Hamlet and Laertes

We first meet Laertes in Act I, Scene 3 of Hamlet. Laertes is already on his way to attend the university in France, and he does not appear again until Act IV, Scene 5, after his father has been slain and his sister Ophelia has gone mad. Why does Shakespeare introduce this important character early in the play and then keep him offstage until it is nearing the end? Evidently, Shakespeare intended Hamlet and Laertes to become enemies, as they do when they encounter each other at Ophelia's grave. Shakespeare wanted to avoid showing that the two men enjoyed a cordial relationship, or any kind of relationship, before Laertes went away to France. Such a previous relationship would only complicate matters for the playwright. It would be easier to handle the emotions of both Hamlet and Laertes if they did not have a previous amicable relationship. That explains why Shakespeare sends Laertes off to the university in France and keeps him there on ice, so to speak, until he is needed to play his essential part in the play towards the end. It also explains the seemingly gratuitous Scene 1 of Act II in which Polonius is sending Laertes money and instructing the messenger Reynaldo about how to spy on his son. Shakespeare's intention is to establish that Laertes is now in France and to keep the audience aware of Laertes's existence and possible importance to the plot.