Use of Foil Characters in Hamlet

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About this sample

About this sample


Words: 744 |

Pages: 2|

4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Words: 744|Pages: 2|4 min read

Published: Jun 14, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Ambition
  2. Morality
  3. Psychological State
  4. Conclusion
  5. Bibliography

William Shakespeare's play Hamlet is renowned for its complex characters and intricate plot. One of the most fascinating aspects of the play is the use of foil characters, who serve to highlight and contrast the traits and actions of the main protagonist, Hamlet. One such foil character is Claudius, the antagonist of the play and the uncle of Hamlet. Through his actions and personality, Claudius provides a stark contrast to Hamlet, allowing for a deeper understanding of the latter's motivations and struggles. This essay will explore how Claudius acts as a foil to Hamlet, emphasizing their differences in ambition, morality, and psychological state.

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One of the key differences between Claudius and Hamlet lies in their respective ambitions. Claudius is driven by an insatiable hunger for power and control, which leads him to commit the heinous act of murdering his own brother, King Hamlet, in order to seize the throne. His ambition is evident from the very beginning of the play, as he cunningly manipulates those around him to achieve his goals. In contrast, Hamlet is a more contemplative and introspective character, whose ambitions are not centered around power or control. Instead, Hamlet's ambition is focused on seeking justice for his father's murder and uncovering the truth. This fundamental difference in ambition sets Claudius and Hamlet apart, highlighting the contrasting paths they choose to follow.

Furthermore, Claudius's ambition is characterized by its ruthlessness and lack of moral constraints. He is willing to go to extreme lengths to maintain his position as king, even if it means sacrificing the lives and happiness of those around him. This is evident in his manipulation of Laertes, who becomes a pawn in Claudius's plan to kill Hamlet. In contrast, Hamlet's ambition is tempered by a sense of morality and a desire for justice. He grapples with the moral implications of his actions throughout the play, questioning the consequences of his revenge and the value of life. This contrast in moral compass further emphasizes the differences between Claudius and Hamlet.


The stark contrast in morality between Claudius and Hamlet is a central theme in the play. While Claudius is driven by self-interest and a complete disregard for moral principles, Hamlet is haunted by a strong sense of morality and the weight of his actions. Claudius's lack of morality is evident from the beginning of the play, as he marries his brother's widow shortly after his death and shows no remorse for his actions. He is willing to manipulate and deceive those around him to achieve his goals, showing a complete lack of empathy or concern for others.

In contrast, Hamlet is plagued by a moral conscience that prevents him from taking immediate action against Claudius. He is torn between his desire for revenge and his understanding of the moral implications of murder. This internal struggle is evident in his famous soliloquy, where he questions the consequences of his actions and contemplates the nature of morality itself. Hamlet's moral dilemma serves to highlight the lack of morality in Claudius, emphasizing the stark contrast between the two characters.

Psychological State

The psychological state of Claudius and Hamlet further emphasizes their contrasting personalities. Claudius, as the embodiment of corruption and deceit, exhibits a sense of emotional detachment throughout the play. He is able to manipulate those around him without showing any genuine emotions or remorse. This is evident in his interactions with Gertrude, where he is able to charm her and maintain a facade of love and affection, despite his true motivations.

In contrast, Hamlet is depicted as a deeply introspective and emotional character. His soliloquies reveal his innermost thoughts and struggles, providing a window into his complex psychological state. Hamlet's emotional depth and vulnerability stand in stark contrast to Claudius's emotional detachment, highlighting the divergent paths the two characters take in dealing with their emotions.


In conclusion, the use of foil characters in Hamlet, particularly the contrast between Claudius and Hamlet, serves to enhance the reader's understanding of the main protagonist. By highlighting their differences in ambition, morality, and psychological state, Shakespeare provides a nuanced portrayal of Hamlet's character. Claudius's ambition, lack of morality, and emotional detachment serve as a foil, allowing for a deeper exploration of Hamlet's motivations and struggles. Through this contrast, Shakespeare invites the audience to reflect on the complex nature of human existence and the choices we make. Thus, the use of foil characters in Hamlet adds depth and complexity to the play, elevating it to a timeless masterpiece.

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- Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Oxford University Press, 2008.

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

Cite this Essay

Use of Foil Characters in Hamlet. (2024, Jun 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 22, 2024, from
“Use of Foil Characters in Hamlet.” GradesFixer, 14 Jun. 2024,
Use of Foil Characters in Hamlet. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Jul. 2024].
Use of Foil Characters in Hamlet [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Jun 14 [cited 2024 Jul 22]. Available from:
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