Hamlet and Laertes: a Tainted Mirror

In the course of Shakespeare’s great tragedy Hamlet, two characters, Hamlet and Laertes, develop as “foils,” or contrasting characters. Several comparisons and contrasts can be shown between the two characters, many of which center around three main topics. Throughout this essay, I will show how Hamlet and Laertes compare and contrast in terms of avengers, sons, and personalities.

To begin with, one of the most obvious examples of Hamlet’s and Laertes’s similarities rests in their roles as avengers. At first both become angry. Hamlet’s desires are revealed in his words “So, uncle, there you are. Now to my word./It is ‘adieu, adieu, remember me.’/I have sworn ‘t.” (Act I, scene v, lines 115-117). Here, it is apparent that Hamlet is angry and ready to seek revenge on his uncle, Claudius. Similarly, Laertes reveals his anger against Claudius for the death of Polonius, his father. Unlike Hamlet, Laertes literally mobs the castle upon receiving news of the death of his father, threatening the King while the Queen observes with worry. Another important aspect to note is the fact that Laertes is so bent on getting revenge that he is willing to be damned to Hell. He states that he would be willing “To cut [Hamlet’s] throat i' th’ church” (Act IV, scene vii, line 140). Hamlet, on the other hand, believes his soul more valuable than instant revenge. For this reason, he refuses to kill Claudius while he is praying. Clearly, the only similarity between Hamlet and Laertes as avengers is their desires are rash in anger.

Hamlet and Laertes also can be compared as sons. Both Hamlet and Laertes have fathers deeply concerned with whether or not their son is going to soil their family name. Polonius’s concern is exposed in Act II, when he tells Reynaldo “You shall do marvelous wisely, good Reynaldo,/Before you visit him, to make inquire/Of his behavior.” (Scene i, lines 3-5). Throughout the dialog, Polonius requests that Reynaldo check up on Laertes, even at the risk of ruining...