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Friendship: A Hamlet Analysis

1596 words - 7 pages

A true friend. For many, this is a concept that is easily personified but boundlessly difficult to explain. However, Michel de Montaigne, in his essay Of Friendship, attempts to clarify this relationship. Essentially, he states that true friendship occurs when both souls enjoy the connection and wish to have the relationship grow. Although this sounds much like love, de Montaigne claims the key difference is that passion is not constantly a factor among friends. This can be taken to mean that a friendship is a relationship that is chosen willfully, and cherished as much as a lover. In Shakespeare’s Hamlet, there is much evidence of such a relationship between the titular Hamlet and Horatio. ...view middle of the document...

By using the word slave, Hamlet implies that Horatio has a freedom that is desirable. With this one line, and the fact that Hamlet explains his plan to Horatio, the nature of their relationship throughout the entire play is explained.
Right from their first meeting in the play, the strength of the relationship is seen. It is revealed that they were fellow students at Wittenberg, and as such, there is a strong intellectual component to their bond. Furthermore, by Hamlet calling Horatio a “fellow student”, he recognizes Horatio as someone relatable and a fellow learner. Thus, it is implied that they both have open minds and infinite possibilities, further strengthening their friendship. As individuals, however, they are vastly different.
Horatio, a Stoic much like Brutus in Julius Caesar, is not “passion's slave”. Hamlet, however, is a slave to his turbulent passions and is thus unable to distinguish between his rational judgment and the “passion”. In his case, passion is usually manifested as revenge. In stark contrast, Horatio is grounded in a sound pragmatism.
Hamlet longs for the composure Horatio has from such a rational character, admitting his weakness here simultaneously. Like a true friend as described by de Montaigne, Hamlet admires Horatio for the traits that he himself lacks and also derives genuine pleasure from the constancy of Horatio's character.
This admiration and pleasure is the primary basis of Hamlet’s complete trust of and confidence in Horatio. He knows Horatio will keep his secrets protected. The passage in 3.2 shows that he trusts Horatio with the secret of the “play-within-a-play”, but the secret of Hamlet’s antic disposition is the one that establishes Horatio’s loyalty over the longest time, as it is a secret he kept for most of the play.
Analyzing why Hamlet holds Horatio in such high esteem provides a lens through which one can examine Hamlet himself. However, the role of Horatio in the play must first be stated before his effect on Hamlet can be appreciated. Firstly, he lends credence to the various actions of the play. For example, it is only by virtue of his rationality that the first act of the play is believable. He is introduced into the play because of his educated background. By showing him, a scholar, alongside the guards when the Ghost is seen, one can more easily accept that there is an actual ghostly being in front of them. This shows Horatio’s broader role in Hamlet, which is to stand as a Stoic pillar of rationality while the surrounding plot has many characters falling into various states of madness. Essentially, he provides a perspective of reason.
Keeping in line with this purpose, Horatio warns Hamlet when he is making a misguided decision, even showing the negative consequences of the decision. An example of this occurs in Act 1, when Hamlet meets the Ghost for the first time and it signals for Hamlet to follow. Contrary to the respectful manner with which Horatio has spoken to Hamlet up to this...

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