A Comparison Of Hamlet And His Peers In Shakespeare's Hamlet

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How does a comparison and contrast of Hamlet’s characteristics with the characteristics of his peers help to reveal the character of Hamlet to the audience?

A Comparison of Hamlet and his Peers in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Throughout the play Hamlet, written by William Shakespeare, Hamlet pursues a journey to take vengeance for his father’s murder, who was once the king. Whilst attempting to attain the necessary courage and bravery required to do so, Hamlets faces many challenges that make his life and situation even more complicated. Hamlet’s character could be described in many ways, such as harsh and passionate, yet very indecisive. Hamlet’s qualities are revealed to the audience throughout his journey by having strong interactions and conversations between himself and his peers. Fortinbras, king of Denmark, Horatio, Hamlet’s trustworthy comrade, and Laertes, one of Hamlet’s biggest enemies, all bring out the complex character of Hamlet. By comparing and contrasting the similarities and differences between Hamlet and his peers, it will allow the audience to discover the true character of Hamlet. Ultimately, these interactions show that Hamlet is a risk taker, strong minded, courageous and determined.

Horatio, as a level-headed character, manages to reveal the true disposition of Hamlet by remaining a loyal and trustworthy friend throughout the entire play. Hamlet is a very passionate and frantic character compared to Horatio who is very calm, focused, and loyal. To a certain extent, Hamlet looks up to Horatio. Overall, Horatio has a lot more self control compared to Hamlet. This difference between these two characters helps balance out the outgoing and frantic character of Hamlet. Their friendship shows that Hamlet understands how lucky he is to have a friend as good as Horatio because he has many exceptional traits to be appreciative of that he himself does not attain. Hamlet expresses that he finds Horatio as one of the best men he has ever met.

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‘Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man

As e’er my conversation cop’d withal’ (3.2. 52-53).

The difference in personality between these two characters shows that Hamlet realizes how lucky he is to have a friend as good as Horatio who acquires numerous exceptional qualities that he should be appreciative of. After Horatio’s interaction with the ghost, he immediately reports to Hamlet to express his thoughts on his encounter.

“Two nights together had these gentlemen,

Marcellus and Bernardo, on their watch,

In the dead waste and middle of the night,

Been thus encountered: a figure like your father,

Armed at point exactly, cap-à-pie,

Appears before them and with solemn march

Goes slow and stately by them. Thrice he walked

By their oppressed and fear-surprisèd eyes

Within his truncheon’s length, whilst they, distilled

Almost to jelly with the act of fear,

Stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me

In dreadful secrecy impart they did,

And I with them the third night kept the watch,

Where, as they had delivered, both in time,

Form of the thing, each word made true and good,

The apparition comes: I knew your father:

These hands are not more like” (1.2.195-210).

Horatio tells Hamlet about the ghost immediately after his encounter because he feels as if it is something that Hamlet should be aware of as it could involve his murdered father. This shows how honest of a friend Horatio is to Hamlet and how at the end of the day, Hamlet can always count on Horatio to tell him the truth. Hamlet needs someone like Horatio because Hamlet’s actions tend to originate from his hearty emotions, which either end up in disaster or dispeare. Horatio, as a wise man who tends to think before he acts, brings out Hamlets passionate and risk taking side that sometimes needs to be tamed and controlled.

The comparison and contrast of Hamlet and Horatio accentuates Hamlet’s human side, appreciativeness, and true emotion without speaking to the audience through a soliloquy.

Fortinbras is as a powerful character and gives the impression that Hamlet is generally weak by the way he hesitates to act. Both of these characters have a goal. Fortinbras wants to get back the land his father originally lost and Hamlet is seeking revenge on Claudius for killing his father. Throughout the play we notice that Hamlet struggles to act on how he feels.

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.

Is it nobler in the mind to suffer

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune

Or to fight against a sea of troubles. ” (3.1.64-66).

This shows how how Hamlet himself feels over his inability to act. It shows that he tends to overthink and his mind goes back on fourth. Ultimately, his indecisiveness is one of the biggest challenges he has to face. Fortinbras on the other hand acts upon his goal of taking back the land his father lost by getting forming an army.

“Go, Captain, from me greet the Danish king.

Tell him that by his license Fortinbras

Craves the conveyance of a promised march

Over his kingdom. You know the rendezvous.

If that his Majesty would aught with us,

We shall express our duty in his eye;

And let him know so.” (4.4.1-7)

After Fortinbras expresses that he is ready to fight, Hamlet proceeds to give a soliloquy on how he admires Fortinbras’s strength and confidence, which are qualities he does not possess himself. This shows how Fortinbras brings out the passionate and willing side of Hamlet. Hamlet is very self-aware. He is aware of his flaws and the strengths of his peers. The comparison between Fortinbras and Hamlet’s ability to act, and contrast between their overall goals, highlights the features of Hamlet’s admiration, courage, and strength, and will continue despite the setbacks he comes across.

Laertes and Hamlet are both very emotionally invested characters; however, Laertes is vulnerable and easily taken advantage of, whilst Hamlet is self-reliant. In act 3, Hamlet decides not to kill Claudius due to the fact that he was in purgatory.

“Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;

And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,

And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d.

A villain kills my father; and for that,

I, his sole son, do this same villain send

To heaven” ( 75-80).

This shows how much Hamlet wants revenge, which is understandable considering Claudius was the one who killed his father. Laertes on the other hand was manipulated into thinking that.

Both suffer from the anger of having a father who is dead.

Different ideas of respect, Hamlet didn’t kill Claudius when he was praying because he didn’t think it was the right time whilst he was in purgatory, Laertes says that he would kill Hamlet whenever he had the chance even if was praying (again, shows that Hamlet is more human).

Act 3 Scene 1, “Now might I do it pat, now he is praying;

And now I’ll do’t. And so he goes to heaven,

And so am I revenged. That would be scann’d.

A villain kills my father; and for that,

I, his sole son, do this same villain send

To heaven” (75-80).

Works Cited

  1. Mulready, Cyrus, et al. Shakespeare I, 20 Nov. 2015, https://hawksites.newpaltz.edu/fall2015eng406/2015/11/20/laertes-vs-hamlet/ . (Mulready, et al. 2015)   


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