Last Updated on September 11, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 489
Extended Character Analysis
Horatio is Hamlet’s friend and serves as Hamlet’s confidante throughout the play. Unlike Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and even Ophelia, Horatio is the one person who never betrays Hamlet. His loyalty is so strong that he even intends to take his own life so that he does not have to live without Hamlet. However, Hamlet prevents him from doing so, instead asking Horatio to remain alive so that he can tell the story of what happened and clear Hamlet’s “wounded name.” Scholars have drawn connections between Horatio’s name and the Latin word ōrātor, which means “speaker,” viewing his name as appropriate given his role as the speaker of Hamlet’s story.
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Throughout the play, Horatio is an outsider. His position within the court is never specified, and the Dramatis Personae refers to him simply as “friend of Hamlet.” He lives up to this title by taking risks to aid Hamlet’s plans and keeping Hamlet’s secrets. Hamlet expresses a deep admiration for Horatio, citing his good judgement and refusal to be “passions’ slave” as virtues. The stoic and unwavering Horatio serves as a contrast to Hamlet, who is prone to being overcome by strong emotions. Horatio is also a philosopher and scholar, but unlike Hamlet he does not allow himself to dwell overlong on the ambiguities of life. Instead, he stays firmly grounded in reality, devoting himself to Hamlet’s cause without questioning the prince’s decisions.
Horatio’s rationality serves as a means of establishing whether certain elements of the play are reality or illusion. The guards initially call upon Horatio to witness the ghost, citing his status as a scholar. Horatio’s ability to see the ghost establishes the reality of its presence for readers. When Hamlet becomes unreliable in his apparent madness, Horatio remains a tether to reality, offering verification for what otherwise may come across as the ramblings of a madman. He helps Hamlet observe Claudius during the play and confirms his reaction, grounding Hamlet’s suspicions and the ghost's claims in reality. His absence is notable during Hamlet’s confrontation with Gertrude in her closet, where Hamlet sees the ghost but Gertrude does not.
In addition to confirming the more supernatural elements of the play, Horatio also serves as a reminder that Hamlet’s madness, as least initially, is an act. Horatio is the only person that Hamlet reveals his plan to, and his refusal to decry Hamlet as a madman gives readers the option to view Hamlet’s madness as either fake or real. By one reading, Horatio’s loyalty overrides his rationality, and he fails to notice that Hamlet has genuinely gone mad. By another reading, Horatio is the only character who can truly see Hamlet as he is. By the end of the play, he is the only character left capable of dispelling all of the misunderstandings surrounding Hamlet’s story.