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Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio, as Foils to Hamlet

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 full” (I, 1, 96) unreasonably “[sharking] up a list of landless resolutes” (I, 1, 98), he is in sharp contrast to the “sweet and commendable” (I, 2, 87) Hamlet introduced in the next scene. As the play develops, however, Hamlet’s weakness are highlighted as Fortinbras works to earn his name, “which seems to symbolize the strong arm of the soldier” (xxvii).

Fortinbras’ uncomplicated, simple-minded determination towards final revenge of this father’s death contrasts with Hamlet’s intermittent efforts towards the same goal. The Norwegian’s first appearance in the play, which does not occur until act IV, scene 4, is conveniently placed as Hamlet is on another of his “lows.” Fortinbras’ triumphant and majestic entry into Denmark evidences his ability to plan and act, circumventing obstacles in his plan as they arise, which contrasts with Hamlet’s inability to do the same. Hamlet condemns himself and exposes one of his weaknesses — his inability to act when required or possible — by questioning “Wh…

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… the deadly duel in the final scene. The scholar’s strong code of honour and ethics, which pushes him to commit suicide at Hamlet’s death, contrasts with Hamlet’s lack of morals, sending his old acquaintances Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to their deaths in England and mercilessly “wringing [his mother’s] heart” (III, 4, 35) during the closet scene.

By exposing and emphasizing Hamlet’s many strengths and weaknesses as they appear throughout the play, Fortinbras, Laertes and Horatio act as foils to the tragic hero. Although they assist in the understanding of Hamlet, they do not completely dissect the inner workings of the main character, thus testifying to the complexity of an individual. Indeed, what a piece of work is a man!

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Betty Bealy. Toronto: Canadian School Book Exchange, 1996.

Poetic Verse and Rhyme in The Merchant of Venice

William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, is a comedy play about the love exploits of several Italian characters, told in an objective third-person point of view. The play is set in Venice, Italy during the Renaissance. The protagonist, Antonio, is a merchant of Venice who is affluent, well-respected, and sociable. The title supports the supposition that Antonio is the protagonist because it is termed The Merchant of Venice, indicating the story of the merchant. Antonio’s best friend, Bassanio, is an impecunious romantic who borrows money on Antonio’s credit to court the woman he loves. Since Bassanio is in a perpetual state of indebtedness he requires money to appear affluent enough to marry Portia, the beautiful maiden from Belmont. The central antagonist is Shylock, a Jewish money lender who gives Bassanio the desired funds on Antonio’s credit, but on one unusual condition. Instead of his usual rate of interest if the debt is not repaid in three months, Shylock desires to take one pound of flesh off Antonio’s body. Antonio’s ships (his bond) are due to return before the contract expires so Antonio agrees to the contract which is legally signed under Venetian law.

Meanwhile, Shylock’s daughter, Jessica, falls in love with a Christian and friend of Antonio named Lorenzo. Against her father’s wishes Jessica elopes with Lorenzo and Bassanio and Portia are wed. However, misfortune hits Antonio as his ships are lost or destroyed at sea; and thus, his bond can not be fulfilled. Shylock takes Antonio to court to force him to pay the bond. In court, Shylock is despised by those present while Antonio is looked upon commendably. Portia and her lady-in-waiting, Nerissa disguise themselves as judge and clerk, respectively, and proce…

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…erissa, and Jessica each reveal their double-identities as members of the court to Lorenzo and Bassanio. Lorenzo’s use of poetic alliteration while talking to Jessica enriches the setting and supports the theme of harmony in the conclusion of the play: “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! / Here will we sit and let the sounds of music / Creep in our ears. Soft stillness and the night / Become the touches of sweet harmony. / Sit Jessica.”

William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, contains poetic verse and rhyme that creates vivid and logical imagery. The powerful bond of friendship between Antonio, the protagonist, and Bassanio is revealed through their words. Shylock, the antagonist, is portrayed as a villainous Jew, dependent on usury and void of mercy. However, the clever Portia is able to out wit Shylock and obtain justice for the Christians.

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