Free Hamlet Essays: The Importance of Polonius and Laertes in Hamlet Hamlet essays
The Importance of Polonius and Laertes in Hamlet In his play, Hamlet, William Shakespeare uses various foils to make the play more complex. These foils involve numerous characters that help to develop different relationships and conflicts. Without these foils, the relationships and conflicts would not happen, and the play could not develop. They help us to understand Hamlets actions and bring diversity to the play. Polonius and Laertes are the main foils for Hamlet. Polonius shows how irrational Hamlet thinks, and Laertes shows that Hamlet must pay for his actions, even if he is royalty. This plot and conflict develop from the similarities and differences between Hamlet and the foils. Why are foils required to understand and develop the play? A foil is a minor character used to help develop or understand a major character. The foil must have some similarities with the major character in order to create a link with him. A foil must also be different in order to show or distinguish something about the major character. The foil does not always have an active role. Sometimes the foil is just someone for the major character to talk to. This allows his ideas to come through to the audience without a narrator; therefore, the foil is a kind of prop to help develop the role of the major character. Without a foil, there is no one to help develop or understand the major character; thus his ideas cannot be revealed to the audience. Polonius was an important foil for Hamlet. Polonius and Hamlet were similar in that they both loved Ophelia and tried to protect her. While Polonius died trying, Hamlet encouraged her to go to a nunnery. Unfortunately, she died anyway. Also, Hamlet and Polonius both died trying to protect a woman. Polonius was trying to protect Ophelia from Hamlet, just as Hamlet was trying to protect his mother from Claudius. Both men were also loyal to a king–Polonius to Claudius, and Hamlet to his father. Here again, both kings were killed. Polonius and Hamlet also had their differences. While Polonius was loyal to Claudius, Hamlet was not loyal or even respectful to him. Hamlet knew Claudius was a murderer and Polonius was not even suspicious of King Hamlet’s death. Although they both died, Polonius and Hamlets murders were different. Hamlet’s death was planned. Claudius unsuccessfully attempted to have Hamlet drink poison. Laertes effort to kill Hamlet was successful by poisoning the unblunted tip of his foil. Polonius’s death was an accident, since Hamlet thought he was killing Claudius behind the arras. Polonius also helped to develop and carry the plot that Hamlet was “mad”. After talking with Ophelia, Polonius discussed Hamlet’s “madness” with Claudius several times. Without Polonius, Claudius would not have been so sure that Hamlet was “mad”. [Nice] Also, Ophelia would not have had anyone to confide in about Hamlet’s strange behavior. If Polonius were not present in the play, Laertes’ loyalty to family would not have been so strong. [Nice point] Also, Ophelia would not have become so distraught over her father’s death and therefore, would not have drowned. Polonius’ death would not have created any conflict between Laertes and Hamlet. Laertes would have had no reason to revenge his father’s death; thus, he would not need to return to kill Hamlet. This conflict makes Laertes a foil also. Laertes and Hamlet were similar, in that both of their fathers had been killed. They were both looking to revenge the murders. Both men loved their families and were loyal to them, as shown by their need for revenge. Also, at the end of the play, before Hamlet dies, they both know that Claudius has killed the king. [What evidence is there that Laertes knew that Claudius killed his brother?] Hamlet differed from Laertes in that he did much plotting and scheming to seek his revenge. He almost drove himself mad plotting revenge. [You need a transition here.] Hamlet wanted Claudius dead and purposely killed him without any regret. Although Laertes’ plan was simple, and he killed Hamlet, he regretted it in the end. The most important difference here was Laertes lived while Hamlet died. [Ouch! Laertes doesn’t live.] This is the most important difference because it is what makes Laertes a necessary foil. Without him, Hamlet would live. He may have eventually died at Claudius’s hand, but he may never have learned that his father was really murdered. Hamlet would not have been punished for the murder of Polonius, because he was royalty. Without the duel with Laertes, the poison would not have been available for Gertrude to drink, and she may have lived also. [Nice point, but it doesn’t depend on Laertes living.] In turn, Hamlet would not have realized that Claudius was planning to kill him or that Claudius had killed his father. All of these events were related to Laertes “the foil”. Without Laertes as a foil, this play would have been entirely different. As foils, Polonius and Laertes were major assets to this play. Without them, the play would lack diversity, since they are the keystones to this play. Foils are required to help develop a major character, in order to show the audience what he is really like. The foil of a play must do the work of a narrator of a story, because a play has no one to tell the audience what the character is thinking or what his ideas are. [But Shakespeare also uses soliloquies.] Polonius and Laertes help reveal what Hamlet is thinking and why he is doing what he is doing. They also make the play more realistic than someone standing on stage explaining what the character is doing and why. Without these two foils, this play would have had less conflict and less excitement; consequently, it would be less memorable. Works Cited Shakespeare, William. “Hamlet”. Literature for Composition: Essays, Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Barnet, S.; Berman, M.; Burto, W.; Stubbs, M. 4th ed. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. 628-735.