Hamlet: Model Essays for Students - cover image

The Relationship of Hamlet and Horatio: Sample Essays

Horatio is Hamlet’s trusted confidant in life and vows to remain the keeper of his memory after the prince’s death: “Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, / Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel.”

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Introduction

Horatio’s relationship with Prince Hamlet is a genuine friendship in an Elsinore otherwise poisoned by deception and betrayal. 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 improbable tale of divinely-inspired rescue by pirates with which the prince hopes to be remembered?

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Horatio: the first major character to appear in #Hamlet - and the only one to survive until the end.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Although Horatio is described by Hamlet as a “fellow student” (1.2) at Germany’s Wittenberg University, Horatio is unquestionably Danish.
  • In 1.1, the guard Marcellus introduces Horatio as a “liegeman to the Dane.” In the same scene, Horatio calls Denmark “our state” and refers to old King Hamlet as “our last King.”
  • When Horatio describes himself as the prince’s ‘poor servant”, Hamlet quickly responds by insisting that he is, in reality, his ‘good friend” (1.2).
  • Horatio may be Hamlet’s confidant who the prince holds in his “heart of heart” (3.2). But he never forgets his inferior rank to old King Hamlet’s son and always addresses him as ‘My lord.’

Key Supporting Quotes

30
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Meeting Horatio:
“What brings you from Wittenberg?”

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.”

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Horatio has been at Elsinore for two months before he and #Hamlet actually meet.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Ophelia’s comment to Hamlet in 3.2 about his father’s death (“’tis twice two months, my lord”) suggests that Horatio was at Elsinore for two months before meeting the prince.
  • Horatio is very familiar with the history of Denmark’s military conflicts with both Norway and Poland.
  • Unlike the guard Marcellus (“why such the daily cast of brazen cannon … ?”, 1.1), Horatio knows the reason for the hurried military preparations underway in Denmark.
  • Horatio even recognizes that the Ghost is wearing “the very armor” (1.1) in which dead king dueled with Norway’s old King Fortinbras.
  • Horatio’s recounting of the fatal duel, thirty years in the past, omits one detail later supplied by the gravedigger: it was also the day of Prince Hamlet’s birth.

Key Supporting Quotes

37
quotations from the play to support your statements.

The Ghost:
“More things in heaven and earth”

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).

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The scholarly, skeptical Horatio confirms that the Ghost of 'Our last King' is no mere hallucination.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • The Ghost reminds Horatio, a classical scholar and by temperament “more an antique Roman than a Dane” (5.2), of the supernatural spirits (“the sheeted dead”) which appeared before the murder of Caesar (“ere the mightiest Julius fell”, 1.1).
  • Horatio interprets the Ghost’s appearance as foretelling a similar political upheaval in Denmark: “This bodes some strange eruption to our state” (1.1). But he does not share his opinion with Hamlet.
  • That Horatio and the guards report the spirit’s visitation in “dreadful secrecy” (1.2) to Hamlet suggests the newly-crowned King Claudius has only a limited claim on the loyalty of his subjects.
  • To an astonished Hamlet (“For God’s love, let me hear”), Horatio delivers news of the Ghost’s visitation and its likeness to the late old King Hamlet (“My lord, I think I saw him yesternight … the King your father”, 1.2).

Key Supporting Quotes

25
quotations from the play to support your statements.

The Murder of Gonzago:
“Observe mine uncle”

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.

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To Horatio at the play-within-a-play, #Hamlet reveals his love for the life of an actor in theater.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • “My lord, you once did love me” (3.1)—Hamlet rebuffs Rosencrantz’s attempt to restore their friendship, and later calls him a “sponge” who “soaks up the king’s … rewards” (4.2).
  • In contrast, and without fear of betrayal, the prince shares with Horatio the Ghost’s account of his father’s poisoning in the palace orchard. And, later, of his substitution of Claudius’ sealed commission to the English king with his own forged version.
  • Hamlet’s comment to Horatio about “get me a fellowship in a cry of players” (3.2) reveals the prince’s love for the life of an actor in the theater.
  • We the audience hear the king’s later confession (“a brother’s murder”, 3.3) but Hamlet never does. And we remain unsure what Horatio knows of his friend's “rash and bloody” (3.4) stabbing of Polonius.

Key Supporting Quotes

25
quotations from the play to support your statements.

The pirate rescue: “Thieves of mercy”

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?

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#Hamlet looks to Horatio as his biographer just as the Ghost regarded the prince as his avenger.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Remaining at Elsinore after Hamlet’s departure to England, Horatio is regarded highly enough at court to be able to gain an audience with the king for the “seafaring men” (4.6) bearing letters from Hamlet.
  • Ophelia is never mentioned by Hamlet in his conversations with Horatio. Yet it is Horatio who advises the queen to speak with her, “for she may strew / Dangerous conjectures in ill-breeding minds” (4.5).
  • It is Horatio who is asked by Claudius to keep watch over the traumatized Ophelia: “Follow her close. Give her good watch, I pray you” (4.5).
  • Hamlet’s “no shriving time allowed” (5.2) execution order for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern so shocks Horatio that he will excuse Claudius from any blame for it: “He never gave commandment for their death” (5.2).

Key Supporting Quotes

35
quotations from the play to support your statements.

Conclusion:
“I can truly deliver”

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).

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Horatio's tale will be of two kingly brothers who fought each other through the son of one and nephew of the other.

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Some Key Essay Topics

  • Hamlet’s rescue of Horatio from suicide (“Horatio, I am dead / Thou livest” , 5.2) contasts with his arranged execution, via the forged commission, of his false friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
  • The prince’s appointed biographer knows nothing of Hamlet’s soliloquies, his relationship with Ophelia, or his encounters with Claudius in his chapel and Gertrude in her closet.
  • Prince Hamlet ends the play as old King Hamlet began it: fearing his life will be forgotten and story untold. “Remember me” (1.5), pleaded the father; “Report me and my cause aright” (5.2), asks the son.
  • That the dying prince believes an “audience to this act” will “look pale and tremble” (5.2) at his story suggests the title of the tale Horatio will tell and perhaps the Players may perform: The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark.

Key Supporting Quotes

29
quotations from the play to support your statements.