How does Laertes serve as a contrast to Hamlet in this scene?
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Laertes provides precisely the model of what Hamlet is not. The early twentieth century critic A.C. Bradley once illustrated Shakespeare’s gift for characterization by observing that if Othello were in Hamlet’s place the play would be about thirty minutes long – as soon as he learned of the murder, he would kill Claudius – and likewise if Hamlet were in Othello’s he would immediately see through Iago’s plottings and simply laugh the intrigue away. Just so, Laertes’ vengeful return, like Fortinbras’ military example, serves as a contrast to Hamlet’s own hesitating, over-thinking character. This is a true avenger. When he bursts into court demanding satisfaction, he says, “That drop of blood that’s calm proclaims me bastard, / Cries cuckold to my father, brands the harlot / Even here between the chaste unsmirched brow / Of my true mother.” In other words, Laertes proclaims that he has a blood-bound duty to avenge his father’s death impetuously and bloodily, or else he proves himself not his father’s son. In contrast, Hamlet has been calm, reflective, passive, playful, morbid, and impotent in his own long-delayed quest for revenge – a quest which has led rather to an attempt to find motivation to revenge, to reflect on the nature of revenge, the nature of man, and the nature of Hamlet. In short, Hamlet has thought and thought but has not acted. Laertes, we will see, acts without thinki