by Danielle Tralongo (Circle 6)
When discussing Hamlet, one must note the parallels between the fathers and sons of the play. The two that must most notably be taken into account are those of King Hamlet and Prince Hamlet, as well as Polonius and Laertes. Both father-son dynamics are relatively similar, in both personality and relativity to the plot of the play. The most important parallel between these two dynamics is not presented until the end of Act 3, when Prince Hamlet kills Polonius. At this point, however, it is clear to the reader (or the viewer) that there is a comparison to be made between Prince Hamlet’s actions and Laertes’s actions.
Before encountering his father’s ghost, Hamlet merely grieves for his father; any other emotions about his father’s passing seem to be outweighed by his grief. In no way does he appear angry until he speaks to the ghost of King Hamlet. This is a rather importatn point: once Prince Hamlet finds out that his father was murdered, rather than merely passing, he begins to crave some sort of revenge on the king’s killer. In Laertes’s case, it is immediately known that Polonius was murdered, and therefore his emotions are immediately those of anger, a desire for vengance driving Laertes’s actions.
Another important parallel to note between the characters of Prince Hamlet and Laertes is the ability to commit to the action of avenging their fathers. Hamlet, though he promises his father’s ghost that he will take action against King Claudius and avenge his father’s death, has not yet done so in the first four acts of the play. He laments on this in Act 2, Scene 2, saying
A dull and muddy-mettled rascal, peak,
Like John-a-dreams, unpregnant of my cause,
And can say nothing; no, not for a king,
Upon whose property and most dear life
A damn’d defeat was made. Am I a coward?”
Hamlet recognizes that he may not have the courage to take revenge, seeing as the proper way to do so for his father’s sake would be to murder King Claudius. Hamlet, in this moment, questions whether or not that is something he would be capable of doing. There is another moment in Act 3 where Hamlet has the oppurtunity to kill Claudius, but does not due to the fact that he is praying and would be sent to heaven rather than purgatory, where King Hamlet requested he be sent so the two brothers would suffer the same fate. The reader/viewer questions in this moment whether Hamlet would have been able to go through with this if Claudius had not been praying.
Laertes, on the other hand, seems to have no problem with his desire to eliminate his father’s killer. When Claudius asks what he would like to have done to his father’s killer, Laertes simply responds that he would like “To cut his throat i’ th’ church.” Considering this prompting, it is essential to note Claudius’s role in increasing Laertes’s desire for revenge. Claudius encourages Laertes, giving him suggestions such as challenging Hamlet to a duel. Considering that Claudius’s initial goal was to eliminate Hamlet, it would only make sense that he would help Laertes plan his death.
Both sons were very loyal to their fathers, and swear vengance on the man that killed him. The question that now remains is who of the two sons will make good on his promise.