The more impetuous Laertes is most often described as a foil to Hamlet in Shakespeare's famous play:
- Foil: a foil is a secondary character who contrasts with the major character to enhance the importance of the major character; the term foil ... is taken from the practice of backing gems with foil so that they shine more brightly. (Literary Devices, literarydevices.net)
- Foil: in literature, a character who is presented as a contrast to a second character so as to point to or show to advantage some aspect of the second character. An obvious example is the character of Dr. Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. (Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com)
Nevertheless, Laertes and Hamlet do share similarities:
1. While the circumstances for the deaths of the fathers of Hamlet and of Laertes are certainly different, the deaths of their fathers are both the result of political conflict.
2. After these deaths, both Hamlet and Laertes are at first rash in their anger, directing their fury at Claudius. Upon learning from his father's ghost that he has been assassinated, Hamlet's first words are:
Haste me to know't, that I, with wings as swift
As meditation or the thoughts of love,
May sweep to my revenge (1.5.33-35)
Likewise, after Laertes' return to Denmark, upon learning that his father has been slain, Laertes bursts in upon Claudius and Gertrude, demanding to know how his father has died. Daring royal damnation, Laertes asserts:
Let come what comes; only I'll be revenged
Most throughly for my father. (4.5.145-146)
3. Both Hamlet and Laertes seek revenge for their fathers' deaths. The revenge of Laertes, however, is personal, and he does not worry about the consequences,
To hell, allegiance! Vows, to the blackest devil!
Conscience and grace, to the profoundest pit!
I dare damnation. (4.5.141-143)
whereas Hamlet deliberates about regicide and does consider the spiritual consequences in his "To be or not to be" soliloquy where he declares that conscience makes cowards of people. He is further concerned that if he kills Claudius while Claudius prays, he may send the evil king to heaven as a martyr.
4. Both Hamlet and Laertes experience a change in conscience. As the duel orchestrated by King Claudius plays out, Laertes begins to have twinges of conscience regarding Hamlet as he realizes that Claudius has exploited him in order to be rid of Hamlet the Prince. Laertes tells Hamlet that the king is "to blame," and asks Hamlet his forgiveness:
Exchange forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet.
Mine and my father's death come not upon thee,
Nor thine on me! (5.2.337-339)
Hamlet's change of conscience regards his decision to act in his capacity as the Prince of Denmark and defend his father's honor. After watching and speaking with Fortinbras, Hamlet declares, "This is I, / Hamlet the Dane" (5.1.227) and thenceforth takes action against the "usurper" Claudius.
5. Both Laertes and Hamlet seek to keep Ophelia safe from the political subterfuge in the midst of which she resides. Laertes acts the protective big brother and counsels Ophelia to protect her virtue and never to allow Hamlet--who is the Prince thus must marry to suit the State--to take advantage of her affections.
In Hamlet's cruelty to Ophelia as he watches the play, Hamlet may be extending protective gestures toward Ophelia by forcing her to reject him so that she will not become implicated in his revenge against King Claudius when he does take it. While there is certainly some bitterness about what he views as betrayal, Hamlet cannot truly hate Ophelia or he'd not react as he does later when he learns of her tragic funeral.
6. Both Laertes and Hamlet react similarly when at Ophelia's funeral. Both jump into her grave, declaring their love for Ophelia. As Laertes vows revenge, Hamlet states he has in him "something dangerous," telling Laertes:
I loved Ophelia. Forty thousand brothers
Could not, with all their quantity of love,
Make up my sum. What wilt thou do for her? (5.1.270-272)
Different in approach, Hamlet and Laertes yet share similarities in matters of the heart.
There are some similarities found between Hamlet and Laertes:
01. Both are brave.
02. Both are deprived of their fathers.
03. Both are ready to take revenge of their father,
04. Both are the prey of the conspiracy of Claudius.
05. Both love duel and obey rules and regulations.
06. Hamlet loves Ophelia as lover and where as Laertes loves her as sister.
07. Both die at the end of the play.