Far too often we see men and women with noble causes lose their motive because of their emotional behavior. Their emotions cause them to lose track. We see no finer example of a man with a noble cause whose emotions cause him to lose sight of his noble cause: the character of Laertes in the play Hamlet. Laertes has a vendetta against Hamlet for killing his father. Although Laertes meant well in avenging his fathers death, his emotional behavior overtook him in the process. If we look at other characters in the play, we find a similar struggle between a noble goal and ones emotions. Hamlet fights the same battle as Laertes does; however, Hamlet is better able to control his emotions. To maintain a noble goal without faltering, one must be able to rid ones self of emotions that lead to undesirable actions.
To understand Laertess erratic behavior, we must first establish his proper motive. The play Hamlet takes place in Denmark around the medieval times. Laertess desire to avenge his fathers death is an honorable trait in his society. In the play, the fathers put on a role as the giver of values. Laertess father, Polonius, gives Laertes certain values on living life: Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;/ Take each mans censure, but reserve thy judgment(1.3.72). Polonius instructs Laertes how to behave properly in life. Laertes needs his fathers opinions to make decisions in life. Laertes asks permission from Claudius to go to France only after Polonius has given his consent to go. Laertes did not ask to leave until his father agreed. Laertes values his fathers opinion so much that he does not wish to disobey it. Polonius tells the king that Laertes was persistent in seeking his permission: By laborsome petition, and at last/ Upon his will I sealed my hard consent(1.2.61). Laertes could have easily left for France on his own, yet he waited until he had his fathers approval. As Laertes embarks for his journey to France, he delights at a second chance to say goodbye: Occasion smiles upon a second leave(1.3.58).
Ophelia, sister to Laertes, also receives advice on behavior from Polonius. Polonius advises Ophelia to make herself less available to Hamlet. When Ophelia is confused as to how to behave, she asks her for advice: I do not know, my lord, what I should think(1.3.111). Polonius then replies, Marry, I will teach you!(1.3.112). Ophelia turns to Polonius for the proper guidance in how to behave. Ophelia values Polonius far above all other characters, including Laertes and Hamlet. When Polonius inquires what Laertes told her, Ophelia readily tells her father what Laertes told her. Later, when Hamlet asks Ophelia where her father is, she lies to Hamlet to protect her father: At home, my lord(3.1.144). Ophelia cherishes the values that Polonius gives more than her love for her brother or even Hamlet.
Not only do fathers set values on how to live, they also bring stability to the children. Once Polonius is murdered, Laertes and Ophelia lose their stability in life. The once happy Laertes quickly turns into a raging man bent on revenge. The stability of his fathers advice is gone. Laertes solitude quickly turns to anger. When Claudius beseeches Laertes to calm himself, Laertes replies angrily, That drop of blood thats calm proclaims me bastard(4.5.124). Laertes is so angry that he cares for nothing but revenge. His lack of control shows that he lost a certain stability that Polonius had instructed in him. The counsel Polonius gave to Laertes about reserving judgment is all but lost when Laertes rants out that he dares damnation(4.5.144) and he promises that he shall be revenged most thoroughly for my father(4.5.146). Laertes complete turnaround is directly caused by the loss of his father.
Ophelia, likewise, experiences a loss in stability once Polonius dies. Instead of going mad, she instead goes insane.A gentleman reports of Ophelias insanity: She speaks much of her father; says she hears/ Theres tricks in the world, and hems, and beats her heart(4.5.3). Before Poloniuss death, Ophelia would turn to him for complete advice. Once Polonius has died, Ophelia lacks the guidance and counsel to lead her life. She ends up going insane because she has no one to guide her in life. Once the stability that Polonius gave Ophelia leaves, she goes insane and eventually dies.
The loss of a father also affects the stability of another character, Hamlet. After Gertrudes remarriage with Claudius, Hamlet rejects any notion of a stepfather. When Claudius calls Hamlet his son, Hamlet replies that he is a little more than kin, and less than kind(1.2.68). This means that Hamlet knows Claudius is his stepfather, but he does not want to have any further relations with him. Hamlets sulkiness is heightened by his mothers quick marriage, which he considers incestuous. Hamlet cries out that Frailty, thy name is woman(1.2.152) because he watches his mother quickly marry another man only two months after his fathers death. Hamlet wants to maintain stability in his ever-changing world. Hamlet rejects any affection from his father and he abhors his mothers quick marriage. The two changing aspects are effects of Hamlet Sr.s death.
Avenging a fathers death proves the loyalty the children have for their father. The love that these characters exemplified to their fathers is similar to the love one has for ones country. Each character pledges their highest loyalty to their fathers. By avenging their fathers death, they are showing their loyalty to their fathers. In Hamlet, this is an honorable trait. Claudius notes the divinity in Laertess desire for revenge: Theres such divinity doth hedge a king/ That treason can but peep to what it would, / Acts little of his will(4.5.133). Claudiuss admiration for Laertess will for revenge shows that revenge in that society is justified. Furthermore, Hamlet calls himself a coward for his inability to avenge his fathers murder: What an ass am Ithat I, the son of a dear father murderedmust unpack my heart with words(2.2.593). Hamlet, much like the rest of the society in Hamlet, sees vengeance for ones father as a just cause.
Laertes, with such a noble cause as avenging his fathers death, fails because of his inability to control his emotions. As soon as Laertes hears of his fathers death, he goes into a state of fury. Before Laertess arrives to Denmark, a messenger warns Claudius that the arrival of Laertes is the head of a riotus head(4.5.106). The moment Laertes enters the castle he blames Claudius for the murder. Laertes storms into the castle demanding instant vengeance. In Laertess haste, he cries out that he cares for nothing except revenge: I dare damnation. / Both the worlds I give negligence, / Ill be revenged/ Most thoroughly for my father(4.5.146). His imprudent behavior causes Laertes to act before analyzing the situation. Laertess reckless behavior only heightens with Ophelia. After hearing Ophelias babble, Laertes becomes more resolute in his quick revenge. His desire for revenge turns to hatred as he plans to desecrate Hamlets grave after his death: No trophy, sword, nor hatchment over his bones, / no noble rite nor formal ostentations(4.6.229).
Laertes acts based on his emotions. He reacts violently whenever his emotions react. At his own sisters funeral, he erupts into a fit of rage. When Hamlet jumps into Ophelias grave to take one last look, Laertes immediately attacks him crying for, the devil take thy soul(5.1.258). If Laertes had analyzed his situation properly, he would have restrained himself from attacking Hamlet on the grave of his diseased sister. Laertes faces many negative ramifications due to his emotional behavior.
Laertes ends up with many regrets because he does not take the time to think through his actions. The rage that Laertes so quickly adopted quickly leaves near the end of his death. Laertes immediately becomes repentant for what he has done. Right before Laertes decides to strike Hamlet with the poison tipped sword, he realizes he does not want to commit such an action. Laertes says attacking Hamlet is, against my conscience(5.2.311). Despite his incipient thoughts of reluctance, Laertes attacks Hamlet and fatally wounds him. Laertes quick action did not allow him to fully decide not to attack Hamlet. Even though his conscience disagreed with his actions, he acts before his conscience could take full stage. Laertes remorse arises only after he is wounded. After Hamlet attacks Laertes, he realizes that his actions were contrary to his beliefs. Laertes admits to Osric, a servant, that his death is deserved: I am justly killed with mine own treachery(5.2.324). Along with Laertess change, he turns against his ally, Claudius. He immediately confesses that the Kings to blame(5.2.340) and begs for mercy. Laertes plea for mercy shows that he deeply regrets his actions and wishes to remedy his wrongdoings.
Another negative effect of Laertess volatile behavior is his vulnerability to be manipulated by Claudius. Because Laertes was so enraged to act, he did not realize how Claudius riled him to attack Hamlet. In the conversation between Laertes and Claudius, Claudius slowly convinces Laertes to do his bidding. Claudius demands that for Laertes to seek his revenge, he must, put me Claudius in your heart for friend(4.7.2). Laertes does indeed put Claudius in his heart for when Claudius asks Laertes if he will be ruled(4.7.65), Laertes quickly concedes. Laertes is clearly in a state of extreme anger and Claudius controls the situation precisely. Claudius not only attempts to control Laertes, but also to enrage him more by taking about his father: Was your father dear to you?(4.7.120). Claudiuss motive in asking these questions is to rile up more hatred in Laertes for Hamlet. Claudius after telling Laertes to requite him for your father(4.7.154) angers Laertes enough that Laertes resolves to kill Hamlet and even poison the tip of his sword.
Claudius not only infuriates Laertes, but he also lies to Laertes to anger Laertes more. Claudius lies to Laertes that Hamlet pursued to kill him, but instead killed Polonius. Laertes responds by asking why Claudius did not retaliate himself. Claudius again lies by saying that it was Gertrudes deep love for Hamlet and the great love the general gender bear him(4.7.20). Yet, before Laertes returns from France, Claudius exiles Hamlet to England with a death message. Claudius is not being completely open with Laertes. When Gertrude reports Ophelias death to Laertes, he runs out in a fit of rage. After Laertes leaves, Gertrude asks Claudius about Laertess anger and he claims that he had much to do to calm his rage!(4.7.212). Laertes thinks that he can confide in Claudius when all the while Claudius is merely using Laertes for his advantage. Claudius wants Laertes to kill Hamlet and deceitfully convinces Laertes to attack Hamlet quickly.
The struggle to control ones emotions plagues more than just Laertes in Hamlet. Hamlet, much like Laertes, fights to restrain his emotions. However, Hamlet is better able to control his emotions and eventually conquers them toward the end of the play.
Hamlets struggle to control his emotions begins after his first meeting with the ghost of Hamlet Sr.. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered his father and that revenge must take place. Hamlet responds with his desire for wings as swift/ As meditation or the thoughts of love, / May sweep to my revenge(1.5.34). Hamlets first reaction is to avenge his fathers deaths. However, through the play, Hamlet lacks the desire to commit the revenge. Hamlet attempts to find any excuse not to commit the revenge. While Laertess emotions cause him to act imprudently, Hamlets emotions cause him not to act.
Hamlet starts giving soliloquies about his desire not to act. At one point, he questions if not acting entirely would be better than committing revenge. He asks himself whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer/ The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune/ Or to take arms against the sea of trouble(3.1.67). Hamlets emotions take such a strong hold on Hamlet that he questions his actions entirely. Hamlet goes on to say that, conscience does make cowards of us all(3.1.91). Hamlets emotions cause him to fear to take action. His reasoning leads him to find any excuse not to take any actions. When Hamlet sees Claudius kneeling in prayer and vulnerable to attack, he refuses to act because he assumes Claudius will go to heaven. Yet Claudius believes that his prayers will never reach heaven: My words fly up, my thoughts remain below;/ Words without thoughts never to heaven go(3.4.100). Hamlet thinks that Claudius is in deep prayer while in reality Claudius is merely doing the motions of prayer. Even though Hamlets reasoning in not killing Claudius was completely untrue, Hamlets emotions were too strong for Hamlet to act otherwise.
Though Hamlets emotions seduced him not to act, he attempted to fight them.Hamlet say that he is pigeon-livered and lack gall(2.2.584). Hamlet taunts himself because of his reluctance to act. He constantly insults himself for his delaying. Hamlet constantly tries to overcome his emotions to generate the courage to act. He asks Horatio show him a man that is not passions slave, and I will wear him/ In my hearts core(3.2.73). The struggle to conquer his emotions heightens when Hamlet meets Fortinbras. Hamlet admires Fortinbrass ability to act properly: Rightly to be great/ Is not to stir without great argument,/ But greatly to find quarrel in a straw when honors at stake(4.4.55). Hamlets emotions fall apart here because Hamlet finally realizes that one must act when ones time in called. Hamlet now knows that his emotions are interfering with his purpose of vengeance.
Hamlets ultimate battle with his emotions happens right before the fencing match with Laertes. With just one phrase, Hamlet defeats the emotions that have been plaguing him not to act: Readiness is allLet be(5.2.221). These two words signify Hamlets preparedness to exact revenge for his fathers murder. Before this quotation, Hamlets emotions were impeding his actions. Now that his emotions are gone, Hamlet is ready to act.
Hamlets ability to eradicate his emotions allows him to pursue his noble cause in a proper manner. Although he and Laertes both had noble causes, Hamlets control over his emotions allows him to exact his revenge without any regrets or treachery. The play Hamlet, contrasts the characters of Laertes and Hamlet to show how deleterious emotions can be to a noble cause. For many people, a high level of emotions obstructs them in their daily actions. Only by conquering ones emotions, much like Hamlet accomplished, can one pursue a noble cause properly.