In Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet”, there are several different characters, all with different relationships to each other, and different contributions to the plot. Each of the characters has their own respective significance to the story, friend or foe. Specifically, Hamlet has two foils, Fortinbras and Laertes, both of whom aid in enlightening the audience to the meaning of the work as a whole.
Laertes’ issues with Hamlet begin as mostly minor, where he attempts to dissuade Ophelia from succumbing to Hamlet’s romantic approaches, telling her, “For Hamlet and the trifling of his favor… [it is] forward, not permanent, sweet, nor lasting, the perfume and suppliance of a minute. No more” (I.iii. 5-10). He does end up creating more problems for Hamlet than he had originally intended, or even possibly realized, by taking away that which he most desired, in the form of Ophelia, which influences many of Hamlet’s actions throughout the play. As the story progresses, though, Laertes’ importance grows when he challenges Claudius’ right to the throne by accusing him of his father’s murder.
Claudius is innocent, and able to convince Laertes of this, and postpones any immediate attempts for the throne. This aids the beginning of their alliance, which prompts Laertes’ most devastating action towards Hamlet, the duel. This duel demonstrates just how desperate Laertes and Claudius both are to be rid of Hamlet, as both risk sacrificing their honor and honesty to ensure his death. The duel also serves to demonstrate the lesson that quests for vengeance tend to hurt all involved, as well as the common expression “death is the great equalizer”
Fortinbras’ direct contribution to the story is less substantial than is Laertes’, but is relevant nonetheless. Fortinbras is pitted against Hamlet from the beginning by history. As he seeks vengeance for his father’s killing, Fortinbras also searches for any way to demonstrate his dominance over Hamlet’s land of Denmark. He seizes lands from Denmark and does all he can to torment Hamlet and his subjects. He does recognize that the young Hamlet would have been a capable and great ruler for his kingdom, had he lived to inherit power, but is not held up from taking advantage of his timing to acquire even more of the lands he believes he has a right to rule over.
No man is without enemies, especially those in a position of power. Hamlet’s two primary foils create much strife for the young prince, and in doing so, create the basis for the majority of the play. Shakespeare uses Laertes and Fortinbras to reveal Hamlet’s true character, and to allow himself the ability to express the true meaning of the play as a whole.