Throughout the puzzling tragedy of Hamlet, William Shakespeare proposes the tragic hero of Hamlet as an intellectual, yet hesitant individual as he debates his uncle’s murder. The characters of Fortinbras and Ophelia constantly alter the perception of Hamlet from cowardly and weak to sane and rational, thus creating a mixed perspective of the tragic hero; without the presence of these character foils, Hamlet’s demise would be seemingly weak and underdeveloped. The contrasts between Hamlet and the secondary characters of Fortinbras and Ophelia emphasize the altering persona of Hamlet and each contribute to Hamlet’s character development in that they portray him as a wise and intellectual, yet timid and spineless individual.
Fortinbras, an impetuous and headstrong individual, reacts impulsively as he fights for a meaningless piece of land, and thus portrays Hamlet negatively as a cowardly and timid character. Because Fortinbras has rare and scatter appearances throughout the play, his presence within the tragedy is solely for purpose of a character foil to Hamlet. Fortinbras readily takes action with an “army of mass and charge” only for a worthless and barren fragment of land. Hamlet appears cowardly and greatly hesitant compared to the impulsive Fortinbras, as he must take revenge against his uncle and continually procrastinates and fails to do so. Fortinbras eagerly fights for an insignificant reason-a worthless piece of land-whereas Hamlet, who has the opportunity to exact revenge upon his uncle for his father’s murder, consistently thinks “too precisely on th’ event” (IV, iv, 40) and fails to take action. Fortinbras’ drastic and spontaneous actions for merely a small, irrelevant fragment of land juxtapose Hamlet’s procrastinated attempts of murder, thus revealing a cowardly and indecisive characterization of Hamlet. Without the character foil of Fortinbras, Hamlet would appear rational and intellectual in the constant withdrawal of the consequential murder of his uncle. However, because Fortinbras eagerly uses force to take control of such an insignificant reason and disregards any consequence of his actions, Hamlet appears cowardly and timid in that he continually over thinks and unceasingly withdraws from murdering his uncle.
After the murder of her over protective father, Ophelia, the perfect obedient Elizabethan woman, contrasts to Hamlet by loosing all mental stability and sanity and giving into the compulsion of suicide, and therefore depicts Hamlet, who abstained from suicide, as a sane and lucid individual. Ophelia, the perfect submissive daughter of Polonius, never engages in any activity without her father’s consent; however, disoriented after her father’s death, she deliriously sings throughout the castle, sends her sanity away “after the thing it loves” (IV, v, 164), and is no longer able to think coherently. Contrary to Hamlet, who merely is putting on an “antic disposition” (I, v, 173), Ophelia actually turns incoherent and insane which ultimately leads to her choice to commit suicide. Hamlet, too, considers “to die, to sleep” (III, i, 61), however, he, unlike Ophelia, overcomes this pressure and chooses to live. Because Ophelia takes no time to recover after her father’s death and, instead, fails to