Hamlet’s Best Friend, Horatio
The Shakespearean drama Hamlet shows much deception and crime. Few friendships in the play survive till the end. But Hamlet and Horatio, best of friends, are not even separated by the hero’s death. This essay will elaborate on this relationship.
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the funeral took place some three weeks ago, it seems rather strange that Hamlet, however absorbed in grief and however withdrawn from the Court, has not met Horatio.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).
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)
Horatio’s words here are significant. 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. Soon Horatio and Marcellus make contact with Hamlet with a strange greeting (Bradley 370) and escort him to the ramparts of Elsinore. Burton in “Hamlet” comments on the tightness of Horatio’s relationship with the hero:
Horatio is Hamlet’s Rock of Gibraltar throughout the play. He confides in him alone, he submits his suspicions to the cot formation of Horatio’s judgment and finally dies in his arms, or trusting him with the justification of his acts to posterity. The first thing we hear of Horatio is that he is a scholar, and this intellectual bent he shares with Hamlet, but temperamentally they are opposites. Hamlet praises Horatio for the qualities that he himself conspicuously lacks. Horatio is not "passion’s slave;" he has an imperturbability of mind and spirit that nothing can shake. Hamlet, when he is about to test...