The word that best describes Laertes is “passionate.” In act IV, he is informed of his father’s death and decides to return to Denmark. He gathers a mob and, taking the castle, opposes Claudius. The king lies to him and persuades Laertes to take revenge on Hamlet for his father’s death. His zeal characterizes him as a passionate person who follows his heart.
Laertes, a young Danish lord, is Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s sibling in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. He is a specular reflection, or foil of Hamlet, acting in the opposite manner to him. However, what is he truly like?
Initially, Laertes was a loving and devoted son and brother. His generosity and loyalty distinguished him as the greatest virtue among all the characters. Despite his small role in the tragedy, we can trace the development of his internal conflict.
In act IV, his participation becomes pivotal. The courtiers hear Laertes and the crowd trying to break into the castle. He tells his followers to stay at the door and demands Claudius to give him his father (scene 5):
“…O thou vile king,
Give me my father!”
His subsequent speech reflects his courage and passion for his intentions:
“…That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard,
Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot
Even here between the chaste unsmirched brow
Of my true mother.”
These lines reveal Laertes’ rejection and emotionality regarding the events happening. Later, Claudius manages to quieten him until Ophelia returns. Laertes, upset by his sister’s condition, pays complete attention to what Claudius is saying. By scene 7, he is finally convinced of Hamlet’s guilt and is ready to take revenge. Laertes finds his grief uncontrollable, and he runs out in a rage:
“Too much of water hast thou, poor Ophelia,
And therefore I forbid my tears; but yet
It is our trick, Nature her custom holds,
Let shame say what it will; when these are gone,
The woman will be out. Adieu, my lord,
I have a speech a’ fire that fain would blaze,
But that this folly drowns it.”
Rage is an incredibly powerful emotion, comparable in strength to passion. This is why we can describe Laertes in this way.