Laertes Unveiled: A Compelling Character Study from Shakespeare's Hamlet

Topics: Philosophy

In the labyrinth of emotion and intrigue that is Shakespeare’s Hamlet, each character plays a pivotal role in propelling the narrative. Among the cast, Laertes, the son of Polonius and the brother of Ophelia, stands out as a particularly captivating character. This post delves into the character of Laertes, exploring his role, motives, and impact within the tragic play.

Laertes, much like Hamlet, is a young prince caught in a whirlpool of family drama and political intrigue. However, the similarities don’t end there.

Both characters are characterized by their love for their respective fathers and their thirst for revenge following their untimely deaths. This parallel presents Laertes as a foil to Hamlet, with both characters mirroring and contrasting each other at different points in the play.

One of the defining features of Laertes’ character is his impulsive nature, as opposed to Hamlet’s thoughtful introspection. He doesn’t deliberate over moral quandaries like Hamlet, but instead, acts swiftly on his emotions.

When his father Polonius is killed, Laertes doesn’t ponder the righteousness of revenge; he promptly returns to Denmark and is quick to take up arms. His instinctive reactions make him both a compelling character and a stark contrast to the contemplative Hamlet.

Laertes’ love for his family is another significant aspect of his character. His protective attitude towards Ophelia, advising her to guard her virtues and not to trust Hamlet’s declarations of love, showcases his genuine concern for his sister. He is deeply affected by Ophelia’s eventual madness and death, which fuels his desire for vengeance against Hamlet.

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However, Laertes isn’t without his flaws. His impulsiveness leads him to become a pawn in King Claudius’ scheme against Hamlet. He allows his thirst for revenge to blind him to the king’s manipulations. As a result, he unknowingly participates in a plot involving a poisoned sword and drink, which ultimately leads to his downfall and that of others.

Yet, in his final moments, Laertes exhibits nobility. He reconciles with Hamlet and admits his part in the king’s plan, showcasing a sense of honor and integrity. This act of confession, and his plea for forgiveness, reveal an additional layer to his character, that of repentance and recognition of his errors.

Through the character of Laertes, Shakespeare explores themes of loyalty, revenge, and the tragic consequences of impulsive actions. Despite his initial portrayal as a hotheaded young man, Laertes’ character evolves throughout the play, demonstrating depth and complexity.

In conclusion, Laertes is more than just a secondary character in Hamlet. He is a mirror and a contrast to the titular character, providing critical insights into the themes of the play. Through his love for his family, his quest for revenge, and his final act of repentance, Laertes leaves a lasting impression on the audience, marking him as one of Shakespeare’s most compelling characters.

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Laertes Unveiled: A Compelling Character Study from Shakespeare's Hamlet. (2023, Jul 24). Retrieved from

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