Both Laertes and Hamlet demonstrate a commitment to revenge in Hamlet. Who is more negatively affected by it?Both Laertes and Hamlet demonstrate a commitment to revenge in Hamlet. Who is...

Both Laertes and Hamlet demonstrate a commitment to revenge in Hamlet. Who is more negatively affected by it?
  1. Both Laertes and Hamlet demonstrate a commitment to revenge in Hamlet. Who is more negatively affected by it?
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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a very difficult question to answer decisively. Clearly the commitment to revenge of both of these characters result in their deaths, which is obviously a very negative outcome. However, my own impression is that Laertes has been affected more negatively by his commitment to revenge, but this is because he is used and abused by Claudius, who seems to manipulate so many others during the play. Hamlet at least remains pure and true to his own commitment of revenge and is not used by others for their own ends.

Laertes, as he lies dying in Act V scene 2, has to face up to the fact that his love for his sister and father has been twisted and abused by Claudius for his own ends, and accepts that he is justly killed by his own stratagem. Note what he says in response to Hamlet's question of where is the treachery and villainy that has resulted in his mother's death:

It is here Hamlet. Hamlet, thou art slain,

No medicine in the world can do thee good.

In thee, there is not half an hour of life;

The treacherous instrument is in thy hand,

Unbated and envenom'd: the foul practice

Hath turn'd itself on me. Lo, here I lie,

Never to rise again: thy mother's poison'd:

I can no more, the King, the King's to blame.

Thus we can see from this deathbed confession that Laertes is the one who has been impacted more negatively by his commitment to revenge than Hamlet has. He has allowed his revenge to lead him to become embroiled in the treachery and stratagems of Claudius, involving him in the deaths of others, whereas Hamlet at least remains pure and unsullied in his own commitment to revenge.

Noelle Thompson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Hmmm, well they both end up dead, don't they?  Can either of them really be said to be "more negatively affected"?  Okay, okay, I'll play along though.  My vote is for Hamlet as the more negatively affected here.  Laertes, being the simpler character, has no ghost to lead him or strange girlfriends to impress or thoughts of suicide, ... in short Laertes simply does the "honorable" thing and desires to avenge his father's death without question.  It is Hamlet that turns it into a strange, detrimental life-pursuit.  He sees ghosts.  He wonders if the ghosts are honest.  He tries to kill Claudius, but fails so many times for so many reasons.  Hamlet thinks and thinks and thinks, ... until he pretends to go crazy and finally (maybe?) goes crazy himself.  Laertes has clarity from his first thought of revenge.  Hamlet is tortured by those same thoughts throughout the entirety of Shakespeare's play.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's true that, in the end, the negative effect on them is equal--death. I would probably make the case this way: Hamlet's motivation for revenge was pure and Laertes' was adulterated. The Ghost tells Hamlet why he should take revenge on Claudius, and he speaks the truth. Claudius tells Laertes why (and how) he should take revenge on Hamlet, and he speaks self-serving lies. In the end, Hamlet asks Laertes' forgiveness for accidently killing Polonius. Laertes has to ask Hamlet's forgiveness for believing the lies of a villain and then killing Hamlet. Laertes seems to me to be in the worse position.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think you can make the argument that it is Hamlet who is more seriously affected because he is consumed by the idea of revenge (and his reluctance to take that revenge) for essentially the whole play.  It may be that Laertes is just as stricken by the need to take revenge, but we don't see it.  For all we know, Laertes is relatively content for most of the play.  Hamlet, on the other hand, is tortured by the need for revenge and his ambivalence about it for nearly the whole play.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Personally, I think Hamlet is more sensitive.  He isemotionally torn by the prospect of revenge throuhout the entire play.  It eats him up inside.  He doesn't know if he's seeing things or not, and if he isn't seeing things if he should take revenge.  It almost leads him to kill himself.