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Their companionship evokes the advice offered to Laertes: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, / Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel” (1.3).
Horatio’ tranquil attitude (“As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing”, 3.2) represents a blend of Stoic acceptance (“not a pipe for Fortune’s finger”, 3.2) from the classical world that the scholar Horatio loves and Christian forbearance (“not passion’s slave”, 3.2) that reflects world in which the play is set.
But does Horatio’s “sweet prince” (5.2) exploit his friend’s loyalty with his heroic if hard-to-believe story of divinely-inspired rescue by kindly pirates with which the prince hopes to be remembered?
Horatio: the first major character to appear in #Hamlet - and the only one to survive until the end.
In the same 1.2 scene when we learn that Horatio has been at Elsinore for Old King Hamlet’s funeral (“He was a goodly king”) and afterward attended the wedding of Claudius and Gertrude (“Indeed, my lord, it followed hard upon”) we also discover that his encounter with Hamlet is their first meeting since their time together at Wittenberg.
Hamlet’s greeting suggests the prince is surprised to see his fellow scholar (“Horatio—or do I forget myself?”) and is puzzled at his presence (“What, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?” and “But what is your affair in Elsinore?”). Hamlet’s genuine welcome, however, is without the suspicion with which the prince later greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (“Were you not sent for? … Come, come, deal justly with me”, 2.2)
The prince who will bemoan Denmark’s reputation for excessive drinking (“They clepe us drunkards”, 1.4) cordially insists Horatio join him for a boozy reunion: “We’ll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.”
Horatio has been at Elsinore for two months before he and #Hamlet actually meet.
In the first scene of 1.1, Horatio confirms that “this thing” (1.1) witnessed by the two guards is no mere hallucination. As Marcellus complains to Barnardo: “Horatio says ’tis but our fantasy / And will not let belief take hold of him.” But the evidence of “Mine own eyes” convinces the skeptical scholar that “this dreaded sight” is real and “usurpest” the “form” of “Our last King.”
With the two guards’ agreement, it is not to King Claudius but Prince Hamlet that Horatio decides to report the ghostly visitation: “As needful in our loves, fitting our duty.”
Hamlet disregards Horatio’s advice against speaking with the Ghost (“What if it … draw you into madness?”, 1.4), just as he also does later before the rigged fencing duel (“You will lose this wager, my lord.”, 5.2).
The scholarly, skeptical Horatio confirms that the Ghost of 'Our last King' is no mere hallucination.
As he was earlier asked by the guards to confirm the Ghost’s reality (“He may approve our eyes”, 1.1), Horatio is recruited by Hamlet in 3.2 to test the spirit’s truthfulness by observing King Claudius’ reaction to The Murder of Gonzago: “Observe mine uncle.” The prince has confided in Horatio that the play will include a scene that “comes near the circumstance / Which I have told thee of my father's death.”
After a “marvelous distempered” Claudius has fled the performance, the prince tells Horatio: “I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound.” But Horatio seems unconvinced, remarking only of the king’s reaction that: “I did very well note him.” It seems just as likely that it was the prince’s public threat to Claudius’ life through the character of Lucianus (“nephew to the king”) that prompted his uncle’s panicked response.
To Horatio at the play-within-a-play, #Hamlet reveals his love for the life of an actor in theater.
Hamlet’s choice of Elsinore graveyard as his meeting venue with Horatio suggests his fatalistic acceptance that Claudius “will work him / To an exploit” (4.7) the prince is unlikely to survive. As he tells his trusted confidant: “thou wouldst not think how ill all’s here about my heart. But it is no matter” (5.2).
Hamlet’s improbable tale to Horatio of his rescue by pirates portrays the prince as a figure who was preserved by the “divinity that shapes our ends” so that he might complete a “heaven ordinant” mission set out by “providence” (5.2).
But is this pirate tale actually true? Or is the prince, who in life admitted to being “indifferent honest” (3.1), seeking to be remembered by his appointed biographer in a story that while, heroic, is just another “forgery of shapes and tricks” (4.7) with which the play abounds?
#Hamlet looks to Horatio as his biographer just as the Ghost regarded the prince as his avenger.
In his opening soliloquy, a dejected Hamlet considered “self-slaughter” (1.2). At the play’s end, it is the dying prince who urges Horatio not to yield to despair but to live on so he may restore Hamlet’s “wounded name” and “tell my story … more and less” to the “unknowing world” (5.2).
Hamlet’s plea to Horatio (“If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart”, 5.2) echoes the Ghost’s request to the prince (“If thou didst ever thy dear father love”, 1.5).
Horatio began the play by recounting the story (“At least the whisper goes so”, 1.1) of a fatal duel between two kings from two countries. He survives to tell another tale: of two kings from the same country—two brothers; one undead, one alive—who competed for the loyalty and ultimately doomed the life Horatio’s “sweet prince” (5.2).
Horatio's tale will be of two kingly brothers who fought each other through the son of one and nephew of the other.
The most helpful book ever for students and teachers of Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Born a prince, parented by a jester, haunted by a ghost, destined to kill a king rather than become one, and remembered as the title character of a play he did not want to be in. If at the cost of his life, Hamlet does in the end “win at the odds.”
His “ambition” for Denmark’s crown leads him to commit one murder only to find that he must plot a second to cover up the first. When this plan fails, his next scheme leads to the death of the woman he loves.
“Have you eyes?”, Prince Hamlet demands of his mother. Gertrude‘s “o’erhasty marriage” dooms her life and the lives of everyone around her when her wished-for, happy-ever-after fairytale ends in a bloodbath.
As she struggles to respond to the self-serving purposes of others, Ophelia’s sanity collapses in Elsinore’s “unweeded garden” of falsity and betrayal. Her “self-slaughter” is her revenge for her silencing and humiliation.
By surrendering Denmark to his rival’s son, Hamlet grants to the angry Ghost of his “dear father murdered” the forgiveness his suffering soul needed more than the revenge he demanded.
Uncle and nephew are two men at war with each other—and themselves. Claudius is haunted by the murder he has committed (“O heavy burden!”); Hamlet by the one he hasn’t yet (“Am I a coward?”).
Gertrude’s marriage to Claudius and her collusion with the prince’s confinement at Elsinore creates a barrier between mother and son who are as different from one another as is humanly possible.
Begins in uncertainty, descends into mutual deceit and rejection, and ends with their double surrender to death: she, to the water; he, to Claudius’ rigged fencing duel.
“Those friends thou hast … Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.” Horatio is Hamlet’s trusted confidant in life and vows to remain the keeper of his memory after the prince’s death.
A marriage of mutual self-interest. Claudius wanted something (the kingship) he did not have; Gertrude had something (the status of queen) she wanted to hold onto.
A king murdered, an inheritance stolen, a family divided: Elsinore’s older generation destroys its younger when two brothers—one living, one undead—battle in a “cursed spite” over a crown and a queen.
Hamlet and Laertes journey from revenge, through obsession and anger, to forgiveness. And the revenge sought by the Ghost on King Claudius becomes the revenge of Old King Fortinbras on Old King Hamlet.
“Who’s there?” The characters struggle to distinguish between truth and falsehood in a play-long triple pun on the verb ‘to act’: to take action, to behave deceitfully, and to perform in theater.