The swashbuckling family man

Another character in William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is Laertes. He is Polonius' son and Ophelia's brother. He is studying in Paris before the drama begins, but has dutifully interrupted his studies to pay respects to the new King Claudius at his coronation. Only when the festivities are over does he ask his father and the king to allow him to return to France (1.2.57-58).

Laertes is extremely concerned with the honor of his family members. Right at the beginning of the drama, for example, he urges his sister Ophelia to stop trusting Hamlet's vows of love. He fears that she might otherwise lose her virginity and thus her honor (1.3.10). With regard to Ophelia, then, he strongly advises against hasty and ill-considered acts.

Laertes himself, however, does not seem to lead an exemplary and virtuous life at all. Both his sister and his father Polonius reprove him for behaving too rowdily and without restraint. Ophelia asks him not to enter the "puff’d and reckless libertine" (1.3.52) as ”ungracious pastors do”, and Polonius sees fit to give his son a wide range of advice along the way, including those that urge him to be cautious and prudent. (1.3.59-85).

Polonius distrusts his son so much that he commissions his servant Reynaldo to spy on him in France (2.1.3-5). It quickly becomes clear that Polonius suspects Laertes of already being guilty of several moral offenses: "drinking, fencing, swearing, quarreling" (2.1.27) he considers all possible pastimes of his son. If the picture Polonius paints of his son is authentic, then Laertes appears as an adventurous,thoughtless, and cheeky young man who leads an immoral and pleasure-seeking life.

Laertes' hasty vendetta

When Laertes hears that his father has been murdered, he quickly returns to Denmark. Although he cannot know the true identity of the murderer, he instantly blames King Claudius for his father's death and is able to gather a considerable army around him within a very short time. He is so charismatic and determined that the Danish people immediately want to proclaim him their new king (4.5.116-117). Laertes, however, seems intent only on avenging his father's death.

Without hesitating for long, he invades Elsinore Castle with an armed band and demands accountability from King Claudius for Polonius' death: "To ...

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