Two people raised in the same life circumstances still demonstrate unique personalities and can even have antagonistic psychological features. To some extent, Shakespeare’s Hamlet illustrates this point by introducing Hamlet and Laertes, the characters that had quite similar experiences when growing up but developed drastically different characteristics when it comes to thinking and acting. This paper argues that both characters enjoy enormous opportunities in life and have deep spiritual connections with their fathers, but the reaction to stress is what makes them dissimilar.
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Hamlet and Laertes have some things in common, but they refer to their life experiences and challenging situations instead of the actual personality traits. The first similarity between them is being descended from an honorable family, which involves nurture with an emphasis on family values and ethical principles. Unlike their poorer fellow countrymen, Hamlet and Laertes are not expected to work untiringly just to make a living and be able to support themselves.
Being the royal counselor’s son, Laertes has access to good education and other opportunities for personal development (Bross 30). As a prince, Hamlet is also granted these prizes of life. Instead of working without letup, as poor citizens do, the prince is involved in fighting for his place in the sun in a different way. He has to have a well-developed intelligence and a sharp feel for dishonesty and plotting behind the scenes to avoid losing all of his power.
Apart from sharing similarities linked to their belonging to the movers and shakers, both Laertes and Hamlet face the same tragedy in life. The characters are destined to lose people they love and respect – their fathers. The prince’s words referring to his murdered parent express his gratitude and deep respect for King Hamlet. When reflecting on his father’s death, Hamlet recognizes him as “an excellent king” (Shakespeare 15).
Hamlet also remembers King Hamlet as a man who loved his wife so much that “he might not between the wind of heaven visit her face so roughly” (Shakespeare 15). Prior to seeing the ghost, Hamlet also mentions that the king “was a man” in the full sense of the word (Shakespeare 17). Laertes is also explicit in his love and attachment to his father and regards his death as irreparable damage. For instance, after being informed about the death of Polonius, he demonstrates an entire spectrum of emotions and says, “let come what comes, only I’ll be revenged most thoroughly for my father” (Shakespeare 130). Therefore, the characters being analyzed are similar in their attachment to their fathers.
Although Hamlet and Laertes experience deep emotions when they learn about their father’s death, they manifest drastically dissimilar characteristics and values when proceeding from intentions to actions. Despite feeling betrayed, Hamlet lets an idea of revenge ripen in his mind and devotes enough time to introspection to prepare himself for such actions. Due to his approach to taking revenge for King Hamlet’s murder, the prince demonstrates the features of the “weeping investigator” (Comay 267). Thus, prince Hamlet presents the character that relies on evidence and the reasons of conscience despite a storm of feelings
Instead of venting his spleen just like Laertes, Hamlet listens to the voice of reason and considers the need to resort to various remedies. It includes the consolations of philosophy, testing Claudius with the help of dramatic performances, and similar indirect strategies (Comay 267).
As distinct from Laertes, Hamlet prefers to put his conclusions to test; he says, “I’ll have these players Play something like the murder of my father Before mine uncle: I’ll observe his looks; I’ll tent him to the quick” (Shakespeare 70). Thus, intuitively, Hamlet knows that Claudius has to deal with King Hamlet’s death, but he still seeks to make this fact irrefutably evident to be able to take vengeance without losing his honor.
From the cited examples, it is clear that Hamlet tries hard to make his impulses subdued to reason, but Laertes approaches the problem of vengeance the other way around. Laertes’s immediate reaction to the awful news about his father’s murder is anger and a burning desire to punish anyone involved. Instead of starting his investigation just like Hamlet, Laertes cries, “How came he dead? I’ll not be juggled with; to hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!” (Shakespeare 130).
Compared to Hamlet, Laertes seems almost incapable of exercising self-control. He even speaks in a manner that encourages Claudius to be defensive and say, “I am guiltless of your father’s death, and am most sensibly in grief for it” (Shakespeare 131). Despite Claudius’s attempts to calm him down, Laertes is unwilling to reduce his emotional heat and promises to wreak vengeance upon his father’s enemies under any circumstances (Shakespeare 137). Therefore, Hamlet uses every opportunity to consider all pros and contras, whereas Laertes is ready to take weapons and retaliate against an unknown enemy.
To sum it up, Hamlet and Laertes share common features when it comes to origin, their attitudes to their fathers, and their going through similar tragedies in life. However, their responses to stress and losses are reflective of drastic psychological differences between the men and their dissimilar positions in the conflict of reason versus emotions. Hamlet is more fearful and prone to doubt, which urges him to collect enough evidence before fulfilling the plan, whereas Laertes lets assertiveness and boldness force reason onto the back burner.
Bross, Martina. “Equivocation Will Undo Us’? Wordplay and Ambiguity in Hamlet’s First and Second Line.” Wordplay and Metalinguistic / Metadiscursive Reflection: Authors, Contexts, Techniques, and Meta-Reflection, edited by Angelika Zirker and Esme Winter-Froemel, De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston, 2015, pp. 25–46.
Comay, Rebecca. “Paradoxes of Lament: Benjamin and Hamlet.” Lament in Jewish Thought: Philosophical, Theological, and Literary Perspectives, edited by Ilit Ferber and Paula Schwebel, De Gruyter, Berlin/Boston, 2014, pp. 257–276.
Shakespeare, William. Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. First Avenue Editions, 2014.