Laertes vs. Hamlet

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

(IV.iv. 9.46-9.52)


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.

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7 thoughts on “Laertes vs. Hamlet

  1. Alyssa Merrit

    I enjoyed reading your post. I think the comparison between Hamlet and Laertes is very important to note. They both want to take revenge for their fathers death, but go about it in a very different way. I like that you mentioned Hamlet is much more introspective about his plan compared to Laertes. Hamlets plan does seem to be more thought out then Laertes, which I hadn’t originally thought of. I also think it’s interesting that Hamlet didn’t want to kill Claudius when he thought he was praying, yet Laertes stated he wold kill hamlet in church.

  2. Jackie

    Hi Orr,
    I enjoyed reading your post. You made some important validations between Hamlet and Laertes. I agree that they both want to take revenge for their father’s death. They also take different paths to complete both of their father’s wishes. You make a great point that Hamlet really takes a good amount of time to think his plans out so he can succeed. Laertes doesn’t follow what Hamlet does because he just acts right away. One shockers throughout the play is the fact the you mentioned Hamlet doesn’t kill Claudius when he had the perfect opportunity but I know Shakespeare uses this part to extend the play further and keep the audience with suspense. Great Job!

  3. balfek1

    Hi Orr, I like your post you look into each characters temperments and their motivations. I’m glad you spoke about this because we did not discuss in great detail about this scene of the play in class (or i don’t remember doing so). I agree that Hamlet is probably the most humane character, not acting to rashly. Hamlet is intensional in his actions at first. He knows the ghost may not really be his father so he wants to test the claims the ghost had told him. By doing so he finds that the ghost was telling the truth, and willing to act hastily he doesn’t because although it wasn’t true, he saw his uncle praying. He wanted his uncle to suffer the same if not worse fate than his father. After this interaction, however, Hamlet is rather stunted. On the other hand, Laertes needs no proof, after interacting with the mad Hamlet, he has no problem believing the cause of his father’s death and decides to act. Yet Laertes’ vulnerable self decides to listen to Claudius which in turn ends in everyone’s death. I think it is important however, that you bring up Hamlet’s interaction with Fortanbraus’ army, this interaction was really the final point of Hamlet’s motivation.

  4. Danielle Lown

    I really enjoyed your post because I had never before compared Hamlet and Laertes. However, I have thought deeply about on scene in particular that they had together– the scene when they both jump into Ophelia’s grave. To me, Hamlet and Laertes were two feuding characters, much like many of the other characters present in the play. However, these two characters were able to get some sort of closure before passing on. I really enjoyed that part of the play and that Shakespeare included that. Your post really makes me consider these two characters as a whole in a different light that I had before considered. So much of the play focused on the feud between the two characters, so I like that someone took the time to compare and contrast the two because they both play a major role in the storyline.

  5. Jordana Jampel

    I noted the strong parallels between Laertes and Hamlet as well, but I did not consider why it is they each act the way they do. I figured it had something to do with Hamlet being prompted by a ghost, while Laertes instead took it upon himself to seek vengeance of his father’s death. Upon reading your blog post, though, I am considering the parallel in a different light. I especially appreciate your interpretation of the way Hamlet acts versus the way Laertes does: “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. ” I had not considered Hamlet’s hesitance to avenge his father’s murder as a second-questioning of human morals before, but that notion completely changes the opinion I had about the Hamlet/Laertes parallel since finishing the play. Maybe Hamlet is not the cowardice figure I saw him as, instead a morally just figure who cannot just act on a murder without consciously thinking about his actions.

  6. Sam Ruck

    I think that Laertes and Hamlet serve as perfect foils for one another and you’ve certainly mentioned that in your post. Whereas Hamlet is introspective and ruminates on every possible outcome, Laertes is brash and bold and always seeks out the most direct answer to any of his problems. Furthermore, Laertes is given multiple causes to seek revenge as Hamlet killed his father and indirectly caused the death of his sister, thus giving him direct and visual evidence to the audience that he has a vendetta. Even in death, the two are foils as Laertes gives up the ghost and lets go of his anger whilst Hamlet is consumed by it.

  7. Colleen Urban

    Laertes and Hamlet make me wonder how old Shakespeare intended to be, in comparison to each other. Laertes certainly seems to act younger than Hamlet in his rash rush for revenge and the way he pushes tradition to the side by declaring that he would be willing to kill Hamlet in a church, compared to Hamlet who philosophizes about every angle. However, the way Laertes accepts death is far more mature than how Hamlet goes mad with anger. If Laertes is meant to be younger than Hamlet, one would expect him to react more emotionally/violently. When Laertes doesn’t act out, it begs the question of whether Shakespeare is trying to say something about youth and accepting what has happened.

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