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Laertes, the real tragic figure in Hamlet?The more I read Hamlet, the more I think that...

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kat-attaque | College Teacher | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

Posted August 21, 2007 at 3:30 PM via web

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Laertes, the real tragic figure in Hamlet?

The more I read Hamlet, the more I think that Laertes is the real tragic figure--or at least an equally tragic figure--of the play. His father is slain; his sister kills herself; and he, like every main character, is duped and manipulated by the king. Does anyone else feel this way?

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alexb2 | eNotes Employee

Posted August 21, 2007 at 4:37 PM (Answer #2)

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Laertes definitely has it rough-- to start with, his dad is Polonius who is a nice guy but pretty clueless.

To get really contrarian about it, Hamlet isn't tragic at all-- a real man would've killed the villianous Claudius and become King. And it's good to be King! Such was just the way of life in the world of royalty for years and years, Hamlet needed to get with the program and the fact he didn't isn't really 'tragic'. So, yeah, I think you're on to something there.

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nedsneebly | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) eNoter

Posted August 24, 2007 at 5:30 PM (Answer #3)

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i wouldn't go as far as to say that hamlet isnt tragic, try having to decide whether to trust a ghost and have to either kill your step father -the king, or not trust the ghost and let him rot in purgatory. I would though go as far as to say that the fact that he waited so long to act would make him an ant- hero. I think the true vicitms are all the people that had to die just to save his father's soul. what about their souls? but i think that Horatio definitely is tragic at the end because he's left with no one; but I would say that he's the true hero, not just because he lived out of all of that, but because he convinces himself not to kill himself at the end when everyone dies. Laertes represent passion and decisiveness- what hamlet was lacking the whole time, but they are foils to one another, Hamlet represents reason and logic, what Laertes was missing.

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daveb | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted November 16, 2007 at 12:48 PM (Answer #4)

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I think I addressed this in another thread, but I think the real foil to Hamlet, or a better one, anyway, is Fortinbras: he actually is a prince (or was, anyway), has lost his father, and is looking to be aggressive, and not passive about it.

I agree, therefore, with this thread. I think Laertes isn't a good opposite to Hamlet, and as such, he stands alone in his misery and pain. He becomes even more tragic, to me, when he recognizes what others were trying to do at the end of his life, and essentially apologizes to Hamlet for what has happened. The fact that he has that epiphany makes him, compared to the others that die, less stupid, more tragic, and far more human. I'm not entirely sure where he gets all of this from, because Polonius is a weasel. He must get it from mom.

David Becker 

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malibrarian | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted November 17, 2007 at 11:01 AM (Answer #5)

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Getting back to the idea of Laertes as a tragic figure...definitely yes, he was.  But at the same time, I'm not sure how sympathetic I am toward him, considering how insistent he is, prior to leaving for France, in telling Ophelia to stay away from Hamlet.  It's pretty clear that he's trying to protect his younger sister, but I'm not sure how much he actually realized Hamlet's feelings for Ophelia.  Between Laertes and Polonius, they mess with Ophelia so much that, by being a dutiful daughter (rather than following her own heart), she ends up a tragic figure, drowning in a stream.  Besides that, Ophelia gently reminds Laertes to heed his own advice and not be promiscuous with women in France.

I hope I'm not coming at this sounding ultra feministic.  I know times were different back then, and yes, daughters were expected to listen to their fathers and brothers.  I just feel bad for Ophelia because by doing what was expected of her, she got the shortest end of the stick.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 10, 2010 at 11:44 AM (Answer #6)

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I have to agree that Laertes is definitely another tragic figure in the play, however I am just trying to think through precisely how tragic he is. How do we quantify a term such as tragedy? And how on earth do we place different levels of tragedy up against one another!? Certainly we are told far more about Hamlet and his predicament, so therefore we might feel he is the bigger tragic figure, however Hamlet is a problematic character for reasons stated above - he hesitates, prevaricates, and is rather mean in his dealings with other characters - for example, poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. What gives Laertes dignity in his death is his confession to Hamlet and the way he meets his death bravely, recognising how he has been duped.

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted October 10, 2010 at 12:39 PM (Answer #7)

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What is tragic about Leartes is that he can't a hold of his emotions to make good decisions.  He comes back from France so angry at Claudius that there is a suggestion of a coup -- crazy as that may be. Laertes confronts Claudius and is so fired up that he claims to "dare damnation!"  Once Claudius redirects Leartes anger away from himself and towards Hamlet, Laertes is again so fired up that he claims he is determined to kill Hamlet, even a church.  Claudius uses that anger to serve his purposes, and comes up with the clever plan of poisoned swords and cups.  Leartes is so incenced with all that has happened that he is easily manipulated, making his judgement less keen.  Every reader can see all the dreadful possibilities of the poison being turned against him, but he can't.  Seeing crazy Ophelia and then hearing of her death make Laertes almost completely incapable of rational thought.  He doesn't see how Hamlet is manipulating his with his apology at the start of the match.  He is too easily provoked by Hamlet's silly taunts and he strikes on Hamlet with the poison which only causes Hamlet to ramp up his fight and ultimately deliver a death strike to him.  If he had kept his emotions in check, he might have been better able to anticipate the consequences of his actions.  I don't think he is the tragic hero, this isn't his story, but he is tragically flawed.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 23, 2012 at 3:26 PM (Answer #9)

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Laertes might have had a tragic life, but he was not the tragic hero.  Laertes had a tragic existence because he was trying to protect his sister, and his father was killed.  He felt like he had no way out.

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