by Orr Klein (Circle 7)
One of the aspects of the fourth act that I really enjoyed reading was the contrast between Laertes and Prince Hamlet. They both have dead fathers that they wish to avenge yet they are so different in their demeanor, and how they want to go about their business. Hamlet is more introspective and thoughtful about his revenge, maybe to a fault because he can’t seem to actually get it done, but nonetheless is constantly thinking about the details of the revenge, and is willing to take his time to make sure it goes off perfectly. His thought process reveals a more human aspect of revenge, calling into question whether or not it is useful to act upon these acts of revenge. Laertes, on the other hand, is different because he is not as introspective and willing to reflect, he just wants to get it done. For example, there is a moment in Act IV where Claudius asks Laertes what he would do to show that he was really his father’s son and said “To cut his throat i’th’ church” (IV.vii. 98). This is a very revealing quote about Laertes’s character, willing to kill someone in what is considered a safe haven of God. Compare this to Hamlet, who is unwilling to kill Claudius when he sees him praying earlier on in the play. I feel like that’s what makes Hamlet’s revenge so appealing to readers, being able to delay and contemplate his actions make it different than any other revenge tragedy we’ve read so far.
Hamlet’s fourth soliloquy is an important change in thought process that shows how the army of Fortinbras is so willing to walk into their graves over something as insignificant as a small plot of land while he’s not able to carry out his revenge, which is something that he believes is justified.
When honor’s at the stake. How stand I, then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep, while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame
Go to their graves like beds
I think it’s pretty interesting to see how Hamlet’s and Laertes’s way of reasoning their acts of revenge are based on two different ideas entirely. Laertes instantly goes in full attack mode and immediately comes up with a plan to take down Hamlet in a duel. Hamlet, on the other hand, takes a lot longer to come around, only after he realizes that there are people out there that are willing to die for a lot less, he’s willing to finally go and act on what his father wanted him to do. After reading this play, I feel as if Hamlet is one of the most humane characters to come out of the plays we’ve read so far. I think most people would feel very similarly in Hamlet’s situation and his delay and contemplation shows that there is some source humanity applied to this messed up situation.