In Act 1 Scene 2 of Shakespeare's Hamlet, why does Laertes wish to see the King?

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pirateteacher's profile pic

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In this second scene of Hamlet, Laertes wishes to see King Claudius to ask his permission to return to France. Prior to King Hamlet's death and Claudius' coronation, Laertes was attending school in France.  Now that things have settled down, he wishes to return to both France and his school. King Claudius, assured that Laertes' father Polonius agrees with his decision, gives Laertes permission to go to school. 

In these lines, Laertes is seeking his permission.  This also shows Laeretes loyalty to the king of Denmark and to King Claudius.

 
Your leave and favour to return to France;
From whence though willingly I came to Denmark,
To show my duty in your coronation,(55)
Yet now, I must confess, that duty done,
My thoughts and wishes bend again toward France
And bow them to your gracious leave and pardon.

 

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andrewnightingale's profile pic

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The scene plays out in one of Claudius' staterooms which are normally reserved to discuss matters of state and for the king to consider sundry requests brought to him by his subjects. Claudius instructs his ambassadors, Voltimand and Cornelius on the delivery of a message to be given to the frail and sickly king of Norway about his nephew, Fortinbras, who is seeking redress for property lost by his father. He threatens to invade Denmark to reclaim it. He then turns to Laertes and asks why he wishes to address him:

And now, Laertes, what's the news with you?
You told us of some suit; what is't, Laertes?
You cannot speak of reason to the Dane,
And loose your voice: what wouldst thou beg, Laertes,
That shall not be my offer, not thy asking?
The head is not more native to the heart,
The hand more instrumental to the mouth,
Than is the throne of Denmark to thy father.
What wouldst thou have, Laertes?

Claudius is cordial and kind to Laertes and wishes to know the purpose of his request. He states that Laertes cannot speak of wanting to make a reasonable request and then say nothing. He wants to know what it is that Laertes wishes to ask for he would freely acquiesce if he knows exactly what Laertes wants. In these words Claudius also expresses his close relationship with Laertes father, Polonius, stating that the head and heart as well as the hand and mouth work in complete unison, just as he and his adviser do. He once again asks Laertes what he wants.

Laertes responds:

My dread lord,
Your leave and favour to return to France;
From whence though willingly I came to Denmark,
To show my duty in your coronation,
Yet now, I must confess, that duty done,
My thoughts and wishes bend again toward France
And bow them to your gracious leave and pardon.

Laertes respectfully beseeches his king to give him leave and extend him a favour by allowing him to return to France, where he had been until just before Claudius' coronation. Laertes declares that he had willingly left France to return to Denmark and attend Claudius' crowning out of respect for his liege. He honestly states that since he has done his duty, he now wishes to return from whence he came. He seeks Claudius' grace in his venture and seeks his pardon for wanting to leave his beloved country.

The king wishes to know whether Laertes has gained his father's permission to do as he wishes. Polonius tells Claudius that he had much difficulty in considering Laertes' request but had relented when his son persistently begged him to go. Polonius then requests that Claudius grant Laertes leave to go. Claudius complies to the request and wishes Laertes the best, stating that he may stay in France for as long as he wishes and that he should use his time well.

It is ironic that Claudius, who is now Hamlet's father, only considers his son after he has spoken to Laertes, which indicates that Hamlet is not a priority to him. In his speech to Hamlet, Claudius is also quite critical, in complete contrast to the pleasant tone he assumed when he spoke to Laertes. 

 

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