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Shakespeare’s Hamlet – The Character Laertes

Hamlet – the Character Laertes

In “The World of Hamlet” Maynard Mack describes the interference of a possessive Polonius in the life of his son, Laertes:

“The apparel of proclaims the man,” Polonius assures Laertes, cataloging maxims in the young man’s ear as he is about to leave for Paris. Oft, but not always. And so he sends his man Reynaldo to look into Laertes’ life there – even, if need be, to put a false dress of accusation upon his son (“What forgeries you please”), the better by indirections to find directions out (250).

Mack describes one of the lesser problems in life which Laertes must deal with. The son of Polonius and brother of Ophelia, Shakespeare’s Laertes must suffer the demise of both father and sister during the course of Hamlet. Helen Gardner, by way of overview, compares Laertes to Hamlet and King Claudius in “Hamlet and the Tragedy of Revenge”:

Hamlet’s agony of mind and indecision are precisely the things which differentiate him from the smooth, swift plotter Claudius, and from the coarse, unthinking Laertes, ready to “dare damnation” and cut his enemy’s throat in a churchyard. (222)

Laertes makes his appearance in the drama after Marcellus, Barnardo and Horatio have already seen the Ghost and have trifled with it in an effort to prompt it to communicate with them. Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” to Hamlet I’s wife less than two month’s after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). After this scene, Laertes is one of many in attendance at a post-coronation social gathering of the court at Elsinore. Laertes, like Fortinbras a rival of Hamlet (Kermode 1138), comes with his father, Polonius, who manipulates both him and his sister (Boklund 122).G. Wilson Knight says, “Instinctively the creatures of earth—Laertes, Polonius, Ophelia, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, league themselves with Claudius: they are of his kind” (N. pag.). Claudius insincerely pays tribute to the memory of his own deceased brother, the former king, and then conducts some items of business, for example dispatching Cornelius and Voltemand to Norway to settle the Fortinbras affair. Laertes has meanwhile approached the king, who asks, “And now, Laertes, what’s the news with you? / You told us of some suit; what is’t, Laertes?” Laertes responds:

Dialectal Awareness in the Reeve’s Tale

Dialectal Awareness in the Reeve’s Tale

Throughout any given period of human history, language has been the

highest expression of observable and transmissible culture. Individuals generally

affiliate themselves with those of like culture and characteristics and tend

to shun those who express qualities and beliefs that are different

from what is commonly accepted or familiar. Wedges are often driven in the midst

of identical groups of people with common beliefs, simply because one particular

dialect of their language is strange to the ear of another group, or is difficult for

that other group to understand . The differences between the Northern and

Southern Middle English dialects of the late 1300’s were, for many valid reasons, so

distinct that over time lines of demarcation were conceived, as were stereotypical

views of the people who spoke the language of the North. But fourteenth century

poet Geoffrey Chaucer saw beyond the divisions to the heart of the matter; he

recognized the efficacy and validity of the Northern dialects, considering them as

no less proper forms of English than his own native “Londonese”– a mixture of

Southern and East Midlands dialects. It is by capitalizing upon these well-known

stereotypical views through his distinct dialectal differences that Chaucer helps

Oswald the Reeve get “one up” on the impertinent Miller through his own savvy,

satirical Canterbury tale.

In order to understand the implications that dialectal differences would have

had upon the Southern view of a Northern speaker of Middle English, one must

first investigate the individual differences that clearly existed between the two

forms of the language. As there was no standardization of the …

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…frey. The Canterbury Tales: Nine Tales and the General Prologue.

Ed. V. A. Kolve and Glending Olson. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.

Clark, Cecily. “Another Late Fourteenth-Century Case of Dialect Awareness.”

Review of English Studies 40 (1989): 504-505.

Ellis, Deborah S. “Chaucer’s Devilish Reeve.” Chaucer Review 27 (1995): 150-161.

Geipel, John. The Viking Legacy: The Scandinavian Influence on the English and

Gaelic Languages. London: David

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