Horatio's Role in Hamlet

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True Friends Are Hard To Find

True friends are a rarity. Although many may feel as if their friendships are true, it is only known for certain when that friendship is put to the test. Will it crack under the weight of tragedies and stress, or will obstacles and battles only strengthen it? Horatio, from William Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” who remains loyal to his friend Hamlet throughout the entire course of the play, passes this test without ever showing the slightest tendency to betray Hamlet or harm their friendship. Horatio is a true friend and choric figure to Hamlet because of their mutual respect and understanding for one another, because Horatio keeps Hamlet’s darkest secrets while giving him candid and honest feedback, and because he plays a narrative role as a trustworthy character who keeps an objective and rational point of view.

We are first introduced to Horatio when Marcellus and Barnardo, the night guards, ask him to confirm their sighting of a ghost and to speak to it, because he “art a scholar” (I.i.51) Horatio faces the ghost and questions it without hesitance or fear, yelling to it, “Stay, speak, speak, I charge thee speak!” (I.i.63) Amanda Mabillard mentions that Horatio is a “calm, resolute, and rational character,” which is “why Hamlet chooses Horatio to become the sole person on whom he can rely.” After Horatio recovers from the initial shock of seeing the ghostly apparition of King Hamlet, one of his first thoughts is that they should tell Prince Hamlet because it is “needful in [their] loves” and “fitting [of their] duty” (I.i.190). When Horatio informs Hamlet that they saw his father’s ghost, Hamlet immediately believes the bizarre tale without a doubt, which further illustrates his deep trust in Horatio. Hamlet interrogates the three of them about specific details, and they decide to meet late that night during watch duty to try to see the ghost again.

Upon meeting outside of the tower, the ghost of King Hamlet appears shortly, and “beckons [Hamlet] to go away with it, as if some impartment did desire to [him] alone” (I.i.63). Horatio and Marcellus object to Hamlet’s cries to follow the ghost, even to the point of physically restraining him. Horatio, especially concerned about Hamlet’s well-being, points out that the ghost may be “[tempting him] toward the flood” or the “dreadful summit of the cliff,” and may possibly “[drive him] into madness” (I.iiii.76-81). The impulsive Hamlet, however, decides to follow the ghost, even against his friend’s wishes. Horatio insists that they follow him though so that they can make sure he stays safe. Horatio once again proves that he is a strong person and friend, for he will put himself in dangerous situations to protect Hamlet. As John Halverson says, “Horatio [is] invested with the favorable qualities of learning, courage, loyalty, and candor’ […].” When Hamlet is finished speaking with his father’s ghost, he has Horatio and Marcellus make two oaths that they will “never make known what [they] have seen […]” (I.iiiii.157). Horatio is first to swear in both cases and always addresses him quickly and with respect. All of Horatio’s actions and words thus far have portrayed him as an intelligent, respectable, loyal friend that the reader can always count on and trust. As John Halverson points out, “without Horatio, the audience would be suspicious of rather than sympathetic with Hamlet.” Hamlet further validates the fact that Horatio is a grounded character in Act III, while Hamlet is in the midst of arranging a play to try to elicit a guilty reaction out of Claudius. Horatio blushes when Hamlet tells him that he is “just a man as e’er [his] conversation coped withal” (III.ii.50). Hamlet insists that he is not flattering him, because there would be no purpose of flattering a man “that [hast] no revenue” (III.ii.54). Hamlet shares with him that he admires him for his “blood and judgment” because they are “so well-co-mingled” (III.ii.65). In other words,...
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