A person cannot truly exist without those people around him, just as a play may not be successful without its supporting characters. Horatio and Ophelia are often disregarded as "supporting actors" within the play. They spend very little time onstage, and when they are their roles seem trivial; however, their true purpose is much greater. The characters of Horatio and Ophelia have two very different functions in the play. Horatio is used as a foil for Hamlet, the person to whom Hamlet can discuss his course of action and act like his true self. Ophelia, however, has a major role that is not initially evident. She is the embodiment of how Hamlet's opinion of women changes throughout the play. These two characters have drastically different roles, but both are vital to the success of Hamlet.
In Hamlet, Shakespeare develops the character of Hamlet through numerous soliloquies and long speeches. Not only is the use of these literary devices difficult for the actor, but it is also draining on the audience, who must listen to the monotony of the same person speak continually for several minutes, without any interruption. Playwrights developed plays to appeal to both the audience and the prominent stage actors of the period. Shakespeare needed a means to reduce the amount of time Hamlet talks to himself. The addition of another character, Horatio, provides this, by turning what might have been a tedious monologue into a more manageable dialogue between two characters. Horatio fulfills this role of Hamlet’s friend and confidant, someone to whom Hamlet can talk and explain his ideas.
Horatio is Hamlet's only true friend in the play. The title of "best friend" may not seem overly impressive, but this has a crucial role in the play. Horatio is the only person to whom Hamlet can confide, and know that what he shares will not be reported back to Claudius or Gertrude. Hamlet feels safe in telling Horatio about the ghost, and about his plan to uncover the truth from Claudius:
There is a play tonight before the King.
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee, of my father's death.
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe my uncle. (III. ii. 77-82)
Hamlet trusts Horatio completely. It is to Horatio that Hamlet writes upon his return to Denmark, and Horatio to whom he confides his thoughts before the duel: “the readiness is / all. Since no man has aught of what he leaves, what / is't to leave betimes” (V. ii. 223-225)? Hamlet has not placed this much confidence in anyone else; it is only to Horatio that he reveals his true feelings.
Without Horatio, there is no one to give truth to Hamlet's words. Horatio bears witness to the ghost: “Look, my lord, it comes” (I. iv. 38), giving credence to Hamlet’s later claims that he has seen the ghost of his father. When Hamlet is forcing the guards to swear an oath, it is to Horatio that he tells of his plan “to put an...