The Similarities between Hamlet and Laertes

Exclusively available on PapersOwl
Updated: Apr 30, 2024
Cite this
Date added
Pages:  6
Words:  1834
Order Original Essay

How it works

William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” demonstrates to the reader that even though two people may experience similar life events, each can react in completely opposite ways. This paper will compare the behavior of Hamlet to that of Laertes, both of whom suffered similar fates and outcomes, differing only in their respective reactions. Throughout the play, the two characters share commonalities such as being sons of prominent figures in society, experiencing the loss of their fathers, and harboring love for Ophelia, yet they navigate these parallel situations in contrasting ways.

Need a custom essay on the same topic?
Give us your paper requirements, choose a writer and we’ll deliver the highest-quality essay!
Order now

Hamlet confronts a significant dilemma that requires swift action: he contemplates killing Claudius due to his father’s ghost alleging that Claudius is his father’s murderer. He is uncertain about whether this is true or if the ghost represents an evil spirit seeking to entice Hamlet into committing a crime. Hamlet has several opportunities to kill Claudius but his uncertainty about the ghost’s credibility prevents him from doing so. This is why Shakespeare introduces Laertes, Hamlet’s foil, to help the reader understand Hamlet’s actions. Laertes bears a significant resemblance to Hamlet in multiple aspects and through their similarities, the author underscores their differences for the reader.

Hamlet is arguably the most dramatic character in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”. From the time the reader is introduced to him, he stands out for his incredible intensity, a man of immense contradictions who is both reckless and cautious. He is portrayed as both courteous and supremely uncivil, fluctuating between tenderness and ferocity. His father’s death elicits righteous indignation, yet he shows no remorse for causing the deaths of Guildenstern, Rosencrantz or Polonius. Instead of grappling with his grief and responsibility, he targets Ophelia to voice his disgust for the queen. Unable to comprehend his callous comments, his behavior is mistaken as insanity. Hamlet, a man full of faults like impulsivity, indecisiveness, brutality, obsession, and rage, reinforces his role as a tragic hero.

As the play starts, the audience’s first impression of Hamlet sets the tone for the entire piece. After the author provides a detailed description of Hamlet’s features, the reader can visualize him. It is described that Hamlet wears black, a color that embodies the various shades and moods of grief, an appropriate attire for his external and sincere mourning. Despite this, Hamlet maintains that his outward appearance does not fully reveal the extent of his inner grief. He expresses this in Act I Scene II, stating, “But I have that within which passes show”.

Contrary to many views, Hamlet is not insane, incoherent, or paranoid. Rather, he is full of rage fueled by his father’s death and what he views as his mother’s betrayal, which he translates to betrayal by all women. He remains utterly sober and is probably putting up a scene for the king, causing the reader to understand him as brilliant and lucid. Despite his treatment of Ophelia, he confesses in Act I, Scene 5, “I lov’d Ophelia.” He is practicing restraint and uses words to despise her despite his desire to embrace her. He talks about his pain when he says, “The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to; ’tis a consummation,” to clearly explain to a keen reader that he acts out of pain and shock.

Laertes is the brother to Ophelia and son to Polonius, who spends most of his time abroad and is seen only a few times in the play. He is, however, a significant figure whose absence makes a constant presence in the play. His character provides a complete contrast to Hamlet’s, although he faces similar circumstances in the death of his father but reacts decidedly differently. On learning of his father’s death, he leaves France to return home immediately and storms into the palace to ask questions. He seeks a vast amount of information on his father’s death before he finally avenges his father’s murder.

There is a sharp contrast between Hamlet and Laertes that is notable in this play, and that makes Laertes an excellent foil for Hamlet. The two men are young and share similar backgrounds, being brought up as Danish aristocrats. They both demonstrate high rational and logical reasoning in the play. Hamlet sets a trap for Claudius to determine if he murdered his father and can easily think ahead and predict the King’s reaction to the trap should he be found guilty. Laertes too uses logical thinking where he opts to work with the king to kill Hamlet, although it turns out that the king was a deceitful man. The two men share an intense love for the females in their lives, which border on the incestuous.

Laertes loves his sister, Ophelia, evident when he makes a scene at her funeral, calling her flesh unpolluted. He tries on several occasions to stop her from sleeping with Hamlet, even using dissuasive words to tell her that Hamlet was using her, as he would never marry a woman like her. Hamlet is obsessed with his mother’s relationship with Claudius and even tells her to stop sleeping with Claudius (Pennington 131). This is the same flesh that Hamlet referred to with contempt when he asked to sleep with Ophelia. He does not believe that Hamlet loves his sister as he does and is seen having a fight over it with Hamlet. There are traces of incestuous desire in Laertes for his sister, which are apparent in Hamlet’s obsession with his mother’s sexuality.

They have several differences, though, which form the basis of their actions and concerns. Hamlet is more self-concerned, particularly about the impact his actions have on himself and his world. Initially, he attempts to manipulate the women in his life by persuading Gertrude of his sanity, then manipulating her with his instructions. He convinces his mother to sell Claudius on his madness, and forces her to consider her part in his father’s demise, making her feel guilty for her role in his death, “Thou turn’st mine eyes into my very soul, and there I see such black and grain’d spots as will not leave their tinct.” Furthermore, he instructs his mother to abstain from sleeping with Claudius, his uncle.

His selfishness is the reason for his behavior towards his mother and Ophelia. Hamlet, as a character, deeply experiences emotions, evidenced by his grieving for his father. While others move on, he remains sincerely sorrowful and inconsolable, refusing to forget his father. He is shown to be in a constant state of sorrow and is never consoled by the efforts made by the queen or Claudius to calm him. The lack of empathy from those around him causes him immense heartache, leading him to resent them for not loving his father enough and for moving on with their lives despite his loss. He is deeply wounded by his mother’s actions of marrying his uncle so shortly after his father’s passing.

In Act II, Scene I, he confesses that the king was an exceptional man who loved his mother greatly. He cannot comprehend why anyone would easily forget his father, especially his own mother. Hamlet’s expectations are extremely reasonable, showing his sobriety, even when committing terrible acts. He is heavily influenced by his father and is profoundly affected by his mother’s behavior when she marries Claudius. This changes his perspective on love, as demonstrated by his behavior towards Ophelia. He loved her immensely but has become distant. This is due to his growing fear that she will betray him as he feels his mother betrayed his father.

His weak character when it comes to love is why he turns on Ophelia and utters cruel words to her, which are destructive. While his father’s death deeply affects him, his mother’s perceived betrayal has caused significant damage. This has bred severe resentment and mistrust for everyone, especially his mother, who he sees as a traitor. This perception causes him to have conflicting feelings for Ophelia, who he deeply loves but whom he fears could betray him like his mother. In his conversations with Ophelia, there is a noticeable conflict between feelings of cruelty and mistrust, and those of love and tenderness.

In Scene III, Act I, Hamlet tells Ophelia that she has made her wantonness her ignorance. He is seen again in the same scene, Act II, asking to lie on her lap. When Ophelia questions his intent, assuming he is suggesting sexual intimacy, Hamlet responds, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs.” This dialogue suggests Hamlet’s conflicted feelings for Ophelia. It presents a stark contrast between his apparent madness and his ability to control his emotions, oscillating between despising Ophelia and longing for intimacy (Murphy 143).

Laertes’ deep care for his family’s honor becomes evident during an argument with the priest at his sister’s funeral in Act V, Scene I. He leaps into her grave, protesting against the filling of her grave, exclaiming, “Hold off the earth… till I have caught her once more in mine arms.” Laertes is primarily concerned with honoring his sister, seemingly unconcerned with the spectacle his actions are causing as he confronts the priest. His actions reflect bravery rather than defiance or wickedness (Rosenberg 89).

Laertes’ immense love for Ophelia and respect for his father become evident throughout the narrative. On learning about his father’s assassination, Laertes storms into the castle with a mob. In Act IV, Scene V, the Gentleman warns King Claudius, “Save yourself, my lord: the ocean, overpowering of his list, eats not the flats with more impetuous haste than young Laertes, in a riotous head, o’erbears your officers. The rabble call him lord.” Unlike Hamlet, Laertes acts immediately, not waiting to gather information or deliberate on a plan of action.

Although they are nemeses, Laertes plays a significant role in prompting Hamlet to take decisive action (Foakes 173). He influences Hamlet to avenge his father’s death. The information that Laertes provides spurs Hamlet into action. However, Hamlet’s actions are primarily motivated by self-preservation. He kills Claudius not out of a desire for vengeance but to prevent his own demise. There’s no clear indication that he is motivated by avenging his parents’ deaths. His actions are driven by fear of his own demise.

Discussing their differences, Foakes notes that Laertes’ interactions with Hamlet create a compelling contrast. Laertes’ rash behavior contrasts sharply with Hamlet’s brooding demeanor (Foakes 173). Their respective reactions to certain situations present stark contrasts, allowing the audience to understand how each man’s inherent nature leads him to react in characteristically different ways.


  1. Coursen, Herbert R. Shakespeare: The Two Traditions. Madison, u.a.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, u.a., 1999. Print.
  2. Foakes, R. A. Hamlet Versus Lear: Cultural Politics and Shakespeare’s Art. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2004. Print.
  3. Murphy, Andrew. A Concise Companion to Shakespeare and the Text. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2007. Print.
  4. Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User’s Guide. London: Nick Hern Books, 1996. Print.
  5. Reid, Robert L. Shakespeare’s Tragic Form: Spirit in the Wheel. Newark: Univ. of Delaware Press, 2000. Print.
  6. Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992. Print.
  7. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. Print.
The deadline is too short to read someone else's essay
Hire a verified expert to write you a 100% Plagiarism-Free paper

Cite this page

The Similarities Between Hamlet and Laertes. (2023, Feb 05). Retrieved from