Horatio, There When Needed More Information

Most who comment about Horatio applaud him, the loyal friend, the tactful advisor, the wryly witty university student, the sympathetic listener slow to give his own opinion. While his attributes in some scenes may appear to contradict those in others, he arguably serves a dramaturgical purpose in every scene, taking on whatever role Shakespeare requires. Almost all Horatio’s attributes that some have found inconsistent have been explained by others, and acting, of course, can force consistency even where it does not exist. His age, for example, seems as malleable as Hamlet’s: he is a fellow student of the prince’s at Wittenberg, but he suggests that he has seen the king in person when he fought his famous battles with the King of Norway (77) and with the Poles (79)—battles that apparently took place long ago. Because of his near-silent presence in several scenes, he may give spectators and readers very different impressions.
In the first scene, his main purpose is to convince the audience of the reality of the specter that has appeared before Marcellus and Barnardo on two previous nights. He is the skeptical philosopher who does not believe in apparitions and certainly not in ghosts, and when he is convinced that a supernatural being has appeared to him and his companions, the audience is convinced as well. He is the scholar well versed in classical and recent Danish history, a natural leader to whom the others have turned to for advice. His skepticism is never unkind. He even suggests a belief in spirits:
147 Hor. And then it started like a guilty thing, 148 Vpon a fearefull summons; I haue heard, 149 The Cock that is the trumpet to the {morne} , 150 Doth with his lofty and shrill sounding throat 151 Awake the God of day, and at his warning 152 Whether in sea or fire, in earth or ayre 153 Th’extrauagant and erring spirit hies 154 To his confine, and of the truth heerein 155 This present obiect made probation.
But when Marcellus responds with his more pious observation,
156 Mar. It faded on the crowing of the Cock. 157 Some {say} that euer gainst that season comes 158 Wherein our Sauiours birth is celebrated 159 {This} bird of dawning singeth all night long, 160 And then they say no spirit {dare sturre} abraode 161 The nights are wholsome, then no plannets strike, 162 No fairy {takes} , nor witch hath power to charme {B3v} So hallowed, and so gratious is {that} time.
Horatio answers with a quiet reservation:
164 Hora. So haue I heard and doe in part belieue it,
and he quickly changes the subject with a rare extended metaphor, which moves away from mysticism by conjuring up an image of a workman in rustic clothing walking through the morning dew on his way to his employment. He speaks more volubly in this scene than in any other until the last scene of the play. It is not surprising, however, that a tactful man would be able to speak at large most comfortably with those who are his equals or his social inferiors.
In the second scene, we learn that Horatio has not taken advantage of his friendship with the prince to insinuate himself into the court but has quietly attended the funeral of King Hamlet without making his presence at court known to Hamlet. More importantly, perhaps, he is the immediately empathetic friend: To Hamlet’s bitter comment that it was not the funeral but the wedding to which Horatio had come (366), Horatio responds “Indeed my Lord it followed hard upon,” readily sanctioning Hamlet’s view. In both aspects Rosencrantz and Guildenstern differ. They are at Elsinore to curry favor with the king and queen, and they respond very differently to Hamlet’s invitations to show that they are sympathetic to his views (2.2.1288-1329). They fail his tests almost immediately. Hamlet can confide in Horatio because he is a selfless friend.
Accompanying Hamlet and Marcellus on the ramparts to await the arrival of the ghost Horatio shows that he knows nothing of court life, questioning Hamlet about the booming cannons and wondering if it is a custom of the court. Some have considered his ignorance here to be inconsistent with his intimate knowledge of Danish war history in the first scene (77-80), but the two kinds of knowledge are separable. He joins Marcellus in warning Hamlet that the visitation may be from an evil spirit. Dramaturgically, Shakespeare uses him to lay the ground for Hamlet’s later idea that the spirit may be a devil (1639). Horatio’s description of the dangers also help to create images of the setting—the cliffs, the sea—in the spectators’ or readers’ minds. Horatio does not hesitate to tell Hamlet that he is speaking “wild and whirling words” (825), that whatever is happening there and perhaps Hamlet’s reaction to those happenings “is wondrous strange” (861).
Curiously, Horatio then disappears for an entire very long act (888-1645). Hamlet’s close friend he may be, but there is no sign of him accompanying Hamlet on his long walks in the lobby, during Hamlet’s conversation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, or upon the arrival of the players. Later it seems he knew nothing of Hamlet’s feelings about Ophelia. Not until the second scene of act three does Shakespeare thrust Horatio back into the action, but he does so in a way that implicitly suggests the fellow scholar’s closeness to Hamlet: Horatio responds immediately when Hamlet calls out to him (TLN 1902-3). [The 1980 BBC-TV production has Hamlet find Horatio reading, with the latter only reluctantly giving up his own pursuit to listen to the prince, but this interpretation is not common.] Critics have paid careful attention to Hamlet’s heartfelt praise of Horatio (1904-25), finding in it traits that Hamlet does or does not have and clues to Hamlet’s values.
As he often does, Shakespeare points to action that had taken place offstage when Hamlet refers to the play soon to be performed.
1927 One scene of it comes neere the circumstance 1928 Which I haue told thee of my fathers death . . . .
Thus we learn that there have been conversations between the scenes. Tellingly, because it has taken place offstage, Shakespeare does not give Horatio an opportunity to respond to Hamlet’s revelation. Shakespeare makes Hamlet work out his problem with the ghost on his own and with us, the audience. We can guess that Horatio would have been as noncommittal about what Hamlet should do as he is about the outcome of the play scene. Hamlet asks Horatio to observe the king closely while he is watching the play so that they can share their thoughts about its effect on him. It seems from this request that Hamlet did not expect the king to reveal his crime so overtly that anyone at all could have seen his guilt. Nor did he trust his own observation or expect to act immediately.
Horatio is ready to join with Hamlet in observing the king for what can only be one purpose: to ascertain his guilt as a prelude to action against him.
After the play scene, Horatio responds wittily to Hamlet’s song “You might haue rym’d” with “was” (2157); that is, Hamlet might have referred to the king as an ass. But Horatio’s response to Hamlet’s direct query depends entirely on intonation and affect: the words themselves are noncommittal:
2158-9 Ham. O good Horatio, Ile take the Ghosts word for a thousand 2159 pound. Did’st perceiue? 2160 Hora. Very well my Lord. 2161 Ham. Vpon the talke of the poysning. 2162 Hor. I did very well note him.
Hamlet’s repetition of his request for an answer, “Vpon the talke of the poysning,” suggests that he is not satisfied with Horatio’s tepid response. Horatio continues to show that he is not a toady, not a “yes man,” as is Polonius, who agrees with Hamlet that the clouds look like a menagerie of animals (2247-57). But having served his purpose in the scene, Horatio stands by silently (from 2163 to 2270, over 100 lines) during Hamlet’s confrontation with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern over the recorder and with Polonius. In performance, of course, he can continue to express a characteristic demeanor, whatever the director has decided, such as empathy or amusement.
Perhaps his strangest appearance is in act four, scene five, when he takes on the unlikely role of advisor to the queen and, in performance, trusted assistant to the king. But the scene does lay the groundwork for Horatio’ significant role in the last segment of act five. In Ophelia’s mad scene, Q2 and F1 differ about whether Horatio or a gentleman speaks to the queen about Ophelia’s wish to see the queen (2744-58). In Q2, Horatio enters with a gentleman and says only the last lines before Ophelia comes in (2759-61), urging the queen, for political reasons, to allow Ophelia to enter. In F1, Horatio has the gentleman’s lines and the queen has Horatio’s lines with the political overtones. One can only guess why Shakespeare would have given Horatio either the Q2 or F1 role in this scene: neither seems likely. Any number of other actors in the troupe would have been available to play this role here—an early appearance for the actor playing Osric, perhaps, or an additional appearance for the one playing Marcellus. After Ophelia’s entrance and exit, the king says to someone unnamed, "Follow her close, giue her good watch I pray you” (2811-12). Most productions have the king direct the request to Horatio, but neither Q2 nor F1 has a stage direction indicating to whom he speaks. Of course, once productions give the role of Ophelia-watcher to Horatio, they must account for Ophelia’s escaping to drown herself, and productions do this variously, Olivier by having Horatio assess her situation as harmless, and Branagh by confining her in a locked cell, for which however she has somehow secured a key.
In act five, scene one, Horatio answers monosyllabically to Hamlet’s wandering, philosophical comments. Only once does he have a rejoinder: “Twere to consider too curiously to consider so” (3393), referring to Hamlet’s speculation that Alexander, decayed to dust, could stop a bunghole (3390-2). And here Hamlet immediately argues his point without any further contradiction from Horatio. Only once, and only in Q2, does Horatio speak during the scene at Ophelia’s grave, urging Hamlet to “be quiet” (3462). But in F1 this line goes, more appropriately perhaps, to an unnamed gentleman. Again, however, an actor playing the part can silently convey much by his reactions to Hamlet’s ideas and behavior. Olivier’s Horatio, for example, immediately upon seeing the funeral cortege recognizes that the deceased must be Ophelia; he tries to shield Hamlet from that painful truth, thus indicating that he did know about Hamlet’s love for her—knowledge the text never discloses to him.
Horatio’s importance is at its height in the last scene. In the first segment, he listens and responds tersely as Hamlet tells the story of his sea voyage towards England. As most commentators interpret Horatio’s line “So Guyldensterne and Rosencraus goe too’t (3559), Horatio disapproves of Hamlet’s disposal of the pair of toadies, who may or may not be guilty of complicity in the plot to murder him. Hamlet’s defense of this act in the next lines suggests that the tone of Horatio’s comment should be regretful or even censorious. But Horatio does not push the point. He says nothing further in Q2 until Osric enters. In F1 only, Horatio seems to urge Hamlet to some action: “It must be shortly known to him from England What is the issue of the businessse there” (3575-6).
In the second segment of the last act, Horatio joins with Hamlet in teasing Osric, and encourages Hamlet—especially if his “minde dislike any thing” (3666)—not to play the wager the king has proposed between Hamlet and Laertes. But it seems that Horatio no more than Hamlet suspects the king and Laertes, obvious enemies, of a plot against him.
Finally, Horatio can play a role as Hamlet’s second in the fencing match, though he has no stated part in the always skimpy stage directions. His only line in this segment is “They bleed on both sides, how is it my Lord?” (3781). His next speech declares his wish to die with Hamlet, who insists that his friend remain alive to report his cause aright to the unsatisfied (3823-4). In some productions, the dying Hamlet has to wrestle the poisoned cup away from Horatio; in others, his request alone is enough to convince Horatio.
At last, we hear Horatio’s understanding of the events that he will expatiate upon in full after the end of the play, and in his last words he again becomes an advisor to royalty:
3874 . . . let me speake, to yet vnknowing world 3875 How these things came about; so shall you heare 3876 Of carnall, bloody and vnnaturall acts, 3877 Of accidentall iudgements, casuall slaughters, 3878 Of deaths put on by cunning, and for no cause 3879 And in this vpshot, purposes mistooke, 3880 Falne on th’inuenters heads: all this can I 3881 Truly deliuer.
Fortinbras responds:
3882 For. Let vs hast to heare it, 3883 And call the noblest to the audience, 3884 For me, with sorrowe I embrace my fortune, 3885 I haue some rights, of memory in this kingdome, 3886-7 Which now to clame my vantage doth inuite me.
And Horatio takes the initiative again:
3888 Hora. Of that I shall haue also cause to speake, 3889 And from his mouth, whose voyce will drawe no more, 3891 But let this same be presently perform’d 3892-3 Euen while mens mindes are wilde, least more mischance 3894 On plots and errores happen. ....
Probably Horatio’s most famous line, however, is his eulogy:
3848-9 Hora. Now cracks a noble hart, | good night sweete Prince, 3850 And flights of Angels sing thee to thy rest.
Thus, Horatio seems to solve a crux that informs the entire play: What sort of man is Hamlet? For Horatio, Hamlet is a good man who dies with a soul unburdened by sins of omission or commission. For others, he is more complicated, but Horatio’s panegyric and Fortinbras’s that follows, impress upon an audience strong images of nobility, sweetness, and potential—unless like Lyth, Bergman, Branagh and other directors on stage and film they take strong remedies to counteract the appeal of that ending.
Below, a selection of the comments that express the relatively modest range of traits writers find in Horatio, who is above all Hamlet’s honest dependable friend.
On hamletworks.org homepage searchHW type Horatio to find further comments about the character. Below is a selected set of comments:
Downes (1663 [published 1708, p. 21] re Betterton's Hamlet, apud Shakspere Allusion-Book 2: 436) lists Horatio 2nd, after Mr. Betterton himself as Hamlet and just before the king: “Horatio by Mr. Harris . . . . ”
Pope ([pope2] ed. 1728, 8: U7v): Horatio is “a fine Character [i.e. model] of Friendship.”
Thirlby ([mtby2] 1723-) notes that Horatio, after recognizing the apparition at TLN 56 repeats three times that he knew King Hamlet (375, 402, 440); by these repetitions Sh. builds the audience’s trust in the character.
Thirlby ([mtby4] 1747-) explores the possibility that Horatio is a sentinel, citing 23, 35-6, 399, 419-20, and 834.
Johnson ([john1] ed. 1765): “The speech of Horatio to the spectre [128-36] is very elegant and noble, and congruous to the common traditions of the causes of apparitions.”
Gentleman (1770, 1: 36-7): <p. 36> “Horatio is the only amiable man in the piece, yet except his first scene, is very inconsiderable: what could be made of such a character, Mr. Havard shewed in full; and it would be wronging Mr. Hull’s sensibility, for such feelings as actuate </p. 36> <p. 37> Hamlet’s friend, not to acknowledge he does him great justice.” </p. 37>
Hawkins ([ham3] ed. 1771, glossary) without referring to Horatio (3306), defines calfs-skin as “the fool’s coat.” It is possible that Horatio puns on the term when Hamlet asks whether lawyers’ parchments are made of sheep-skins, and Horatio responds, “I my Lord, and of Calues-skinnes to.” Hamlet picks up the pun: “They are Sheepe and Calues which seeke out assurance in that . . . .” Horatio and Hamlet are attuned to each other. Without knowing that calve-skin means a fool’s coat, one might think it was Hamlet alone who puns; with Hawkins’ definition, Horatio begins the pun—or responds to the pun he hears coming in Hamlet’s question.
Warner (apud [v1773] ed. 1773) proposes that rivals in TLN 17 be emended to rival: “Horatio is presented throughout the play as a gentleman of no profession. Marcellus was an officer, and consequently did that through duty, for which Horatio had no motive but curiosity. Besides there is but one person on each watch . . . . ”
Gentleman ([[gent1]] ed. 1773): “The requisites for Horatio are an easy deportment, genteel figure, and smooth level delivery.”
Steevens ([v1793] ed. 1793) cannot accept the idea that Horatio would be so naive as to tell Marcellus to try to stop the ghost or that afterward Marcellus would be the one to say they should not have done it.
Campbell (Blackwood’s, 1833, qtd. Thurber. ed. 1922, p. 180) points out that only Horatio, “that noble soul of unpretending worth” pays attention to Ophelia. “He it is who feelingly. and poetically, and truly describes the maniac; he is it who bring her in; he it is who follows her away—dumb all the while! And who with right soul but must have been speechless amidst these gentle ravings.”
Verplanck ([verp] ed. 1844): “While every other character of this play, Ophelia, Polonius, and even Osric, has been analyzed and discussed, it is remarkable that no critic has stept forward to notice the great beauty of Horatio’s character, and its exquisite adaptation to the effect of the piece. His is a character of great excellence and accomplishment; but while this is distinctly shown, it is but sketched, not elaborately painted. His qualities are brought out by single and seemingly accidental touches—as here [TLN 1904], and in the ghost-scene, ‘You are a scholar, Horatio’ [54 but misremembered], &c. The whole is toned down to a quiet and unobtrusive beauty that does not tempt the mind to wander from the main interest, which rests alone on Hamlet; while it is yet distinct enough to increase that interest by showing him worthy to be Hamlet’s trusted friend in life, and the chosen defender of his honour after death. Such as character, in the hands of another author, would have been made the centre of some secondary plot. But here, while he commands our respect and esteem, he never for a moment divides a passing interest with the Prince. He does not break in upon the main current of our feelings. He contributes only to the general effect, so that it requires an effort of the mind to separate him for critical admiration.”
Ramsay (1856, pp. 118-22): “Ramsay (1856, pp. 118-22): <p. 118> “In contradistinction to the glorious imagination and mysteriously deep philosophy of Hamlet, stands the sober common sense of Horatio, but its very contrast giving greater prominence to, and heightening the effect of the character of Hamlet. Horatio was peculiarly a healthy-minded man. If Hamlet’s mind was cast in the Platonic mould, Horatio was eminently an Aristotelian, or rather, perhaps, as he says of himself, ‘More an antique Roman than a Dane.’ [3826] </p. 118> <p. 119>
“His philosophy, such as it is, begins and ends in doubt. Its materialistic and sensualistic character is brought forward in the very first scene of the play, where he calls that mysterious appearance, which at the midnight hour is occupying the thoughts and attention of the officers on the platform, ‘this thing’ [30]; and says of it, ‘tush, tush, ‘t will not appear’ [39]. In fact the coldness and the oppressive stillness of the night—‘not a mouse stirring’ [15]—the glimpses of the moon above, the time-worn towers behind, the hollow murmur of the sea beneath, the mixed feeling of awe and alarm in the officers on the watch, and the strongly contrasted contempt of Horatio for the supernatural, are the most remarkable points in this opening scene, so artistically introduced, and so well fitted to prepare us for the appearance of the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and the mysterious character of the whole play. [Quotes 32-4;71-3]. And when this unbelief of his has proved to be foolishness, he is full of the philosophy of the schools, and sets to work to resolve the phenomenon into an historical prodigy. [Quotes 124+5.] In the midst of his theorizing the ghost re-enters, when he fancies it must either be an illusion, or else have flesh and blood; [127-9] and when it answers not, he is for assuring himself, by means of his hands, of the reality of the prodigy, bidding Marcellus stop it, and strike at it, and seeing that he does it ‘Wrong to be so majestical To offer it the show of violence’ [142]. That which is beyond the comprehension of the sensuous Understanding, Horatio is for rejecting as ‘wondrous strange,’ so that Hamlet takes occasion to tell him [quotes 863-4]. The contrast between the imaginative spirit of Hamlet and the practical </p. 119> <p. 120> understanding of Horatio, runs through the whole play. For imagination to revel in philosophizing on the littleness to which all the sensible greatness of man may be reduced, and to trace ‘to what base uses me may return’ [3390], Horatio thinks ‘Twere to consider too curiously’ [3393]. Some of Hamlet’s sublime speculations he reduces to ‘Custom hath made it in him a property of easiness’ [3258]; others he takes no interest in, merely answering with ‘It might, my lord,’ ‘Ay, my lord’ [3270, 3277]. In the church-yard he obviously dislikes the whole scene by which he is surrounded. To Hamlet’s question, ‘Is not parchment made of sheep-skins,’ he replies, with the most technical gravity, ‘Ay, my lord, and of calves-skins too’ [3305-6]. This question he can resolve, but it is plain that Hamlet’s beautiful address to the skull of Yorick makes little or no impression on his mind. And yet, though in Horatio the Understanding does predominate over the Reason, still it has not wholly extinguished the latter. Nay, it would seem that his sensualistic philosophy was in a great measure learnt in the schools, and was, perhaps, rather the external result of his education, than the internal law of his own mind; as it is, every now and then he gives utterance to a note-worthy truth, of a nature not to be expected from him. We may also observe that Bernardo’s opening salutation to him [29] shew him to have been held in some degree of respect; and most true to nature (as when is he not?) is Shakspere, when he makes Hamlet love, value, and respect Horatio, ever appealing to his judgment, [and praises him 1919-22] . . . . Horatio, too, is a good friend, honest, and sincere, as well as sensible and </p. 120> <p. 121> judicious, and moreover, like Hamlet, a scholar and a gentleman.” </p. 121> Ramsay adds, p. 122: “. . . Horatio commands respect and esteem even from one so differently constituted as Hamlet . . . ”
Hudson ([hud1] ed. 1856): “Horatio is a very noble character; but he moves so quietly in the drama, that his modest worth and solid manliness have not had justice done them. Should we undertake to go through the play without him, we should then feel how much of the best spirit and impression of the scenes is owing to his presence and character. For he is the medium through which many of the hero’s finest and noblest trait are conveyed to us; yet himself so clear and transparent that he scarcely catches the attention.” Hudson continues with the quotation from verp, above.
Lloyd (1858, p. [13]): “This tradition, with its god of day opening wide eyes at the summons of the officious cock, is a Pagan form, and Horatio is as interested in noting the natural truth that it expresses as my friends and colleagues of the Archæological Institute of Rome in their ingenious reductions of the mythic decoration of a Greek vase. Marcellus, of less recondite acquirements [than Horatio], follows up [Horatio’s comments 149-55] with a contemporary and living superstition:[quotes 156-63]. Horatio receives the Christian illustration expressively:—[quotes 164]; but what form his belief takes, and which part he disbelieves, he keeps to himself . . . . ”
Clarke (1863, pp. 75-6): <p. 75> “Horatio, gentleman and scholar, is a fit companion for Hamlet. But he is further developed: his honourable nature, his bland and trusting disposition, his prudent mind, and steadfastly affectionate heart, have raised him to the highest social rank that man can obtain in this world—he is his prince‘s confidant and bosom-friend. The character of Horatio is the only spot of sun-light in the play; and he is a cheering, though not a joyous gleam coming across the dark hemisphere of treachery, mistrust, and unkindness. . . . [He is] a placid and pensive man; making no protestations, yet constantly prepared for gentle service. Modest, </p. 75> <p. 76> and abiding his time to be appreciated, his friendship for Hamlet is a purely disinterested principle, and the Prince bears a high testimony to it,—[quotes 1904-25, Horatio . . . thee] . . .
Horatio would even have followed Hamlet to the grave. “It is worthy of notice, that Horatio’s speeches, after the first scene, consist almost entirely of simple assents to the observations of Hamlet; but when the final catastrophe has ensued, he comes forward, and assumes the prerogative of his position; and, as the companion and confident of his Prince, he </p. 76> <p. 77> ” takes his station by Fortinbras, and the ambassadors, and at once assumes the office or moral executor and apologist for his friend.” Clarke likens the structure of the friendship to Doric architecture: “simple and unornate in exterior pretension; but massive and steadfast in design and structure.” </p. 77>
Hudson (1870, apudThurber, ed. 1922, p. 181) ≈ Clarke: “Horatio is one of the very noblest and most beautiful of Shakespeare’s characters; and there is not a single loose stitch in his make-up; he is at all times superbly self-contained; he feels deeply, but never gushes nor runs over; a most manly soul, full alike of strength, tenderness, and solidity. But he moves so quietly in the drama that his rare traits of character have hardly had justice done them. Should we undertake to go through the play without him, we might feel then how much of the best spirit and impression of the scene is owing to his presence. He is the medium whereby many of the hero’s finest and noblest qualities are conveyed to us, yet himself so clear and simple and transparent that he scarcely catches the attention . . . . The great charm of Horatio’s unselfishness is that he seems not to be himself in the least aware of it; ‘as one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing.’ His mild scepticism at first, ‘touching this dreaded sight twice seen of us,’ is exceedingly graceful and scholarly. And indeed all that comes from him marks the presence of a calm, clear head, keeping touch and time perfectly with a good heart.”
Moberly ([mob1] ed. 1870. p. xi; repeated in 1973 ed. p. xiii): “In like manner [as Ophelia] Horatio stands in the directest contrast to Hamlet. He is the ‘pruner of periods,’ the controller of his flights of imagination, the protestor against extravagancies of speech. He is also opposed to him as being the man on whose composure good or bad fortune has no influence; the man so faithful to himself that he never can be false to any other man.”
Marshall (1875, p. 77): in 4.5, “the Queen seems to treat Horatio with more respect and confidence, because she has become aware with how much trust and love he was regarded by Hamlet . . . .”
Furness ([v1877] ed. 1877), re TLN 76, discusses the armor is relation to Horatio’s age—how he would know that this was King Hamlet’s armor.
Furness ([v1877] ed. 1877), re TLN 441: “It is eminently characteristic of the precise Horatio (e’en the justest man Ham. had ever found) to draw a nice distinction between ‘grizzled’ and ‘sable silvered. He had been most exact in his estimate of the time the Ghost stayed, and he would be equally exact as to the colour and texture of the beard.”
Bowman (1882, in Thom 1883, p. 110): Horatio is “calm, practical.”
Gervinus (1883, pp. 560, 562-3) says that Horatio is an exception to the other characters in that <p. 560> he “only observes and never acts.” </p. 560> <p. 562> In contrast to Hamlet, who believes in ghosts, the more “rational friend Horatio, who hardly believes, after he has seen it, that ‘the thing’ [30, 147, 401] is the ghost of Hamlet; who in its very presence calls it an ‘illusion’ [127] and attempts to strike at it with his partisan [138]; who, according to his own confession, believes the traditions of Christian superstition only ‘in part’ [164], and according to his tone not at all. . . . Horatio is indeed just as little an energetic character as Hamlet; such a one as Fortinbras would be too dissimilar for his friendship’ but Horatio is </p. 562> <p. 563> a man of perfect calmness of mind; schooled to bear suffering and to take with equal thanks fortune’s buffets and rewards; he is a hero of endurance, one of those blessed ones on whom Hamlet might look with envy [quotes 1920-2a through please], nor are they the resistless slaves of passion.” </p. 563>
Feis (1884, rpt. 1970, pp. 72-3): <p. 72> Horatio is a man Feis can admire; the man of reason. Horatio calls Hamlet's declaration that he will go pray [824], “wild and whirling words.” [825]. Hamlet cannot explain </p. 72> <p. 73> “his thoughts and sentiments to the clear, unwarped reason of a Horatio, to whom the Ghost did not reply and to whom no ghost would.” </p. 73>
MacDonald ([macd] ed. 1885), commenting on “like your father [390],” notes “the careful uncertainty.”
Verity ([ver] ed. 1904): “It seems odd that a Dane should ask the question [‘Is it a custome?’] and from Hamlet’s reply it would certainly be inferred that Horatio is not ‘native here.’ Cf. also [363]. Perhaps, however, some distinction between different parts of Denmark is intended.”
Verity ([ver] ed. 1904, pp. lix-lx): <p. lix> Horatio serves as a foil to Hamlet not for what he does but for what he is. “He is typically the cool, unimpassioned man of action; not without deep feeling [as when he wants the cup in 5.2], but with feeling sternly disciplined; like Shakespeare’s hero Henry V, not without a gift of speech when occasion needs, but sparing of speech, and very sparing of self-revelation [n. 3]; a man, in fact, who gives the rein neither to imagination (compare </p. lix> <p. lx> Hamlet’s hint [referring in 864-5: to Ham.’s comment about philosophy]), nor to emotion, who takes things as they come and disarms fortune herself of her weapons [1916-18], whose action could never be other than straight [3526, 3559 Horatio’s response to news of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern’s death and the king’s machinations, respectively]. All this is lightly but sufficiently suggested. Thus Horatio is sceptical about the Ghost, and though for the moment overcome by the dread apparition, quickly recovers composure, is cool enough to observe carefully [400-13, 428, Horatio’s description of the ghost], and the one [n.1] to address it. Again, before the Play-scene he accepts Hamlet’s unexpected command without the least surprise, and afterwards is totally unaffected, at least outwardly, by the stress of the scene and Hamlet’s own hysterical excitement. Similarly, at the close he quickly puts self aside, at the call of duty to the State and to Hamlet.” </p. lx>
‘A man,’ says Sir Thomas Browne, ‘may confide in persons constituted for noble ends, who dare do and suffer.’ Of such is Horatio. In his strength and steadfast friendship Hamlet’s agonising spirit finds support, and only with him do we see Hamlet’s happier self—the Hamlet that might have been.
[n. 3] “Yet what beautiful touches there are: e.g. [816-17, 825] where he would save his friend and Prince from himself; [1906] and [3848-50] (the one glimpse beneath the surface).”
[n. 1] “Note how the others turn to him [54, 58].”
Bradley (1904, p. 121) gives Horatio a larger role than the playtext affords: he thinks, for example, that Horatio, between the lines we have, must surely have told Hamlet, about the return of Laertes.
Ed. note: Besides the fact that most critics are against writing the play that is between the lines without textual evidence, Hamlet's line "That is Laertes, a very noble youth" [3413] suggests that he doesn't think that Horatio has ever heard of Laertes.
Bradley (1904, pp. 122-3) <p. 122> claims that Hamlet's last words leave us dissatisfied, but that Horatio's benediction [3848-50] provide the seal the audience wishes. Bradley speculates that Sh. “so much against his custom [introduced] this reference to another life” </p. 122> <p. 123> possibly to indicate, though we never see anything but glimpses of Hamlet before his terrible ordeals, that after all “ 'This was the noblest spirit of them all.' ” </p. 123>
Bradley (1904, n. 15): Hamlet says to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern that he doesn't engage in any of his usual activities [1343] and to Horatio that he has been constantly practicing his fencing [3663] since Laertes left; therefore, Bradley suggests, we are to believe what he says to Horatio to whom Hamlet would not lie.
Chambers ([cham] ed. 1905, p. 11): “There is Horatio, a straightforward upright soldier, one whom Hamlet intensely respects, comes even to envy, but who is not subtle enough to be of much use to him.”
Trench (1913, pp. 45-7) <p. 45> <p. 45> casts aspersions on Hor.’s character, so highly esteemed by Hamlet and by most critics. </p. 45> <p. 46> He calls him “half a scholar”, one whose scepticism was not profound and who “follows the lines of popular superstition in the list he gives of the several ” </p. 46> <p 47.> possible reasons for which 'spirits' may 'walk' [128-36] while without hesitation he now addresses it as the spirit of the dead king, after once, as a sole reminiscence of his original sceptical attitude, inconsistently calling it an 'illusion' [127].” </p. 47>
Bradby (1929, pp. 145-50): <p. 145> “Readers and auditors are not likely to notice any discrepancies in Horatio’s character because, mainly, he simply agrees with Hamlet. He seems to be much older than Hamlet, because he recognizes the armor the ghost wears; yet, according to Hamlet’s praise of him in 3.2, it seems they must have been great friends and for a long time. </p. 145> <p. 146> One problem is Horatio’s failure to contact Hamlet since arriving at Elsinore for the funeral, almost a month before the beginning of the action. And their first meeting does not sound as if they are intimates. More important is that he seems to be two characters: one well-known to Marcellus and Barnardo, knowledgeable about Danish history and political affairs, who knew the king well; </p. 146> <p. 147> in act 4, he attends the queen herself. But in 1.2, 1.4, Horatio knows much less: Hamlet has to explain a Danish custom to him. He does not know what the flourish of trumpets means. </p. 147> <p. 148> Hamlet’s ‘Though I am native here’ suggests that Horatio is not. Also, in 1.2 Horatio only saw the king once. Also, he hasn’t heard of Yorick, and does not recognize Laertes.” </p. 148> <p. 149> </p. 149> <p. 150> Bradby ascribes the discrepancies to Sh.’s changed plans, having started to make him Hamlet’s foster brother and ending by making him something else. He points out that Sh. jumps back and forth between the two characterizations: His theory is that the second Horatio was interspersed in the existing material for the first Horatio. He theorizes that since Horatio matters only with respect to Hamlet, the change in Horatio must be connected to a change in the Hamlet. </p. 150>
Travers ([trav] ed. 1929): “Habitual and gradual suspension of belief, in the absence of full evidence, is characteristic both of Horatio’s temperament (cp. [1904-25] ) and of his intellectual training (cp. e.g. [33, 83-4, 97, 154-5, 164]).”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 55 and n. 12) believes that as a mark of Horatio's special status from their first encounter, Sh. has Hamlet “draw Horatio from the others (who stay respectfully by the door) to stroll or stand with him, friendly arm through arm, while he questions and confides. [n. 12: It is unthinkable that Hamlet would speak as he does of his mother's wedding in the hearing of Marcellus and Bernardo. But the conventional distances of the platform stage leave the two friends, if they are at the front of it, in perfect privacy, The two others do not approach till Horatio turns to them with 'Upon the witness of these gentlemen' 384;1.2.194].”
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1:198): refers to Horatio as self-effacing, “a conservatively patriotic and educated gentleman. . . a scholar . . . , level-headed and open-minded . . . .” Seeing the apparition with his own eyes, he believes it is a ghost, but he is not afraid of it [127], though he had trembled and looked pale at first seeing it [68].
Granville-Barker (1930, rpt. 1946, 1: 200): “Hamlet's affectionate welcome of him adds to Horatio's status [350] ; and he adds to it himself by the quiet good sense with which he responds to Hamlet's hysterical treatment of him after the Ghost's vanishing [816].”
Knight (1930, p. 41): Hamlet “has no friend except Horatio, and Horatio, after the ghost scenes, becomes a queer shadowy character who rarely gets beyond ‘E’en so, my lord,’ ‘My lord,’—and such-like phrases.”
Waldock (1931, rpt. 1973, p. 72) thinks it is wrong to go, as Allardyce Nicoll does, “behind the scenes, to reconstruct interviews and imagine attitudes . . . . Now we know that Horatio, at the outset of the action, was cautious about accepting the Ghost as genuine. I would suggest that we know, and can know, almost nothing else concerning his attitude or advice.”
Wilson ([cam3] ed. 1934, pp. xlvii-xlix) <p. xlvii> explains that the discrepancies between Hor. as one who knows Denmark’s past history [96] but not its customs [617] is not a problem if one recognizes it as part of Sh.’s technique; he rejected consistency for dramatic effect, knowing that audiences would not worry about such things. </p. xlvii> <p. xlviii> Wilson explains that Hor. “is not a person in actual life or a character in a novel but a piece of dramatic structure. His function is to be the chief spokesman of the first scene and the confidant of the hero for the rest of the play. As the former he gives the audience necessary information about the political situation in Denmark, as the latter he is the recipient of information even more necessary for the audience to hear. The double role involves some inconsistency, but rigid logical or historical consistency is hardly compatible with dramatic economy which requires all facts to be communicated through the mouths of the characters. Yet only a very indifferent playwright will allow an audience to perceive the joins in his flats. And Shake-</p. xlviii> <p. xlix> speare is able to give his puppets an appearance of life so overwhelming that his legerdemain remains unperceived not only by the spectator, who is allowed no time for consideration, but even by most readers. In the case of Horatio he secures this end by emphasising his humanity at three critical moments of the play: in the first scene, just before the Gonzago play, and in the finale. In short, we feel we know Hamlet’s friend so well that it never occurs to us to ask questions about him.” </p. xlix> Ed. note: Wilson, who may be responding to Bradby, clarifies why Sh, does not give the long historical review in scene one to Barnardo (whereby he would avoid the inconsistency in Horatio’s character): it’s an opportunity for Horatio to show his discernment, intelligence, and patriotism (to name only three traits revealed by his discourse).
Schücking (1937, p. 74): “Horatio himself appears as courageous, likeable and filled with comradely feeling for his friends.”
Kittredge ([kit2] ed. 1939), referring to “A peece of him,” (28) considers Hor. “a sedate person, constitutionally prone to such mild pleasantries” as this affirmative. Kittredge lists 816-17, 1940-1, 2151, 2157, 2980, 3622+1.
van Lennep (1950, p. 22): “But for Horatio, the thousandth man, a boon companion of proved probity to whom he clings, he might tend to misanthropy. . . . With words straight from the heart the heir to the throne eulogizes that upright impecunious youth [1904-25] to his face, . . . a sincere, glowing tribute, . . . . ”
van Lennep, C. (1950, p. 49) declares that it never occurs to Hamlet to use his uncle's death warrant: “would he otherwise have neglected to draw Horatio's attention to its quite exceptional import?” van Lennep does not question why Horatio himself did not point out the usefulness of the document, except by calling him “guileless.”
Joseph (1953, p. 155): Among the characters introduced in the play's first movement, “Horatio stands out immediately as calm and well-balanced, a reliable friend . . . .”
Craig (1962-3, Huntington Library Box f. 85, unpublished lecture 7 of 9, p. 79): “Horatio is a particularly sane individual” who “recognizes his duty [that is, to speak to the ghost] and courageously and eloquently addresses the apparition.”
Wilson, E. C. (1973, p. 135): The one comic line in the first scene is Horatio’s “ ‘a piece of him’ [TLN 28]. This ‘mildly jocose’ or humorous remark helps to round out a character who all along will embody sense, whatever the tangle of sense and sensitivity around him.”
Spencer ([pen2] ed. 1980) says that though Horatio is a consistent character, his role in the play is not. In act one he knows more about Danish affairs than his companions; later he knows less about Danish customs.
Jenkins ([ard2] ed. 1982, long note): “The play shows Shakespeare in two minds about [Hor.]”
Willson Jr. (1983, p. 144): "In Hamlet we enter a world charged with confusion and anxiety. Chief among the figures in the scene is Horatio, who, as a scholar and friend to Hamlet, has been brought by the soldiers to speak to the Ghost . . . . Horatio’s response to Marcellus’s words—’So have I heard and do in part believe it’—signals his transformation from a skeptic to at least a partial believer . . . .What happens to Horatio prefigures Hamlet’s transformation from skeptic to believer, not specifically about the Ghost, but in terms of general philosophic disposition."
Edwards ([cam4] ed. 1985): “Horatio's part is full of inconsistencies: he serves the role which the moment demands. Though he has been absent at Wittenberg, he is able to inform the Danish soldiers about what is happening in their own country in the first scene. Yet in [3413] he has to be told who Laertes is!”
Hibbard ([oxf4] ed. 1987), echoing Dover Wilson, 1934: “It is a waste of time to try to fit Horatio’s various references not only to old Hamlet but also to Denmark into a coherent whole. No audience is likely to notice that [I saw him once, 375] is inconsistent with what Horatio has already said about the old King at [60-1], or that his ignorance of Danish customs at [617] is incompatible with the knowledge of Danish history he shows at [97-134]. Horatio is essentially a piece of the dramatic mechanism, a Johannes fac totum who will say or do whatever the plot requires of him, even to the extent of appearing from nowhere at a call from Hamlet [1903]. What remains constant in him is his fidelity to the Prince.”
Kliman (1988, pp. 69-2): <p. 69> “The [1980] BBC production keeps all of his exchanges with Marcellus and Bernardo that are specifically about the ghost, but many others eliminate some of </p. 69> <p. 70> these. The BBC, following Q1 and F1, and indeed most productions, omits . . . lines in which he expostulates on the significance of ghosts in Rome before Julius Caesar died [124+5 - 124+18]. Since Horatio says little to Hamlet, and since many of his lines must disappear when Fortinbras is eliminated . . . Horatio's lines on Rome give us the opportunity to hear him at his most voluble, when he is with those of equal or perhaps inferior status. . . .
“A side of Hamlet's relationship with Horatio disappears with the omission of their playful banter after the play scene. [2147-57]” The BBC, the 1981 Boston Shakespeare Company Production, and many others [including the 2009 Theatre for a New Audience Production in New York] cut these lines. “Horatio is no 'yes' man, the kind Hamlet deplores in several of his speeches, including the dialogue about clouds with Polonius in the same scene [2247-55]. “After Hamlet sings the song denigrating Claudius, Horatio's approves Hamlet's unexpressed thought with the line 'You might have rhym'd' [2157], meaning you might have called Claudius an ass. The BBC's Horatio could not have been so daring, Olivier's [1948] Horatio so ungentlemanly, Kozintsev's [1964]so lighthearted; thus these productions all omit the lines. </p. 70>
<p. 71> “Olivier, in spite of cuts, raises Horatio's stature when Hamlet dismisses Bernardo and Marcellus and reserves 'come, let's go together' [887] for Horatio alone. The cut of the first 'let us go in together' [883] emphasizes the subtext of Hamlet's feelings for Horatio . . . . Olivier' film, in fact, makes the most of Horatio's character, because, in the absence of Fortinbras, Horatio will assume authority at the end [and he appears at the beginning also, conducting a viewing of Hamlet's dead body on the ramparts]. This is in spite of cutting his lines explaining the reasons for the warlike preparations (mostly retained in the BBC version) as well as his lines about Rome . . . Closeups, a magnificent costume, and a strong, handsome physical presence, give Olivier's Horatio, played by Norman Wooland, the importance that even his missing lines could not have supplied. So too the Boston Shakespeare Company production increases Horatio's importance in spite of cuts by keeping him on stage almost all the time, throughout most of 2.2 [when the script does not have Horatio on stage], for example, and during Hamlet's advice to the players [3.2]. In contrast, the BBC production shifts Horatio into nonentity status not only by eliminating his longest speeches but also by casting Robert Swann [who evidently was directed to play him as a sweet-faced but pallid actor in the role].
“The BBC does not cut very much more from Horatio's lines; only the opening of the scene when the sailors come with their message from Hamlet [2973-7], and a couple of bits from the graveyard scene. This production allows him his full scope in the last scene, giving him the memorable lines upon Hamlet's death ('Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest!' [3850]) and also his longest speech since the first scene, . . . lines addressed to Fortinbras [3870-82]. The fact that a Horatio with lines cut (Olivier's) can still appear to be magnificent and that a Horatio with most of his lines cn sink in importance (BBC's) demonstrates that visual business can conquer the force of the words. . . . . </p. 71>
<p. 72> The BBC omits Horatio's closing lines in scene one [167-72]:
Breake we our watch vp and by my aduise
Let vs impart what we haue seene to night
Vnto young Hamlet, for vppon my life
This spirit dumb to vs, will speake to him:
Doe you consent we shall acquaint him with it
As needfull in our loues, fitting our duty.
“Horatio's suggestion . . . makes it possible for a question to rise in our minds about what their duty is. Why not [refer to Hamlet as] King Hamlet in this mention of the dead king's son? If he is not the king, why not tell the king [about the visitation]? Horatio seems to be trying to persuade Marcellus and Bernardo when he refers to 'loves' and 'duty.' If Horatio says 'Do you consent' blandly, no significance would attach to the lines, and they might as well be cut [as they are in the Boston Shakespeare Company production, Olivier, Richardson, Burton, and many productions listed by Halstead]. But if they are spoken conspiratorially, followed by an earnest pleading tone and then a gesture of relief upon their agreement, the political significance would be clear.” Actors could convey the political undertone subtly.</p. 72> Ed. note: The Hudson Warehouse's summer 2009 production in NYC, with a script by Joe Hamel, is one of the few to keep Horatio's lines and even has him respond decisively by taking Marcellus's concluding sgreement [173-4].
Cantor (1989, rpt. Greenhaven 1999, p. 122): “Horatio's distinctive set of beliefs helps to highlight Hamlet's.” He has the pagan idea of the correctness of suicide [3826]. Hamlet's praise suggests Horatio has Stoic virtues [1904-22]. Even his name suggests his Roman nature. “The fact that rational skepticism seems to be the keynote of Horatio's character may explain why Hamlet feels compelled to distinguish his philosophical position from his friend's: [quotes 863-4]” Ed. note: That is, if one interprets your as Cantor suggests.
Barker (1991, pp. 48, 54, 65-6, apud Wilson (2007, p. 231, who highly praises her essay, “Which dead? Hamlet and the ends of History” (pp. 48, 54, 65-6): Barker argues that Hamlet historicizes the crisis of history. She notes “Indeed, near the beginning, the ghost of a father who was also a king says ‘remember me.’ At the end the son now also dying, begs Horatio to survive to tell the story. It is the most important thing. A culture is losing its memory. Caught in a network of failing voices, this tragedy never does disclose which dead it mourns.“
Kliman (The Shakespeare Theatre, Washington, DC, at the Lansburgh, 8 Dec. 1992, directed by Michael Kahn): Horatio says “a piece of him,” so as to emphasize his skepticism; he does not extend his hand because he is too far away, below Bernardo. Horatio responds ambiguously about Claudius’s guilt after the play scene. Horatio was not well-dressed enough to take over Fortinbras’s last lines as he does: these lines require a forceful personality, like that of the Horatio in Olivier’s film. Like Hamlet’s costume, Horatio’s was low-key, though with color, in the midst of splendid gowns, ruffs and the like.
Schleiner (SQ 1999, p. 309) includes Horatio in her list of servants, one among many: writing about early plays, she concludes that “Shakespeare’s career . . . would be propelled along on the shoulders of a parade of passionately loyal (or passionately, parodically disloyal) servant interlocutors of each hero’s subjectivity . . . . ”
Thompson and Taylor. (2004, p. 124): “The least able to double is the actor playing Horatio (who cannot really play any other part in any of the three texts) . . . . That the actor playing Horatio should be someone who can never be anyone else—is a striking thought. Does his marking . . . call attention to his relationship with Hamlet. . . ? Does it reinforce our sense that he is to a remarkable degree unengaged with the action in the play? Or does it reinforce Hamlet's own view of Horatio as an ever-fixed mark. who must be encouraged to go on being himself to the end of the play?”
Kliman contra Thompson and Taylor 2004 (2009): The actor playing Horatio could double either Cornelius or Voltemand in 1.2: they can enter where F1 brings them in (204) and exit (221) before Horatio enters with Barnardo and Marcellus. The appear again in 2,2, a scene in which Horatio does not enter. The actor could also take the role of the messenger who brings the letters to the king in 4.7: there is time to change garments between the end of 4.6 and the entrance of the messenger, and it would be, if he were recognizably Horatio, an opportunity for him to spy on the king. For the most part audiences are not invited to notice insignificant doubling.
Nuttall (2007, p. 193): re TLN 1916-23: “Hamlet, lost in a new subjective darkness, sees in Horatio an innocent stoic.”
Bernice W. Kliman