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Horatio (Hamlet)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hamlet character
Horatio (standing, dressed in red) with Hamlet in the "gravedigger scene" by Eugène Delacroix[1]
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
In-universe information

Horatio is a character in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet.

He was present on the field when King Hamlet (the father of the main character, Prince Hamlet) defeated Fortinbras (the king of Norway), and he has travelled to court from the University of Wittenberg (where he was familiar with Prince Hamlet) for the funeral of King Hamlet. Hamlet is glad to see him, and Horatio remains at court without official appointment, simply as "Hamlet's friend".[2] He is on relatively familiar terms with other characters. For example, when Gertrude (the queen) is reluctant to admit the "distract" Ophelia, she changes her mind following Horatio's advice. Hamlet has departed for England by this point, and is not supposed to return.

Horatio is not directly involved in any intrigue at the court, but he makes a good foil and sounding board for Hamlet.[citation needed] Being from Wittenberg, a university that defined the institutional switch from theology to humanism, Horatio epitomizes the early modern fusion of Stoic and Protestant rationality.[3]

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Horatio is a variation of the Latin Horatius. Many commentators have linked the name to the Latin words ratiō ("reason") and ōrātor ("speaker"), noting his role as a reasoner with Prince Hamlet, and surviving (even though he begged for death) to tell Hamlet's heroic tale at the end of the play.[4][5][6]

Role in the play

Horatio is present in the first scene of the play, accompanying Barnardo and Marcellus on watch duty, for they claim to have "twice seen" the ghost of King Hamlet. He is initially skeptical, but is "harrow[ed] [...] with fear and wonder" when he sees the ghost. Being a scholar, he is urged to speak to the ghost. It is Horatio's idea to tell Hamlet about the ghost, supposing that "This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him".

Horatio swears secrecy pertaining to the ghost and Hamlet's "antic disposition". He is privy to much of Hamlet's thinking, and symbolizes the ultimate faithful friend. In Act Three, Hamlet confesses his very high opinion of Horatio. Horatio is the first main character to know of Hamlet's return to Denmark. Horatio only doubts Hamlet's judgement once, when Hamlet has arranged for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed. Otherwise, Horatio supports every decision Hamlet makes.

Horatio is present through most of the major scenes of the play, but Hamlet is usually the only person to acknowledge him. When other characters address him, they are almost always telling him to leave. He is often in scenes remembered as soliloquies, such as Hamlet's famous scene with Yorick's skull. He is present during the mousetrap play, and when Ophelia's madness is revealed, and when Hamlet reveals himself at Ophelia's grave, and in the final scene. Near the end of the play, when Hamlet tells him "how ill all’s here about my heart", he suggests that Hamlet obey that ill feeling. But Hamlet is indifferent to prospective harm. Horatio is the only main character to survive. He does intend to poison himself, saying that he is "more an antique Roman than a Dane", but Hamlet, dying, implores him rather to deal with the fallout and "wounded name":

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.

Horatio's role, though secondary, is central to the drama.[clarification needed] Through his role of 'outside observer', he makes the audience believe Hamlet's actions, no matter how incredible they may look to readers at first sight.[clarification needed] For example, Horatio sees the Ghost, so the audience is led to believe that the Ghost is real.


  1. ^ The Gravedigger Scene is Hamlet 5.1.1–205.
  2. ^ "Hamlet". 7 February 2019. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  3. ^ Hui, Andrew (2013). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1–2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  4. ^ Rokem, Freddie (28 August 2018). Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804763509 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Hui, Andrew (1 September 2013). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1/2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651.
  6. ^ Hui, Andrew (28 August 2018). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1/2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. JSTOR 10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651.
This page was last edited on 9 July 2023, at 01:16
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