Back to: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
In the play Hamlet, written by Shakespeare, Laertes is the son of Polonius and Ophelia, the beloved of Hamlet is his sister. Even though, he isn’t a major character in the text but he can be considered as a foil to Hamlet in some way and his certain characteristics make him a much nobler personality than others in the play.
He is introduced to us in the play as a deeply concerned brother who doesn’t want Ophelia to get her heart broken by Hamlet. His concerns show his deep understanding of how human mind works. He doesn’t stay in Denmark.
His stay is France may be a hint towards his aloofness from such courtly matters which his father Polonius must be dealing with. During his stay in France, Hamlet kills Laertes’s father while mistaking him for Claudius.
Only when he returns to Denmark after hearing this news, one notices the difference between him and Hamlet because now both of them have lost their fathers and seeking revenge. Unlike Hamlet, Laertes doesn’t fiddle with words. He directly enters into the palace and shouts, “O thou vile King, Give me my father.”
It shows the force of clarity in him. Like Hamlet, he doesn’t “unpack his heart with words”, he is willing to act no matter what as he says, “let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father.”
When Claudius says to him, “why, now you speak like a good child”, it can be said that Laertes is more restless and straight like a child. When he confronts Ophelia in a mad state, he again shouts that “by heaven, thy madness shall be paid with weight, till our scale turn the beam.”
But this is when the tragic weaknesses in him start revealing. He is not a good judge under duress. He falls into the trap set by ingenious Claudius. Claudius is successfully able to persuade him into the plan which finally ends all of their lives.
Since Laertes’s presence in the play, he had been showing a great capacity of individual integrity but under the devastation of loss, he disintegrates. He becomes complicit in another betrayal set by Claudius in the form of a fencing match where they’re supposed to kill Hamlet by poisoning the sword. His morals seem to have weakened here due to the revenge set in him.
In the fencing match, when Gertrude has sipped from the poisoned wine kept for Hamlet, Laertes becomes honourable. Even though he hurts Hamlet with the poisoned sword, and Hamlet too hurts him after the swords get exchanged, Laertes confesses his part in Claudius’ plan.
He forgives Hamlet and dies honourably, setting the only solace in the tragic climax of the play. In contrast to Hamlet, Laertes’s character shows the action. Although he lacks Hamlet’s faculty for philosophic speculation, he is much nobler from others in the play due to his virtues.