Socrates’ and focus more on his objective.

A major difference between Hamlet and Fortinbras is that Fortinbras is a snake, ruthless with intent. After threatening to attack their country, he was granted permission to pass through for battle. “Tell him that by his license, Fortinbras/Craves the conveyance of a promised march/Over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous. ” (IV,iv,1-3). However, at the conclusion of the play, Fortinbras arrives ready to overtake the kingdom. He doesn’t care for the gracious favour that Denmark had granted him. As well, he attacks without notice, a use practiced by terrorists in the present day; he is as evil as they come.

Hamlet and Fortinbras differ in terms of their willingness as well as a lack of a trait. Laertes and Hamlet share many striking characteristics. It is obvious that Laertes is impulsive. Upon first hearing his father’s murder, he becomes angry with the king, even accusing him of the crime. To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil! Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit! I dare damnation. To this point I stand. That both the worlds I give to negligence, Let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged. (IV,vi,136-140) This speech is very powerful in conveying the vehemence that is surging through his veins.

He is willing to take action immediately, not even knowing for certain who murdered his father. Hamlet displays his impulsiveness when he is speaking with his mother, after Polonius’s murder. When Hamlet pulls the curtains he says, “Thou wretched, rash, intruding fool. ” (III,iv,37). Hamlet is astonished that Polonius is the one behind the curtains. Hamlet is filled with the intent on taking action but consequently does so impulsively and results in the wrong death. Another similarity between Hamlet and Laertes is there good nature, good intentions. Before his departure, Laertes has strict instructions for his sister. And keep you in the rear of your affection/Our of the shot and danger of desire. ” (I,iii,36-37) Unlike some of Shakespeare’s other characters, Goneril and Regan, Laertes genuinely cares for his sister. He warns her of the possible ramifications of continuing her relationship with hamlet, such as a broken heart. Hamlet is also obedient to his father’s wishes, “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ” (I,vi,29). Hamlet’s father instructs him to avenge his death. Hamlet is upset that his father is suffering and seeks to fix the ‘rotten things in Denmark. (I,iv,99) Another similarity between these two characters is that their fathers are both sneaky. Polonius exemplifies this when he grants his son permission to return to Paris. He instructs Reynaldo, “By indirections find directions out. ” (II,ii,71) Polonius makes it clear that he does not want his son to be aware that he is secretly keeping watch on him. Although Claudius is not the biological father of Hamlet, through marriage he obtains ‘fatherly’ figure. Claudius is intent on learning why Hamlet is upset and does not mind being sneaky in the process. When Polonius suggests iding and listening to Hamlet, he does not object to it, he says, ‘thanks my dear lord. ” (III,iii,38). Hamlet and Horatio have many personal characteristics in common. One of the differences between Hamlet and Laertes is irrational thinking. When Claudius and Laertes are speaking, Laertes suggests, “To cut his throat in the church. ” (Iv,viii,139). This is obviously an irrational method of obtaining justice. Hamlet is arguably the most intelligent character in the play. This is demonstrated countless times throughout the play. One of the instances is when the king sends Rosencrantz and Guilderstern to speak to Hamlet.

It does not take long for Hamlet to be certain of their true intentions. For he says, “You were sent for, and there is a kind of confession in your looks which your modesties have not craft enough to colour. ” (II,ii,292-295) Another difference between Hamlet and Laertes is their nobility. Hamlet is the heir to the throne, a noble figure by birth. Laertes, on the other hand, is the son to a councillor. They are both recognizable, but not of nobility. Laertes differs from Hamlet by encompassing less gratifying traits. Hamlet’s characteristics can be seen through his foils.

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Horatio and Hamlet hold the same position in education and studied at the same university. They are both religious and courageous figures. They differ in terms of their nobility and constant moods. Fortinbras and Hamlet share lineage and nobility but are different in terms of aggressiveness and philosophical nature, or lack there of. Laertes and Hamlet are both impulsive, good with sneaky male parentage. They differ in terms of their nobility and even irrational thinking. Hamlet is Shakespeare’s most loved character. However, he is a combination of other characters. Thus he is not as truly unique, as one initially perceived.

Author: Brandon Johnson

in Hamlet

A Compare/Contrast of Hamlet through his foils – Laertes, Fortinbras and Horatio.

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