I’m reading the new translation of The Odyssey (which is great, by the way) and it has reminded me of something I must have known before but somehow forgot: that Laertes is the name of Odysseus’ father. This is something that Shakespeare was surely aware of – given his education. It is also likely the reason he had the name Laertes at hand to give to Laertes.
It does make me wonder why Shakespeare gave an old man’s name to a young man. Laertes, in the Odyssey, meets his son in the underworld. He is the father of a hero. But not an uncomplicated one. Wilson has translated the first line of The Odyssey as “Tell me about a complicated man.”
What is Odysseus’ father’s story?
What might Shakespeare trying to evoke by naming Laertes thus?
Is it this sort of moment? This direct telling of difficult truths?
Laertes – our Laertes of Elsinore – has to tell it like it is. He has to say it this directly, because he’s already told Hamlet once and he clearly did not get it. Hamlet is running around searching for treachery and such. Laertes has to directly lay it out – all the treachery – not just Gertrude’s murder.