Horatio in Hamlet
In Shakespeare’s tragedy Hamlet, the closest friend of the hero is a fellow-student from Wittenberg (Granville-Barker 93), an intelligent and understanding young man by the name of Horatio. This essay seeks to carefully present his character.
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)
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. Hamlet is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). 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 Horatio’s friendship and judgment says:
Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core—aye, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee. . . (Burton)
Those last four words say so much. With the three of them standing on the ramparts, the ghost appears at one a.m.. The ghost, a former sinner since he is suffering in the afterlife (West 110),...