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

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.
lmetcalf eNotes educator| Certified Educator

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.