Laertes is the brother of Ophelia and the son of Polonius. As he is in Paris for a large majority of the play, it may seem like he is not a very important character; however, Laertes is crucial to the development of the plot as you will soon see, but before that, let us first have a look at the character Laertes himself. It is well known that Laertes is a hot-headed youth. ‘Save yourself, my lord,’ exclaims a messenger (IV, v, 96), when Laertes storms into the castle followed by his follows.
Although he has right reason to be infuriated, would it not make more sense to be grieved by the death of your father than to jump to false conclusions? Perhaps his anger is a show of strength, as certainly that is why the people follow him. He is strong and reliable, and perhaps very charismatic. ‘The rabble call him lord…they cry ‘Choose we! Laertes shall be king (IV, v, 104-106)! ’ They are loyal to him as he asks ‘give me leave (IV, v, 112)’; there is no rebuttal, simply ‘we will, we will (IV, V, 113)! Laertes appears to be a man of action (has he been placed to mock Hamlet and his lack of thereof? ), storming into the castle in Act IV, v, and the duel with Hamlet in Act V, ii, should be proof enough of this. He is quick to decide ‘to cut his throat i’ th’ church (IV, vii, 128)! ’ and the terrifying thing is, he seems quite capable to carry through with the plan. He does not seem like a nice guy. Also note that Laertes does not seem to be an extremely intelligent character.
In Act IV, scene v, he has no proof but instantly believes it is the king who killed his father. The king says it was not him who killed Polonius, but does Laertes question the truth in his words? He does not. We know that it was Hamlet who dirtied his hands with the crime, but Laertes was so convinced that it was the king he bought his followers to rampage around the castle. What proof does he have it was the king? None. How does he know the king is being truthful when he accuses Hamlet? He believes all too easily.
Then, when plotting his revenge against Hamlet, he says ‘If you could devise it so that I might be the organ (IV, vii, 70-71). ’ ‘Please,’ he means, ‘tell me how to kill him and I shall do it. ’ This, once again, makes Laertes seem like a horrible person. All this may lead us to conclude that Laertes is the man of men. Strong, of action, yet simple minded and incapable of sensitivity; however, this is not the case. Claudius sees his grief (IV, v, 199) when Laertes finds his sister has gone mad, meaning his grief is so great as to have been displayed for onlookers to see.
Obviously Laertes cares much about his younger sister as while he is away he bids her to write to him (I, iii, 4) and gives her advice (I, iii, 5-51) in a way that you would expect a sister would give advice to her sister, not a brother to his sister. Throughout Act V, scene ii, Laertes is not only physically dueling with Hamlet, but mentally dueling with himself, as can be seen when he says that the fighting is ‘against my conscience (V, ii, 290)’. As well as this, before he dies Laertes gives in to his conscience and tells Hamlet ‘The king, the king’s to blame (V, ii, 313)’ and he asks to be forgiven by Hamlet (V, ii, 323).
So in the end, Laertes is shown to be a good character. He has just been manipulated by Claudius to do wrong as a result of not being extremely intelligent. Laertes is a crucial character in the story of Hamlet. In Act I, scene ii, Polonius over hears Laertes talking to Ophelia about Hamlet and asks ‘what is between you? Give me up the truth (I, iii, 98). ’ If perhaps Polonius had not heard Laertes giving advice to Ophelia, he might not have found out about their relationship. Ophelia would still be seeing Hamlet and she would not have gone mad.
If she hadn’t gone mad then she most likely would not have drowned. Because his sister drowned, Laertes felt the need to seek revenge against the person who caused the madness of his sister as well as the person who killed his father. Claudius took advantage of his confusion and outrage and managed to persuade Laertes to duel with Hamlet. As we know, the duel is the cause of death for Hamlet, Claudius and Laertes as well as being indirectly responsible for the death of Gertrude.
As well as this, Hamlet might not have been able to find a good reason to become ‘mad,’ as it was made to believe he became ‘mad’ as a result of Ophelia’s silence towards him as a result of Polonius overhearing the conversation between Laertes and Ophelia. All in all, I think we can safely conclude that Laertes is a crucial character in the development of the plot. He is an essential character in making the play an exceptional tragedy as he is main reason and cause of death for a large majority of the main characters in the play.