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Laertes

Extended Character Analysis

Laertes is Polonius’s son and Ophelia’s brother. He returns briefly to Elsinore for Claudius’s coronation before returning to France, where he allegedly indulges in unsavory behaviors. In contrast to Hamlet, who spends much of the play attempting to rationalize his revenge, Laertes establishes himself as a man who prefers brash action over careful planning. He is also shown to be corruptible, going along with Claudius’s underhanded plot to kill Hamlet. However, his actions clearly grate on his conscience, and as he dies, he reveals his account to Hamlet and petitions for a mutual reconciliation. 

When talking to his sister Ophelia, Laertes plays the part of the concerned older brother, offering advice and discouraging her from pursuing a romance with Prince Hamlet. However, his own character is revealed to be less than virtuous when Ophelia tells him not to be hypocritical; he warns her away from Hamlet and yet indulges his own vices in France. Polonius seems aware of Laertes’s unsavory indulgences and lectures him about proper conduct before he departs, advising him about money, conversation, and proper attire. 

As his father’s heir apparent, Laertes is tasked with maintaining appearances so as to not shame his family. In order to keep tabs on Laertes’s behavior, Polonius sends Reynaldo to spread false rumors about Laertes in order to discover his true conduct. However, despite his apparent inclination towards vice, Laertes proves to be a dutiful son and brother, returning immediately to avenge his father and support his sister. He is overwhelmed by grief upon seeing Ophelia’s madness, marking him as someone who genuinely cares about his family. 

Laertes serves as a foil for Hamlet in that they are both faced with the murder of their respective fathers, but whereas Hamlet broods and plots, Laertes immediately begins to exact vengeance. However, their fates are ultimately similar, with each falling dead by the other’s hand due to Claudius and Laertes’s poisoning scheme. Hamlet grants absolution to Laertes for his death, recognizing a kindred spirit spurred...

(The entire section is 525 words.)