Passage analysis of Hamlet 5.2, by K.E.


In the speech that begins ‘It is here Hamlet’ (5.2 314) Laertes’ objective is to kill the King, Claudius. His obstacle is that he thinks Hamlet will not believe him (ie. Laertes thinks that Hamlet will not believe Laertes’ statement that Hamlet is dy ing). Laertes’ action is to convince Hamlet to act (kill the King) immediately (before Hamlet dies). The evidence that proves this thesis is revealed in the context of the speech, the speech itself, and the character through-line. The context reveals the King is the cause of the treachery. It convinces Hamlet to act immediately through the information that they are both dying, and points out the weapon he can use to kill the King. The metre, rhyme, figures, structure and vocabulary of the speech itself, n ot only provide Hamlet with evidence of the King’s guilt and of his and Laertes’ fatal wounds, but also emphasises the urgency of acting immediately. The speech contributes to the character through-line by revealing Laertes’ super objective, main obstacle , and main action. Laertes’ through-line is deduced by the information that is given about his character, and what his actions are up to this point in the play. As a result of the given evidence, the conclusion will illustrate how the speech contributes t o the line of action of the play ‘to witness’.


The immediate context of the speech confirms Laertes’s objective, obstacle and action. Laertes’s objective is to kill the King. The immediate context of the speech provides evidence to support Laertes’ objective. Gertrude dies and Hamlet demands ‘the door be locked’ (5.2 313) and that the ‘Treachery’ be exposed. Laertes answers Hamlet’s command: ‘It is here’ (5.2 314), explains the ‘treacherous instrument is in thy (Hamlet’s) hand’ (5.2 317), and warns Hamlet ‘thou art slain’ (5.2 314) and ‘I li e, (/) Never to rise again’ (319,20). Once Laertes announces ‘the King’s to blame’ (5.2 320) Hamlet uses the ‘envenomed’ (5.2 318) sword to kill the King. Furthermore the reason that Laertes is able to inform Hamlet to kill the King, is because he is the only character who knows the King told him (Laertes) to ‘choose (/) A sword unbated, and, in a pass of practice, (/) Requite him (Hamlet) for your (Laertes) father’ (4.7 139-40). Laertes also witnesses the King telling him about the ‘second’ plan involving ‘A chalice for the nonce’ (4.7 160). Hamlet responds to Laertes, and fulfils Laertes’s objective: Hamlet kills the King.


Laertes’s obstacle is Hamlet not believing him. The immediate context of the speech provides evidence for Laertes’ obstacle. One of the reason’s Hamlet needs to be convinced to act, rather than just told, is revealed in his relationship with Lae rtes. Both characters throughout the play are wary of each other. While Laertes warns Ophelia of Hamlet’s ‘unmastered importunity’ (1.3 32) Hamlet doubts ‘he (Laertes) whose grief (/) Bears such an emphasis’ (5.1 256). Hamlet killed Laertes father, Poloni us. Thus Hamlet is confronting a man (Laertes) who said that he would ‘cut his (Hamlet’s) throat i’ th’ church’ (4.7 126) and wishes the devil take(s) (his) (Hamlet’s) soul’ (5.1 260). Hamlet also knows that ‘in terms of honour (Laertes) stands aloof’ (5. 2 247,8) to Hamlet’s apology. As a result of the given evidence it is clear that Laertes’ obstacle is that he thinks Hamlet will not believe him.



Laertes’s action is to convince Hamlet to act (kill the King) immediately (before Hamlet dies). The immediate context of the speech provides evidence to support Laertes’ action. The on-stage action reveals that both Laertes: ‘Here I lie, (/) Nev er to rise again’ (5.2 319,20) and Hamlet: ‘Hamlet, thou art slain; (/) No medicine in the world can do thee good ’ (5.2 314-5) are dying. Laertes also reminds Hamlet his mother has been murdered: ‘Thy mother’s poisoned’ (5.2 319) and underlines that ‘the King’s to blame’ (5.2 320) for the treachery. For the duration of the speech, Hamlet has to realise that he is murdered, Laertes murdered him, his mother is murdered, and ‘the King, the King’s to blame’ (5.2 320). Hamlet does respond to Laertes, and fulf ils Laertes’s action: Hamlet acts (kills the King) immediately (before he (Hamlet) dies).





The speech itself proves Laertes’ objective, obstacle, and action. Laertes’ objective is to kill the King. The speech proves his objective. The speech exposes the treachery: ‘It is here Hamlet. Hamlet thou art slain…I can no more the King, the K ing’s to blame’ (5.2 314, 320). The only rhyme in the speech is ‘slain’ and ‘blame’; direct words that highlight the facts to Hamlet; you are dead and the King’s responsible. ‘Blame’ is associated with rebuke and to bring into disrepute, to charge and acc use, all of which underline the exposure of the King’s treachery and incites Hamlet to kill the King. The metre of the speech is iambic pentameter and the register is in informal. Because most of the words are simple and direct, ‘treacherous instrument…un bated and envenomed’ and ‘foul practice’ stands out. Laertes picks up the language the King uses in 4.7 ‘unbated’ (4.7 138) ‘practice’ (4.7 138) and venomed (4.7 161) now ‘envenomed’. Unbated or unblunted, not subdued or restrained, not only points out th e sharpness of death but also reminds Hamlet that the weapon to kill the King is ready and waiting and still ‘envenomed’ for its purpose. Laertes achieves his objective because Hamlet uses the sword to kill the King.


Laertes’ obstacle is Hamlet not believing him. The speech proves Laertes’ obstacle. The repetition and metrical inversion of ‘here’ draws our attention to the importance of, in the first case, Laertes’ confession and in the second case, that La ertes is lying on the floor ‘Never to rise again’. ‘Never’ is also metrically inverted and along with ‘no’ (x2) and ‘not’, ‘never’ underlines the finality of their deaths, that in turn reminds us that Hamlet not believing Laertes is Laertes’ obstacle. Fu rthermore ‘practice’, ‘envenomed’ and ‘treacherous’ are associated with deceit, traitorousness, disease, malign and conspiracy. Laertes uses these words to underline the King’s treachery. Although Hamlet associates the King with poison (Claudius used pois on to kill Hamlet’s father), deceit and traitorousness (Claudius betrays Hamlet’s father, kills him, takes his throne and his wife), he still needs Laertes to repeatedly and explicitly accuse the King and reveal his (King) guilt. All of which reinforce La ertes’ obstacle that Laertes thinks Hamlet will not believe him.



Laertes’ action is to convince Hamlet to act (kill the King) immediately (before Hamlet dies). The speech proves Laertes’ action. The repetition of ‘Hamlet’ and ‘King’ emphasises Laertes’ driving attempt to get his attention and convince him of the urgency that he ‘Hamlet. Hamlet’ (5.2 314), not Laertes because he ‘can no more’ (5.2 320), must kill ‘the King, the (King)’ (5.2 320). Laertes uses two and a half lines (of his speech) to convince Hamlet, he’s (Hamlet) dead/dying. The repetition of ‘ thee’ (x2) and ‘thy’ (x2) and I (x2) underlines that killing the King is in the hands of Laertes and Hamlet. The four pronouns for Hamlet as opposed to the two for Laertes, yet again emphasises, Hamlet, not Laertes must act. Furthermore ‘instrument’ highl ights the physicality of the weapon and also the action of using it. ‘Practice’ is also associated with action, again underlining Hamlet’s necessity to act. Laertes achieves his action because Hamlet acts immediately.


The speech contributes to Laertes’ character through-line. Laertes’ super-objective is to publicly appear honourable, honest and virtuous. I know this because when Laertes confronts the King with ‘riotous head’ to be revenged (/) Most thoroughly for (his) father’ (4.5 135,6), his appearance of honour is clear. Similarly Laertes appears honest and virtuous at Ophelia’s funeral: ‘from her fair and unpolluted flesh (/) May violets spring’ (5.1 241,2). Osric says Laertes is ‘an absolute gentleman an d one ‘shall find in him the (/) continent of what part a gentleman would see’ (5.2 111,2). Laertes highlights his need to appear honourable when he tells Hamlet ‘no reconcilement (/) Till by…masters of known honour (/) I have a voice…(/) To keep my name ungorged’ (5.2). The appearance rather than the reality of Laertes’ honour is underlined by his falseness: (I) ‘will not wrong it’ (Hamlet’s offer of love). The speech serves Laertes’ super-objective because it highlights Laertes’ public confession of his guilt: ‘the foul practice hath turned itself on me’ (5.2 18-19), thus making him appear honest and honourable.




Laertes’ main obstacle is people not believing him. This obstacle is reinforced when Ophelia undermines her brother saying Laertes should not give her advice if ‘he like a puffed and reckless libertine, (/) Himself the primrose path of dalliance treads’ (1.3 49,50). Polonius also doubts Laertes’ honour enough to ask Reynaldo to spy on him in case he is ‘wanton, wild…or open to incontinency’ (2.1). Even the King asks ‘was your father dear to you? (/) Or are you like a painting of a sorrow, (/) A Face without a heart? (4.7 107,8). Laertes’ obstacle: people not believing him, is supported by the speech. Hamlet doubts Laertes and therefore needs to be convinced. Laertes’ repetition of words also underlines Hamlet’s need to be convinced.

Laertes’ main action is to convince public he’s honourable, honest and virtuous. I know this because Laertes knows Hamlet doubted Laertes’ honour when Hamlet protested against Laertes ‘whose grief (/) Bears such an emphasis’ (5.1 256) at Ophelia ’s funeral. All the state knows Laertes is a firey gentleman because he came with ‘riotous head’ to be revenged (/) Most thoroughly for (his) father’ (4.5 135,6). The state/public also know that Laertes betrayed Hamlet when he said to Hamlet ‘I will recei ve your offered love like love, (/) And will not wrong it’ (5.2 252-3). Now in the revelation of his guilt they must be convinced Laertes is honourable.

The speech serves and fulfils Laertes’ main action because his confession ‘ the foul practice hath turned itself on me’ (5.2 318-9) persuades everyone he is honourable. Laertes’ action is reinforced when he exchanges forgiveness with Hamlet: ‘ex change forgiveness with me, noble Hamlet’ (5.2 330)




In conclusion Laertes objective in the speech is, to kill the King. He succeeds because Hamlet kills the King. Laertes dissolves his obstacle of Hamlet not believing him, by convincing Hamlet to act immediately. By highlighting that he and Hamlet are d ying and drawing Hamlet’s attention to the envenomed sword and reminding him that his mother is dead, Hamlet acts immediately, using the sword to kill the King. The speech contributes to the line of action ‘to witness’ by the following process. Throughout the play Hamlet is gathering evidence to prove the treachery and villainy of his uncle Claudius. The crisis point provides the first evidence. The ghost demands Hamlet to revenge ‘his foul and most unnatural murder’ (1.4 36), and names Claudius as the culprit. The climax gives Hamlet more evidence when Claudius rises during the play ‘The Murder of Gonzago’, demanding his servants to ‘give me some light’ (3.2 2 57). The conclusion portrays Fortinbras as a witness to truth as Horatio reports ‘to th’ yet unkowing world (/) How these things came about (5.2 380-1). Horatio witnesses the ghost, Claudius’s reaction and Laertes’ confession- the final, concrete evidence . If Hamlet had not demanded the truth, then Laertes may not have confessed. If Laertes had not confessed, Hamlet and he would have died. If Hamlet and Laertes had died, the King would not have been killed. If the King remained alive, with Osric’s exit, G ertrude, Laertes and Hamlet’s deaths, his guilt would not have been exposed. The King could have killed or overruled Horatio’s (and his subjects) word. Laertes does confess. Hamlet kills the King. Hamlet persuades Horatio not to kill himself because he is the only witness left to relate the truth to Fortinbras. Thus the speech contributes to the line of action ‘to witness’.