How might the dying lines of Gertrude, Claudius, and Laertes be viewed as typical of the way their characters have been presented throughout the play?

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David Morrison eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Gertrude's last lines are ironic because she's been poisoned—inadvertently—by Claudius. Her late husband, King Hamlet, was also poisoned by Claudius, but on that occasion there was nothing accidental about it; it was cold-blooded murder. It is ambiguous as to whether or not Gertrude knew anything about the true circumstances surrounding King Hamlet's death—but in any case, she has suffered the same fate. Her sad demise tells us what happens to those who get too close to the wicked, devious Claudius. Especially if, like Gertrude, they might be unaware of what he's really like.

Laertes's apology to Hamlet shows that he realizes that he was nothing more than a pawn in a political game all along. That's why he's so ready to forgive Hamlet killing Polonius. It seems that Laertes always knew the true circumstances of his father's death; he was stabbed by Hamlet while hiding behind a curtain and eavesdropping on a conversation between the young prince and his mother. In his dying words, Laertes has the honesty and the integrity to acknowledge that Hamlet was the victim of political chicanery at the highest level and admits that he was wrong to be part of that sordid plot against the prince.

Finally, we have Claudius's dying words. In keeping with the man himself, there's nothing noble about them. As always, Claudius is thinking about himself and no one else. He has the opportunity to atone for all the misery he's caused—all the death, the suffering, and the moral decay he's wrought upon the kingdom of Denmark—but he chooses not to. Instead, he illustrates a lack of self-awareness as well as displays his self-pity by calling for his "friends" to come and help him, who prove to be nonexistent.

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malibrarian eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Let's begin by looking at each character's final lines:

Gertrude:
"No, no, the drink, the drink,--O my dear Hamlet,--
The drink, the drink! I am poison'd."

Laertes:
"Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet:
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me."

Claudius:
"O, yet defend me, friends; I am but hurt."

I can definitely see how these lines are typical of each of these characters.  Gertrude is shocked that she has been poisoned (completely clueless to the end that Claudius is exactly what Hamlet said he was), but in her last moments she shows her love for Hamlet by saying, "O my dear Hamlet".

Laertes shows his noble character by wanting to make things right between Hamlet and himself before he dies.  He lets Hamlet know what has happened and says there is no longer any bitterness or contention between the two concerning the deaths of himself and his father, Polonius.  It is interesting to note, however, that he makes no mention of Ophelia...hmmm...

And finally, Claudius' final lines show him to be exactly what he has been throughout the play - a coward and a liar.  He asks his "friends" to defend him, though he is getting exactly what he deserved.

Check the links below for more information on these characters.  Good luck!

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