The Comparison of Laertes to Hamlet
In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Laertes has a significant resemblance to Hamlet. Hamlet
and Laertes biggest similarity is that they both seek revenge for their father's murder.
Hamlet and Laertes both have a relationship with Ophelia. Like Hamlet, Laertes is
suspicious of those in power. Hamlet, who questions his Uncle's intentions at the throne
and Laertes, who questions Hamlet's love for Ophelia.
Laertes: "Forward, not permanent, sweet, not lasting,
The perfume and suppliance of a minute,
No more.( Ham. 39).
Although of many distinct relations, one way to separate these two is by their attitudes.
They have two inverse attitudes. Hamlet and Laertes are two men who are struggling to
avenge the death of their father. The difference is that Hamlet struggles to avenge with
honor and Laertes seeks revenge impulsively.
When Hamlet is talking to the ghost of his father you can tell that he is concerned
and clearly wants to hear what this ghost has to say because of the language that he uses
"Alas poor ghost!"/ "Speak I am bound to hear" (Ham.
57) and is also quick to except
avenging the death of his father.
Hamlet: Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge.
but by the end of his speech he is confused about how he is going to kill Claudius. "O cursed spite/ That ever I was born to set it right!" (Ham. 69). Even When Hamlet finds
out that the ghost was speaking the truth by the play and is given the option to kill
Claudius, he refuses. He does this because killing Claudius while he was praying would be
morally wrong and Hamlet's reasoning to kill the king must be honorable.
Now when Laertes enters upon discovering the news of his father he is
immediately infuriated without hearing any explanation at all. After Claudius easily
persuades Laertes' anger towards Hamlet, he again becomes infuriated. This time because
Hamlet is not there to defend himself, Laertes reacts with quick haste to plan his revenge
against Hamlet. As Laertes plans with the king he shows no sympathy or question towards
Hamlet's guilt and only precedes to ask Claudius why Hamlet's actions weren't punished.
The king gives two special reasons "The queen his mother lives almost by his looks"
(Ham. 223) and " The great love the general gender bear him" (Ham. 223) but Laertes is
unaffected and only seeks revenge regardless of ethics, or being honorable. "To cut his
throat i'th' church." (Ham. 231).
After the death of Ophelia, again Laertes is angry, but surprisingly Hamlet is also.
In the graveyard the two men fight because they are angry. Hamlet tries to defend her
honor and prove that his love was much greater " Forty thousand brothers could not with
all their quantity make up my sum" (Ham. 255) Although we don't question Laertes love
for Ophelia he doesn't persist on defending his love and uses harsh language towards
Hamlet. "The devil take thy soul" (Ham. 255)
The next scene in which Hamlet and Laertes are to fence, Hamlet and Laertes
exchange forgiveness. Although Laertes seems to except his forgiveness he is still inclined
to follow through with the plan to kill Hamlet. Laertes who at this time had almost
become honorable "And yet it is almost against my conscience" (Ham. 279) ceases to
accomplish this because he still seems to have bitterness towards Hamlet and is careless to
where he points his revenge. When Hamlet is struck by the sword and realizes that his
mother has been poisoned he finally is able to kill Claudius because he realizes that death,
honorable or not, is inescapable.
Through out the book you get a sense that Hamlet is undeniable delaying his duty
to avenge his father's murder. Hamlet does this for the soul reason to kill with honor. With
Laertes it is easily shown that he is impulsive and seeks any revenge to justify his father's
death. Yet when we look at the fates of these two young men, each suffered the same and
died the inescapable death. To be honorable, or not to be honorable? That is the question.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat & Paul Werstine. New York:
Washington Square Press, 1992