Laertes and Hamlet - Sample Essay
Hamlet does not have the character to be a revenger, he can say he words, make promises to himself and others but when faced with the situation he cannot do it. Laertes has similarities with Fortinbras in the way he conducts his revenge – he too is a man of action, and unlike Hamlet ready to fight anyone who he thinks may have had something to do with his father’s death. His readiness to believe that Hamlet is responsible for all the tragic events in the court during his absence and his willingness to go farther than the King to ensure that Hamlet will be killed in the fencing are witness to this.
He is a very powerful character and behaves in a way Hamlet wishes he himself could act. Laertes is extremely angry, he thinks that Polonius should have been given a better burial and this spurs on his desire for revenge. In Act IV scene V it is announced that Laertes has burst into the court with a band if men threatening the lie of the king, whom he takes to be his father’s killer. Claudius knows that he must have Laertes on his side in order to keep the Danes on his side and to hold his position as king. He is scared Laertes will lead the Danes against him.
So, almost immediately he devises a plan to keep Laertes on his side and protect himself from Hamlet at the same time. In other words, he uses Laertes to scheme against Hamlet, to save his own life. When Laertes returns from France Claudius jumps on the opportunity provided by Laertes’ fury at his father’s death. The King skilfully quietens Laertes and leads him to the plot by which Laertes will be the instrument of Hamlet’s death, as the king desires. Claudius spends a lot of time convincing Laertes of his innocence and Hamlet’s guilt, and hegoes on persuading Laertes until his mind is made up for him: he is determined to kill Hamlet.
This is exactly what Claudius wanted and Laertes is now so angry at Hamlet he is prepared to do anything. Claudius is very sneaky in how he goes about talking to Laertes. ‘And where th’offence is let the great axe fall. ‘ (Act IV scene v Line 213). Here is shown to already be fuelling Laertes’ desire for revenge and he is leading him straight to Hamlet. The King finishes his work of convincing Laertes that Hamlet, not he himself, is guilty of Polonius’s death and Ophelia’s madness. At first Laertes mistrusts him: why is Hamlet still free?
The king makes a good case: he will not kill him for fear of alienating his queen’s affection, and, the people of Denmark love their prince. Instead he whips Laertes into a passionate desire for vengeance on Hamlet. In Act IV scene vii when the messenger brings the letters from Hamlet, Claudius is shocked Hamlet is still alive but does not allow it to weaken his control over Laertes. Laertes is desperate at this point having learned of his fathers’ death and seen Ophelia in a terrible state right before his eyes, and he unlike Hamlet, helped by encouragement from Claudius is ready to take revenge.
‘I’m lost in it, my lord. But let him come; It warms the very sickness in my heart, That I shall live and tell him to his teeth, Thus diddest thou’. (Act IV, Scene VII Lines 53-56). Laertes is very active in his thoughts of revenge, he doesn’t hold back; this is very different to Hamlet’s behaviour. Although Laertes does let Claudius take control of his revenge, not because he isn’t capable of doing it himself but because Claudius provides such a good case that he should do it and Laertes should just focus on actually killing Hamlet.
Throughout this scene Claudius builds up Laertes’ desire for revenge to such a point that Laertes is even prepared to take Hamlet’s life in a church. Claudius needs Hamlet out the way as soon as possible but is very devious and in his speech to Laertes drops no hints that any of the revenge he is planning on Hamlet is for his own purpose. ‘That we would do, We should do when we would; for this ‘would’ changes’ (Act IV, Scene VII Lines 118-119). Claudius tells Laertes that they should do at once what they want to do – kill Hamlet – or otherwise they will be influenced not to – like Hamlet.
This is ironic because Hamlet’s actions are continually put off by thought. Claudius is deadly, he has everything planned out – the fencing – the poisoning and he has Laertes to do the deed for him who has the motive to leave Claudius free of any blame. Laertes, like Fortinbras, has revengeful characteristics. It is not hard for him to think about murder and he agrees to Claudius’ plans straightaway he doesn’t delay his actions, unlike Hamlet. This shows the audience the great difference in personalities between the revenge characters. When Laertes learns of Ophelia’s death it adds to his rage and his desire to kill Hamlet.
Laertes is distraught at his sister’s death, especially the way in which her funeral service was carried out, this adds to his hatred of Hamlet and leads to their fight in Ophelia’s grave when both characters seem prepared to kill each other. Fortinbras is not one of the main characters in the play, but he is always somewhere in the background. He is a definite man of action – willing to fight whoever whenever. He is also very clever, in his first appearance in Act IV Scene IV, when he and his army are on an expedition to Poland to fight over a piece of disputed territory.
The audience may realise that Fortinbras perhaps has an alterior motive to pass through Denmark on the way to Poland linked to his desire for revenge. He is perhaps passing through to see what’s going on, to see whether an invasion would be a good idea at that particular point in time. Unlike Laertes and Hamlet, Fortinbras’ revenge is laid out to him on a plate; he barely has to lift a finger before he finds himself in the perfect position to take over Denmark. The most we see of Fortinbras is in the last scene after nearly all of the main characters have been killed.
‘This quarry cries on havoc. – O proud death, What feast is toward in thine eternal cell, That thou so many princes at a shot So bloodily hast struck? ‘ (Act V Scene II Lines 346-349). Here Fortinbras’ is basically saying that the heap of bodies cry out for merciless slaughter in revenge (havoc). To ‘cry havoc’ was to give army the signal to break ranks and plunder what they had conquered. Fortinbras realises the opportunities now open for him, now that the royalty of Denmark are dead and he seizes these opportunities.
‘I have some rights of memory in this kingdom, Which now to claim my vantage doth invite me’ (Act V Scene II Lines 371-372). Fortinbras knows he has the rights to the crown of Denmark, as well as to Norway, and now the opportunity invites him to claim his rights. Horatio tells Fortinbras that Hamlet’s dying wish was that Fortinbras would take the throne. Hamlet realised what would be best for Denmark and its future. Fortinbras is a replacement approved by Hamlet himself. This is how Shakespeare ends the play.
The final scene is the climax of the revenge theme in the play. The three characters are each involved and each gets their revenge in one way or another. Laertes kills Hamlet with his poisoned foil. Hamlet kills Claudius – though even at this point in the play Hamlet is avenging his mother’s death not only his father’s and it is perhaps this – a murder committed right before his eyes- which actually forces him to kill Claudius – and when he does it is particularly striking that at this moment Hamlet utters not one word concerning the assassination of his father.
Fortinbras arrives at the court to find the King Queen and heir to the throne dead and the position as king of Denmark wide open to him, none of which is through his own doing. Fortinbras symbolises the outside world breaking into the play – the court – destroying the vicious circle of love, hate and revenge. It is therefore very important. He provides a contrast to the rotten, poisoned state of Denmark. In Conclusion, revenge is one of the most important themes within hamlet.
The differences in the ways Hamlet, Laertes and Fortinbras conduct their revenge lead to many of the events throughout the play and raise their interest value to the audience. The revengers are wholly responsible for the dramatic climax at the end of the play and the many deaths within it. Even though Claudius helps Laertes, and Hamlet should have taken his revenge much earlier on in the play. The final event of Fortinbras gaining the title King of Denmark is the climax of the revenge theme.
The play begins with showing the strict security at Denmark because they fear invasion from Norway, but it ends with the Court of Elsinore and the position of ruler held within it left wide open for Fortinbras to take. This shows the total collapse of Denmark caused by the corruption and the revenge led by the characters throughout the play. Claudius’ efforts to kill hamlet paid off, but he got killed in the process, as well as his wife, therefore losing his position as King. Hamlet got revenge on Claudius but it was perhaps not justified.
Laertes got his revenge on Hamlet but in the end made peace with him by asking Hamlet for an exchange of forgiveness, he wants them to die as friends. Many people have questioned why hamlet delayed his revenge, but there really is nothing surprising about it. It is one of the ways in which Shakespeare links hamlet to everyday life, to show him as human. It is the nature of all human beings to put off a searching task or an impelling duty involving something disagreeable or worse.
(A man who has to write a difficult letter will tidy his desk e.g. before he begins). So with Hamlet; the delay is simple and can be matched with a similar inclination in us all. Shakespeare humanized Hamlet; the evidence talked about in this essay suggests that Hamlet is really delaying action because it is human to do so, and not part of his character. The events of the last scene are not what the audience would have expected to happen. One way to explain this is that Shakespeare wanted to disrupt the conventions of classical tragedy, which he may have seen as too heavily laden with stereotypes.
His Macbeth, Othello, Brutus, even his King Lear, are, from the first act, so imprisoned in conventional attitudes that they become perfectly predictable. But, not in Hamlet; Shakespeare surprises us at each turn, it is the unpredictable, which dominates, and the final scene has only tenuous connections with the first act. Maybe Shakespeare chose in the final analysis only to present the themes, which for him had any fundamental importance: doubt and uncertainty therefore perhaps anticipating the theatre of the absurd and making it so popular.