Compare and contrast the characters of Hamlet and Horatio in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

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In Act 1, scene 4, Horatio demonstrates his loyalty to Hamlet by attempting to prevent the prince from following the ghost. He fears that the ghost is not really the spirit of Hamlet 's dead father but rather some demon that might tempt Hamlet toward the edge of a...

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In Act 1, scene 4, Horatio demonstrates his loyalty to Hamlet by attempting to prevent the prince from following the ghost. He fears that the ghost is not really the spirit of Hamlet's dead father but rather some demon that might tempt Hamlet toward the edge of a cliff or compel Hamlet to lose his "sovereignty of reason / And draw [him] into madness" (1.4.81-82).

Hamlet threatens to "make a ghost" of anyone who tries to hold him back and so Horatio lets him go; however, Horatio and Marcellus do follow Hamlet to make sure that he will be safe. Here, Horatio displays his loyalty to Hamlet, knowing when to hold his tongue and keep a secret and wanting to protect his friend. He has come, of course, from Wittenberg for the funeral of Hamlet's father, unbidden (unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern). He clearly loves his friend and wants to help.

Hamlet, likewise, clearly loves his father and continues to mourn him though the court has, apparently, moved on. He continues to wear black and argues that "all forms, moods, shapes of grief / [...] denote [him] truly" (1.2.85-86).

Hamlet takes issue with his mother's hasty second marriage—even before he learns that his uncle actually murdered his father—and Horatio likewise finds it unusual. He admits that Gertrude's wedding "followed hard upon" her first husband's death (1.2.186). He does not try to flatter or manipulate Hamlet as others do.

Thus, Horatio and Hamlet have the same sense of loyalty as well as propriety. They can be open and honest with one another in a way that they do not appear to be with anyone else.

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Hamlet and Horatio are friends and schoolmates. A key to Horatio's pragmatic, level-headed character comes early in the play, as together the two encounter the ghost of Hamlet's father. Hamlet says the following to Horatio:

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
 
By "philosophy," Hamlet means Horatio's rational method of thinking, a rationality that excludes the supernatural—at least until Horatio witnesses it. So we know from the start that Horatio is a rational person. 
 
Horatio is also loyal to Hamlet's demand that he never reveal he knows about the ghost and that he never betray Hamlet when Hamlet acts the madman:
 
But come,
Here, as before, never, so help you mercy,
How strange or odd soe'er I bear myself
(As I perchance hereafter shall think meet
To put an antic disposition on),
That you, at such times seeing me, never shall—
With arms encumbered thus, or this headshake,
Or by pronouncing of some doubtful phrase,
As “Well, well, we know,” or “We could an if we would,”
Or “If we list to speak,” or “There be an if they might,”
Or such ambiguous giving out—to note
That you know aught of me.
 
Hamlet is actually much like Horatio in his empiricism, the desire to confirm truth through experimentation rather than to accept it on faith. Although deeply anguished at the Ghost's words, Hamlet rationally goes about confirming what the Ghost has said is true before moving against Claudius. We can imagine Horatio doing the same. Unlike the hot-headed Laertes, Horatio, like Hamlet, tends to be cautious. 
 
In contrast to his friend, however, Horatio does not suffer the same torments as Hamlet, though, of course, he does not have to deal with his uncle having murdered his father and married his mother.
 
Throughout the play, amid a corrupt court, Horatio will stay true to Hamlet, and Hamlet can trust him at the end to tell the story of what happened both accurately and sympathetically.
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Hamlet and Horatio are both young men, and attend the same school, Wittenberg, in Germany.  They are both very loyal characters.  Hamlet is loyal to the love and memory of his father, and is doing his best to ascertain the veracity of the ghost's story, and then avenge his father's death.  Horatio shows loyalty by keeping Hamlet's secrects:  the appearance of the ghost, Claudius's guilt in the murder of King Hamlet, and Hamlet's surprise return to Denmark from the aborted trip to England.

Both men show concern for others.  Hamlet is concerned about the morality of the court of Denmark and his mother in particular.  Horatio shows concern for Hamlet's safety in Act 1 when he warns Hamlet to be careful in his meeting with the ghost, lest it do something to destroy him.  In Act 4 he warns Hamlet to be careful going into the sword fight with Laertes.

Hamlet and Horatio both have a willingness to die for their causes.  Hamlet resigns himself to his fate by the end of the play and says a version of, 'what will be will be' and "the readiness is all."  He doesn't WANT to die in his attempt to avenge Claudius, but if he does, then that is what will be.  Horatio is so upset over the impending death of Hamlet, that he takes up the poison cup and plans to drink the last drops in a show of despair and acknowledgement of the waste of this whole situation.  Hamlet is able to talk him out of the act by reminding him that someone must live to tell the tale of what happened here, otherwise people will think a crazy Hamlet went on a rampage.  His chosing to live shows loyalty to Hamlet and his reputation.

Their biggest difference is in their involvement and investment in the Claudius/King Hamlet situation.  Horatio can sympathize with Hamlet's situation, but expresses caution.  Hamlet has no choice to keep moving forward with his plans, such as they are, to prove Claudius's guilt and avenge his father's death.

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