Untitled Essay Research Paper Though seeming to

Untitled Essay, Research Paper

Though seeming to simply be a minor character, Laertes is of great importance

in the play, Hamlet, and much more than one would initially believe, due

to his extensive inner conflict. He is good, loyal, and honourable, seeming

to possess the greatest virtue of all the characters, yet he still is doomed

to die 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. This is important from the viewpoint that it demonstrates

his dislike for the King and his wish to be away from the questionable

circumstances of his marriage and subsequent ascension to the throne, a wise

decision, and an attempt to remain apart and above the world, as the Greek

ÒsupermanÓ is seen to gain immortality by doing, though Laertes

does have personal feelings in the matter, unlike the true 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 ÒWeigh

what loss your honour may sustain,/ If with too credent ear you list his

songs,Ó (1.3.29) else she lose her virtue to Prince Hamlet. This

exemplifies his loyalty and love for his family, and especially his sister,

though she replies to his warnings and advice with the sarcastic reply to

do not ÒShow me the steep and thorny way to heaven,/ Whilst, like

a puffed and reckless libertine,/ Himself the primrose path of dalliance

treads/ And recks not his own rede.Ó (1.3.47) Following this, Ophelia

and LaertesÕ father, Polonius, enters, and Laertes departs with a

final warning to Ophelia. Soon after Laertes departs, Polonius meets with Reynaldo,

and instructs him to bring money for Laertes, but first to spy on him and

to make sure that he stays out of trouble. It seems that it would be difficult

for Laertes to not know of this messengerÕs second duty as spy, as

it is mentioned in the text ÒYou must not put another scandal on

him,Ó (2.1.29), implying that this has happened before, somehow. From

this, one could feel that Laertes expects this from his scheming, plotting,

underhanded father, he still goes along with it, and harbours great love

for the old man, as is shown on LaertesÕ return to England. While Laertes is off in France, however, Polonius is killed

by Hamlet, the Queen recalling that he ÒWhips out his rapier, cries

ÔA rat, a rat!ÕÓ (4.1.10), implying that Polonius is

indeed a ÒratÓ, in the most underhanded and demeaning sense

of the word. Then, Ophelia goes mad the same night as Laertes returns 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 of his fatherÕs ways, he still feels great love for the

old man, and desires only revenge for the wrongful death of his kin. He declares

that he will repay his friends, and have vengeance on those who are his enemies.

To this, King Claudius replies ÒWhy, now you speak/ Like a good

childÓ(4.5.143), and though he finishes the statement with Òand

a gentlemanÓ, the implication is left that Laertes is like a child,

rushing headlong into the unknown, the first implication of LaertesÕ

own tragic flaw. Directly after this is said, Ophelia enters, and Laertes,

further incensed at the fate of his remaining family, cries out ÒBy

heaven, thy madness shall be paid with weight,/ Till our scale turn the

beam.Ó (4.5.152), this line being an implication of the scales being

thrown out of balance, and further attesting to LaertesÕ impending

doom. At this point in the story, Laertes has followed his loyalty,

love, and honour to the decisive point, and the scales have tipped off balance.

He has tried the Stoic way, similar to Horatio, of staying totally apart,

but has failed 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. He makes a plan with Claudius to poison Hamlet during a fencing

match, and even brings his own poison with which to anoint his swordÕs

blade, another stone on the scales, tipping them too far to the other end

of the spectrum, and thus unbalancing them again. Seemingly to drive this

unbalancing in, Ophelia suddenly drowns for no discernible reason, and Laertes

forces down his grief, and after Laertes leaves, King Claudius says ÒHow

much I had to do to calm his rage!/ Now I fear it will start again;Ó

(4.7.193), showing that even the other characters are realizing that Laertes

has become unbalanced, so to speak. In the following scene, during the burying of Ophelia,

Laertes has become so inflamed that he threatens that the priest will go

to hell while his beloved sister is in heaven, and then he nearly strangles

Hamlet while they are both standing virtually on top of OpheliaÕs

corpse, in the grave! If there was still any question of LaertesÕ

flaw, it has again been shown that his virtues have driven him past the

edge. When the final half begins of Act Five, Scene Two, Hamlet

and Laertes are ready for the fencing match, and Hamlet begs forgiveness

for all transgressions against his foe. Laertes, knowing fully that Hamlet

is doomed to die because of LaertesÕ deal with Polonius, forgives

Hamlet and has the perfect way out, and the perfect chance to balance the

scales, but, due to his great desire 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 has drunk from the poisoned cup, however, LaertesÕ

honour finally takes control, and he admits his guilt, and tells all of the

kingÕs plot to kill Hamlet, even though it does no good. The scales

are broken. Laertes enhances the message of consistency in the play,

through the extremes of his own actions. He shows that all the qualities

of the characters are akin to standing on a ball, and the more one leans

to one extreme or the other, without totally jumping off the ball, the more

momentum is gained, and the more force is needed to offset the rolling of

the ball, which is just as likely to send on spinning at a greater speed

in the other direction! The only two examples of characters who have gotten

off the ball are Horatio and Fortinbras. Horatio being the extreme neutrality

of Stoicism, his inaction leading to his not becoming caught up in the events,

since he is merely an observer, and Fortinbras is action taken to just as

far of an extreme, he has no indecision or change of heart, and he is able

to pass by and over all that stands in his way. Laertes tries both ways,

but since he cannot decide which path to take, he exemplifies the metaphor

to its fullest, only getting off the ball after it has passed over the cliff.

Seeing his error and the path to success, he cannot go back, and is doomed,

learning-as do all other characters who cannot stay with their path-that

indecision is the true enemy.


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