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Shakespeare’s Hamlet – Hamlet’s Best Friend, Horatio

Hamlet’s Best Friend, Horatio

A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy notes a problem involving Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

When Horatio, at the end of the soliloquy, enters and greets Hamlet, it is evident that he and Hamlet have not recently met at Elsinore. Yet Horatio came to Elsinore for the funeral (I.ii. 176). Now even if the funeral took place some three weeks ago, it seems rather strange that Hamlet, however absorbed in grief and however withdrawn from the Court, has not met Horatio [. . .] . (368)

The closest friend of the hero is a fellow-student from Wittenberg (Granville-Barker 93) — Horatio. He is an interesting and faithful friend, as this essay will demonstrate.

Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes Horatio’s part in the opening scene of the play:

The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore. For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes the hour of one, a ghost has appeared on the battlements, a figure dressed in complete armor and with a face like that of the dead king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father. A young man named Horatio, who is a school friend of Hamlet, has been told of the apparition and cannot believe it, and one of the officers has brought him there in the night so that he can see it for himself.

The hour comes, and the ghost walks. (35)

Horatio, frightened, futilely confronts the ghost:

What art thou that usurp’st this time of night,

Together with that fair and warlike form

In which the majesty of buried Denmark

Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak! (1.1)

Maynard Mack in “The World of Hamlet” maintains that Horatio’s words to the spirit “are subsequently seen to have reached beyond their contexts. . . (244). So Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is home from school. Hamlet is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). Soon Horatio and Marcellus make contact with Hamlet with a strange greeting (Bradley 370) and escort him to the ramparts of Elsinore.

The Character Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

The Character Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet

In the play Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, the confidant Horatio is created to serve a number of different purposes. Horatio is a flat character. He is a loyal, obedient, and trustworthy companion to Hamlet. His character does not undergo any significant transformation throughout the play, except that he serves as a witness of the death of Hamlet, Claudius, and Gertrude. Horatio’s role in the play seems to be as a utilitarian character that Shakespeare created in order to heighten the suspense of the play. Also for Horatio to be Hamlet’s ear so as to appease the audience’s ear, and to communicate the moral of the play.

Horatio serves often as the voice of reason, for instance; he is skeptical of the watchman’s testimony that a ghost appeared during their watch in the previous night. Marcellus says of the watchman’s testimony, “Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy, / And will not let belief take hold of him” (1.1.23-4). Horatio believes the watchmen only when he witnesses the ghost and even then is still skeptical. He is also the voice of reason when he asks Hamlet to restrain himself from meeting the ghost. He is afraid that Hamlet will hurt himself or go mad (1.4.63-91), finally telling Hamlet, “Be ruled, you shall not go” (1.4.81). Hamlet often seeks verification of events from Horatio as well. Horatio agrees with Hamlet, in 1.4, that the night is cold (1.4.2), and verifies Hamlet’s belief that the ghost is “wondrous strange” (1.4.164). Horatio does not exaggerate about the length of the stay of the ghost. In 1.2, Horatio tells Hamlet that the ghost stayed in his presence for possibly “a hundreth” (1.2.137), followed by Marcellus and Barnardo’s utterance, “Longer, longer” (1.2…

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…he allegiances for power that lead to death. Horatio is the only victor, for he did not plot, and remains alive to tell this tragedy to others.

Horatio is Shakespeare’s utilitarian character. Horatio serves as a foil to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, prompts Hamlet to disclose his feelings, gives vital information in the form of exposition (verbal or in a letter) or verification of Hamlet’s reality, and helps to build the suspense of the play. The only emotional aspect of his character is that he remains alive, and serves as a vehicle for Shakespeare’s moral of Hamlet.

Works Cited and Consulted

Berman, Allison. “We Only Find Ourselves.” Hamlet reaction papers. Wynnewood: FCS, 2000.

Lugo, Michael. “The Character Horatio.” Hamlet reaction papers. Wynnewood: FCS, 2000.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. 1600? Ed. Sylvan Barnet. New York: Signet Classic, 1998

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