Shakespeare's Hamlet - Hamlet’s Best Friend, Horatio

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Hamlet’s Best Friend, Horatio

A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy notes a problem involving Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

When Horatio, at the end of the soliloquy, enters and greets Hamlet, it is evident that he and Hamlet have not recently met at Elsinore. Yet Horatio came to Elsinore for the funeral (I.ii. 176). Now even if the funeral took place some three weeks ago, it seems rather strange that Hamlet, however absorbed in grief and however withdrawn from the Court, has not met Horatio [. . .] . (368)

The closest friend of the hero is a fellow-student from Wittenberg (Granville-Barker 93) -- Horatio. He is an interesting and faithful friend, as this essay will demonstrate.

Marchette Chute in “The Story Told in Hamlet” describes Horatio’s part in the opening scene of the play:

The story opens in the cold and dark of a winter night in Denmark, while the guard is being changed on the battlements of the royal castle of Elsinore. For two nights in succession, just as the bell strikes the hour of one, a ghost has appeared on the battlements, a figure dressed in complete armor and with a face like that of the dead king of Denmark, Hamlet’s father. A young man named Horatio, who is a school friend of Hamlet, has been told of the apparition and cannot believe it, and one of the officers has brought him there in the night so that he can see it for himself.

The hour comes, and the ghost walks. (35)

Horatio, frightened, futilely confronts the ghost:

What art thou that usurp'st this time of night,

Together with that fair and warlike form

In which the majesty of buried Denmark

Did sometimes march? by heaven I charge thee, speak! (1.1)

Maynard Mack in “The World of Hamlet” maintains that Horatio’s words to the spirit “are subsequently seen to have reached beyond their contexts. . . (244). So Horatio and Marcellus exit the ramparts of Elsinore intending to enlist the aid of Hamlet, who is home from school. Hamlet is dejected by the “o’erhasty marriage” of his mother to his uncle less than two months after the funeral of Hamlet’s father (Gordon 128). Soon Horatio and Marcellus make contact with Hamlet with a strange greeting (Bradley 370) and escort him to the ramparts of Elsinore.
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