Hamlet: Laertes An Important Character In PlayThough seeming to simply be a minor character, Laertes is of greatimportance in the play, Hamlet, and much more than one would initially believe,due to his extensive inner conflict. He is good, loyal, and honourable, seemingto possess the greatest virtue of all the characters, yet he still is doomed todie along with the other characters, precisely because of his great virtue. As Scene Two begins, in the first lines which Laertes speaks in the play,he requests that King Claudius allow him to return to his duties in France.
Thisis important from the viewpoint that it demonstrates his dislike for the Kingand his wish to be away from the questionable circumstances of his marriage andsubsequent ascension to the throne, a wise decision, and an attempt to remainapart and above the world, as the Greek superman is seen to gain immortalityby doing, though Laertes does have personal feelings in the matter, unlike thetrue Stoic, thus his attempt is a failure, though a noble one. As Scene Three begins, Laertes is speaking with his sister, Ophelia,about her relationship with Hamlet, and warning her to Weigh what loss yourhonour may sustain,/ If with too credent ear you list his songs, (1. 3. 29) elseshe lose her virtue to Prince Hamlet. This exemplifies his loyalty and love forhis family, and especially his sister, though she replies to his warnings andadvice with the sarcastic reply to do not Show me the steep and thorny way toheaven,/ Whilst, like a puffed and reckless libertine,/ Himself the primrosepath of dalliance treads/ And recks not his own rede. (1.Order now
3. 47) Following this,Ophelia and Laertes father, Polonius, enters, and Laertes departs with a finalwarning to Ophelia. Soon after Laertes departs, Polonius meets with Reynaldo, and instructshim to bring money for Laertes, but first to spy on him and to make sure that hestays out of trouble. It seems that it would be difficult for Laertes to notknow of this messengers second duty as spy, as it is mentioned in the text Youmust not put another scandal on him, (2. 1.
29), implying that this has happenedbefore, somehow. From this, one could feel that Laertes expects this from hisscheming, plotting, underhanded father, he still goes along with it, andharbours great love for the old man, as is shown on Laertes return to England. While Laertes is off in France, however, Polonius is killed by Hamlet,the Queen recalling that he Whips out his rapier, cries A rat, a rat!(4. 1.
10), implying that Polonius is indeed a rat, in the most underhanded anddemeaning sense of the word. Then, Ophelia goes mad the same night as Laertesreturns to Denmark, with an armed mob shouting for him to take the throne,though he finds it against his honour to take the throne from Claudius by force,and only wishes to find what has become of his father. Though Polonius was spying on him, and Laertes most likely was aware ofhis fathers ways, he still feels great love for the old man, and desires onlyrevenge for the wrongful death of his kin. He declares that he will repay hisfriends, and have vengeance on those who are his enemies. To this, King Claudiusreplies Why, now you speak/ Like a good child(4. 5.
143), and though he finishesthe statement with and a gentleman, the implication is left that Laertes islike a child, rushing headlong into the unknown, the first implication ofLaertes own tragic flaw. Directly after this is said, Ophelia enters, andLaertes, further incensed at the fate of his remaining family, cries out Byheaven, thy madness shall be paid with weight,/ Till our scale turn the beam. (4. 5.
152), this line being an implication of the scales being thrown out ofbalance, and further attesting to Laertes impending doom. At this point in the story, Laertes has followed his loyalty, love, andhonour to the decisive point, and the scales have tipped off balance. He hastried the Stoic way, similar to Horatio, of staying totally apart, but hasfailed in this attempt, and he now tries to take the other end of the spectrum,to balance his previous inaction with the action of vengeance, and revenge. Hemakes a plan with Claudius to poison Hamlet during a fencing match, and evenbrings his own poison with which to anoint his swords blade, another stone onthe scales, tipping them too far to the other end of the spectrum, and thusunbalancing them again. Seemingly to drive this unbalancing in, Ophelia suddenlydrowns for no discernible reason, and Laertes forces down his grief, and afterLaertes leaves, King Claudius says How much I had to do to calm his rage!/ NowI fear it will start again; (4. 7.
193), showing that even the other charactersare realizing that Laertes has become unbalanced, so to speak. In the following scene, during the burying of Ophelia, Laertes hasbecome so inflamed that he threatens that the priest will go to hell while hisbeloved sister is in heaven, and then he nearly strangles Hamlet while they areboth standing virtually on top of Ophelias corpse, in the grave! If there wasstill any question of Laertes flaw, it has again been shown that his virtueshave driven him past the edge. When the final half begins of Act Five, Scene Two, Hamlet and Laertesare ready for the fencing match, and Hamlet begs forgiveness for alltransgressions against his foe. Laertes, knowing fully that Hamlet is doomed todie because of Laertes deal with Polonius, forgives Hamlet and has the perfectway out, and the perfect chance to balance the scales, but, due to his greatdesire for vengeance he goes on with the match, and the plan to kill Hamlet,effectively closing all routes of retreat. Once Laertes has poisoned Hamlet, Hamlet Laertes, and Queen Gertrude hasdrunk from the poisoned cup, however, Laertes honour finally takes control, andhe admits his guilt, and tells all of the kings plot to kill Hamlet, eventhough it does no good.
The scales are broken. Laertes enhances the message of consistency in the play, through theextremes of his own actions. He shows that all the qualities of the charactersare akin to standing on a ball, and the more one leans to one extreme or theother, without totally jumping off the ball, the more momentum is gained, andthe more force is needed to offset the rolling of the ball, which is just aslikely to send on spinning at a greater speed in the other direction! The onlytwo examples of characters who have gotten off the ball are Horatio andFortinbras. Horatio being the extreme neutrality of Stoicism, his inactionleading to his not becoming caught up in the events, since he is merely anobserver, and Fortinbras is action taken to just as far of an extreme, he has noindecision or change of heart, and he is able to pass by and over all thatstands in his way. Laertes tries both ways, but since he cannot decide whichpath to take, he exemplifies the metaphor to its fullest, only getting off theball after it has passed over the cliff. Seeing his error and the path tosuccess, he cannot go back, and is doomed, learning-as do all other characterswho cannot stay with their path-that indecision is the true enemy.