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Gina Tangelo

May 31, 2017

English 10
Miriam Rock

The Madness of Laertes

Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a play based on a man named

Hamlet whose father has died and is searching for vengeance from the

current king, who just so happens to be his uncle. In this play, there are

several people who are arguably switching between the concept of madness,

mostly caused by grief. Some of these people include Hamlet, Ophelia, his

lover, and her brother Laertes. Laertes is a character who spends most of

the play in school in France and doesnt really know whats happening until

he finds out that his father has been killed. While Laertes acts in ways that

may be perceived of as mad after his familys death, his thoughtfulness in

Acts 1 & 5 reveal that this madness is momentary and he can come back to


The very beginning of the play, and the only part hes in for a while,

suggests that there is nothing wrong with him and he isnt suspected by

anyone to be even somewhat mad in any way. In Act 1, he simply asks like

the brother hes supposed to before he heads back to school. He thinks like

his father in the sense that Hamlet may not be good for his sister Ophelia

since he says: Then if he says he loves you/It fits your wisdom so far to

believe it/As he in his particular act and place/May give his saying deed;

(1.3.24-27). Hes warning his sister that Hamlets love for her is only an act

and that she should be smart and take note of the signs as well as to be

careful with him. The way other people treat him also shows that hes sane.

The king, for example, seems to be very fond of Laertes and wants him to

succeed in life by saying: Take thy fair hour, Laertes, time be thine/And thy

best graces spend it at thy will. (1.2.62-63). In saying this, hes saying that

Laertes can be who he wants to be, funnily the opposite to what he says to

his nephew Hamlet who he doesnt allow to do anything. Another example is

Laertes own father, Polonius. Polonius gives Laertes some general advice

about things as he sets him off for schools and act very nice about things:

There, my blessing with thee/And these few precepts in thy memory/Look

thou character. (1.3.57-59). In this, he is giving Laertes his blessing, the

blessing being that Laertes is can do as he pleases, showing that Laertes is

completely fine and has nothing to worry about.

As soon as he comes back from Paris, he descends into a state of

madness and this madness consumes his thoughts and some of his actions.

When he returns to Denmark, he storms into the kingdom and tries to kill the

king Claudius, who then calms him down. After he is calmed down by

Claudius, Claudius notices that Laertes is also angry and so makes a plan

with him to kill Hamlet. Laertes says during this talk that It warms the very

sickness in my heart/That I shall live and tell him to his teeth/Thus diest

thou (4.7.55-57) and To cut his throat Ith church. (4.7.126). By saying

these words, he starts to reveals his madness to the king and loses himself in

the madness because he wants revenge for his father. In Act 5 when theyre

burying Ophelia, Laertes reacts to this like a mad man. He jumps into the

grave with Ophelia and starts saying things that arent normal for him to say

like: Now pile your dust upon the quick and dead/ Till of this flat a mountain

you have made/Toertop old Pelion or the skyish head of blue Olympus.

(5.1.235-238). This passage shows that he wants to just be dead and to be

buried with Ophelia because he feels as if there is nothing nor anyone to live

for anymore since all his family is dead. He also becomes upset with Hamlet

when he starts to profess the love he had for Ophelia: [Grappling with him]

The devil take thy soul! (5.1.242). This line demonstrates how mad Laertes

really is and how much his conscience has lost itself in this state of madness.

By saying this line, he is proclaiming that he wishes Hamlet would die and

that he wouldnt be able to go to heaven and instead by taken to Hell by the

Devil. In these two scenes, he handles the death of the people he cares

about like Hamlet did by wanting to avenge his father and kill the person

who caused all this pain in the first place: Hamlet. His madness is causing

him to do things that no one ever thought he would like jumping into a grave

and grappling Hamlet, showing that the grief has caused him to descend into

madness for the time being.

In Act 5 Scene 2, Laertes starts to realize what he has said and done,

suggesting that his conscience has come back to him now. He says:

I am satisfied in nature,

Whose motive in this case should stir me most

To my revenge; but in my terms of honour,

I stand aloof (5.2.228-231).

In these lines, hes saying that hes satisfied with what has happened so far

and because of this, he will back off because he has no need for revenge

anymore. After he says this, however, he and Hamlet have an argument and

this leads to the deaths of many people including the queen, the king, as

well as Laertes and Hamlet themselves. Laertes last words are some of the

most important lines he says in the entire play: Exchange forgiveness with

me, noble Hamlet/ Mine and my fathers death come not upon thee/ Nor

thine on me." (5.2. 322-324). These are his final words before he dies and are

him acknowledging that he was wrong for being so angry with Hamlet. These

words also tie along with the previous quote because before he said that the

need for revenge has left him and since he tells Hamlet that its not his fault

or Hamlets it shows that everything he says to Hamlet was the cause of his

earlier confession of him being happy with how everything is. His final words

before his death show that he comes out of his state of madness and tries to

be rational about the situation and how everyone felt instead of just himself

in his last moments of life.

In conclusion, Laertes madness is momentary but is also noticeable.

His actions in the final scenes of the play before he dies shows that he isnt

in the right state of mind and isnt acting the way he did in Act 1. However,

his confessions in Act 5 Scene 2 show that he didnt lose himself completely

in the madness like his sister and perhaps Hamlet did. There seems to be

somewhat of a foil between Hamlet and Laertes in the reasons why they

descend into madness since both of them are grieving the deaths of

someone they loved. The actions they wish to take are also the same

because they both initially want to kill the person who killed their fathers,

and yet Laertes snaps out of it and realizes that he really cant do anything

about his fathers death. He can die peacefully because he asked for the

forgiveness of the man who he wronged and he doesnt have to worry about

not being able to go to heaven because in a sense, he already repented.

Though Laertes may not be one of the most important characters in this

play, his momentary state of madness is one of the most interesting cases of

madness in this play and shows that it is possible to leave this state.

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