Some critics love to contrast Laertes and Hamlet – to say that lines like these are why Hamlet fails. “See,” they say, “Laertes doesn’t care if his victim is at prayer the way Hamlet does. Laertes would cut Hamlet’s throat in the church and Hamlet would not kill Claudius at prayer (in the church?) when he had a chance. See, this is why Hamlet fails! “
Except – Laertes fails too. I mean, yes, he kills Hamlet – if you can call that success – but he dies in the process and regrets the killing as soon as it is done.
I don’t buy the “Laertes would be a better son, a better hero, a better king” idea. He’s hot-headed, yes. And has a great deal of fierce emotionality – which is, yes, an interesting contrast to Hamlet. But he’s clearly gotten up to a bit of trouble abroad, either through his libertine tendencies or his impulsiveness. And he ends up just as dead as everyone else.