We are shown from the beginning of the play that it is Horatio’s wisdom as an educated man that gives him the power of truth throughout. When Horatio joins the night watch to see first-hand the apparition they claim to have encountered, Marcellus explains to Bernardo “Horatio says ‘tis but our fantasy/And will not let belief take hold of him/Touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us./Therefore I have entreated him along” (1.1.28-31). It is with intelligent authority that Horatio is observed to be trusted by many as an educated and wise man. Because Horatio confirms the existence of the Ghost, Hamlet is justified in his future confrontations with it even when those around him cannot see it. It is Hamlet’s faith in Horatio as a friend that substantiates their shared experience more relevantly than that of Marcellus and Bernardo having seen it as well. Additionally, by confirming the ghost’s existence, it is only Horatio’s observance that allows the audience to accept the supernatural state of events that continue throughout the play. Marcellus and Bernardo become forgotten characters where as Horatio remains a visible and constant voice of wisdom throughout.
When we are first introduced to Hamlet, brooding in the court, we see Hamlet momentarily forget his woes upon Horatio’s entrance. “I am glad to see you well/Horatio-or do I forget myself!” (1.2.166-167). Up until this point, Hamlet has done nothing but lament his position to his mother and Claudius. If it seems that Hamlet is not sure of Horatio’s name we can argue that it is because of his situation that he is otherwise distracted yet still excited to reunite with his friend. Compared with his greeting of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern which seem suspicious and hesitant, Hamlet is genuine in his excitement of reuniting with Horatio. With this in mind, Horatio may be the only one who can confess the news of the Ghost to Hamlet and Hamlet receives it as truth and without suspicion. From his initial introduction, Horatio demonstrates that he is an intelligent man that discerns many situations with extreme caution. After meeting the Ghost, Horatio states “This bodes some strange eruption to our state” (1.1.80). This statement suggests that Horatio is fully aware to what degree the news will affect his friend who is still mourning the loss of his father. He shows intuition to what consequences lay ahead for an emotionally confused Hamlet as well as how his actions will affect the state of Denmark royalty. He is subtly foreshadowing bad outcomes for all in the play, not only Hamlet. During Hamlet’s meeting with the Ghost, while the Ghost is beckoning him to follow it, Horatio asserts himself over the prince by stating “Do not, my lord,” (1.4.71). This suggests a much more familiar relationship between the two friends than that of Hamlets other friends, who seem to be merely situational, having been schoolmates in addition to their service to Claudius. If Horatio can command a prince in this way, then we know it is out of love for his friend and fear in his wisdom: Horatio-
And what if tempt you toward the flood, my lord?
Or some dreadful summit of the cliff
That beetles o’er his base into the sea,
And there assume some other horrible form
Which might deprive your sovereignty of reason
And draw you into madness ? Think of it
[That very place puts toys of depression,
Without more motive, into every brain
That looks so many fathoms to the sea
And hears a roar beneath.]” (1.4.77-86)
In this passage we can see Horatio more directly foreshadowing events to follow in the play. It is only through this apparition that Hamlet then descends into his own feigned and methodical madness, and produces actions which then affect all of the characters’ responses. Ophelia’s suicide and Laertes’ desire for revenge are both directly related to Hamlet’s hasty actions during the buildup of this play. In re-reading the above passage after the play’s tragic conclusion, we are made acutely aware of how correct Horatio was.
During Act 4, Horatio’s lines are few but it to Horatio that Hamlet sends correspondence, alerting him of his location. Hamlet trusted Horatio enough to bring him into a plot for his return to Denmark and Horatio obliges with unfettered dedication, “Come, I will (give) you way for these letters/And do’t the speedier that you may direct me/To him from who you brought them,” (4.5.32-24.) Horatio is undaunted by a potential plot against the king’s wishes and shows concern only for his friend who he will now be attending to.
Horatio is undoubtedly loyal to Hamlet but possesses a very bold deference to his royalty. Conversely, Hamlet never vocally protests to a subject offering him unsolicited advice when it would be well within his princely authority to do so. Observing this further mirrors the mutual love and respect that they have for each other. When Oseric enters to pass the message of a dual between Laertes and Hamlet, Horatio tells Hamlet “You will lose, my lord,” (5.2.223). This warning is promptly ignored by Hamlet but we can observe much more of Horatio’s wisdom in that statement. Horatio does not say “You will lose the duel, my lord.” He simply means that, given the plot against Hamlet, it will not matter how skilled with a sword he is, Hamlet will be no match for the cunning of those plotting against him. No matter the outcome of the duel, Hamlet will suffer the ultimate loss. He further cautions Hamlet “If your mind dislike anything, obey it,” (5.2.231).
It is in the final scene of Shakespeare’s Hamlet that we see how much Horatio and Hamlet mean to one another. Hamlet does not die in a woman’s arms but rather the arms of his best and closest friend in the world. Hamlet entrusts his final words to Horatio to pass on his final wishes to the respected King Fortinbras. Horatio’s love for his friend is carried so far that even Horatio attempts to drink poison and end his life, mourning the imminent death of his friend saying “Here’s yet some liquor left,” (5.2.375) but is abruptly stopped by Hamlet and instructed to “Tell my story,” (5.2.384). By surviving, Horatio is able to unfold the plot against Hamlet to an audience and explain the treachery against him. Horatio is the most qualified to do this because of his utter devotion to Hamlet throughout the course of the play. He never falters in his mission to obey Hamlet’s commands not as a subject but rather as a friend.
Horatio’s character legitimizes Hamlet is every aspect of the play. His appearances may seem inconsequential at first glance but his role in developing Hamlet is paramount. Horatio does not suspect Hamlet is mad but is aware of what events brought him to the variety of mental states he finds himself in. Horatio had seen the Ghost, proving to the audience that Hamlet is not alone in these apparitions and therefore not as ‘mad’ as he may be letting on. Horatio’s continual cautioning to Hamlet shows him to be wise and of impeccable credibility as we can see that had Hamlet followed Horatio’s cautioning, he may not have come to such a tragic end. By his love, dedication, honesty, and intelligence, Horatio is able to posses the wits that Hamlet may not in his time of extreme strife and is one of the most crucial character’s to justifying Hamlet’s end as tragic and heroic. Without Horatio there would be no Hamlet, only a mad prince suffering under those plotting against him. Their bond remains un-tainted throughout the duration of the play but Hamlet’s refusal of his good friends advice left him dead, however symbolic his death may have needed to be. And with his death, a best friend and confidant’s final goodbye is felt with great suffering: “Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince, /And flights of Angles sing thee to thy rest.” (5.2.397-398)