It is almost as if Hamlet needs something to continually set off a trigger for him to act instantly, for example his reaction after hearing a man hiding behind the arras, is an act of impulse. He killed the intruder not knowing who it was without even a second thought. I believe that Hamlet reacted in this way because in his state he truly believed that it was Claudius hiding and not Polonius. This is something of an act that would come more naturally from Laertes. I feel that if the roles were reversed for Hamlet and Laertes, Claudius perhaps would have been killed instantly.
Moreover when Hamlet first knew of his father’s murder he reacted but actually spent more time dwelling on the matter, ie the murder not necessarily the revenge, as opposed to actually doing anything about it. It is not until the last Act that you see a change from Hamlet. He seems to have grown and undertaken a more direct attitude to the situation and finally takes on the original task in hand. This could be a number of things that initiate this change in Hamlet. Perhaps the fact that he knew he was sent to England by Claudius to be killed, his mother being killed before his eyes or simply the fate that he too was to meet his death. Hamlet at this stage is no longer self-agonising.
Another main factor that contributes to the difference between the two men, is their judgement of Claudius the King of Denmark. Hamlet loathes Claudius is very wary of him even before he learns of his father’s murder. He certainly does not trust him and is very aware of his own behaviour in Claudius’s presence. On the other hand Laertes seems to have faith and belief in Claudius, and that he is trustworthy and even plots with him in order to seek his revenge against Hamlet.
I would like to think that Laertes poor judge of character is purely because he is blinded by anger and grief from which he is experiencing from his father’s death and sister’s illness and of course her death too. Laertes other reason for such poor judgement is because he is so determined on seeking revenge and due to his lack of care for consequence, his focus is so strong that anything other than revenge is just irrelevant. It is also important to remember that Laertes has no reason not to trust Claudius, after all he didn’t kill Polonius. No matter what, Laertes was going to seek revenge with or without Claudius’s help, why else did he buy the poison?
There is many a comparative conclusion to be made. However I think that there are as many similarities between the two characters as there are differences. One thing that we should remember throughout the play is that both Hamlet and Laertes have to contend with immense amount of emotions such as grief, anger, and betrayal. Each emotion alone is hard enough but when evil is spread like a plague as it clearly is in this play the repercussions are uncontrollably hard to bear.
New Swan Shakespeare Advanced Series “Hamlet” .
Clare Oates 1 Dec 01.