A Role of Horatio in Hamlet
Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, a best friend, someone to listen to them and confide in. This human need for love and belonging has been long explored by writers, but no other has achieved the insight Shakespeare has through his character of Horatio. In Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Horatio not only has the role of Hamlet’s best friend, but also functions as Hamlet’s conscience in his time of madness providing stability and a clearer view of Hamlet’s mind and events in the play.
Horatio is first introduced during the first act and scene as having been summoned by the soldiers to confirm whether the apparition of the ghost is real or not, immediately establishing him as the voice of reason within the play. When Marcellus explains to his fellow guards what Horatio is there for he accentuates Horatio’s role as a dependable judge. Horatio won’t let belief take hold of him and [he] may approve [their] eyes both of these claims alongside the later assertion that Horatio is a scholar allow the audience to trust Horatio’s judgement providing credibility to those who witness the ghost (1.1.34). Throughout the play Horatio serves as a reminder that Hamlet is not mad, for Hamlet could soliloquy the entire play and he would continue to appear as a mad man. Without his dialogue with Horatio there would be little to no argument for Hamlet’s sanity. This is especially conveyed by Hamlet’s confession that he is to act with an antic disposition to Horatio and Marcellus, without this confession one could simply declare that Hamlet has gone mad due to the ghost with little to no argument (1.5.192).
Hamlet later fortifies Horatio’s role as a dependable source in his speech and request to Horatio in act three scene two, not passion’s slave he refers to him in his speech (3.2.77). Throughout the speech he emphasizes that he has chosen Horatio as his confidant because he is not one to be swayed by peoples statuses or his own emotions. Hamlet’s admiration for Horatio’s character exposes Hamlet’s desire to cease being a slave to his own passions, something he feels he desperately needs in the situation he finds himself in. Resulting in Hamlet’s trust and request for Horatio to provide him with an unbiased voice of reason when observing Claudius’ reaction to the play.
Horatio’s role as a window to Hamlet’s mind extends to that of a conscience. Constantly advising Hamlet against danger.
Hamlet exhibits a meticulous hesitation when it comes to his plan to avenge his father throughout the play, therefore when he is blinded by his passions Horatio serves to project Hamlet’s more hesitant and rational side. Horatio’s first warning is in in the first act and fifth scene, warning a grief-stricken Hamlet against following his father’s ghost for it may kill him, be a demon in disguise or even, make Hamlet lose his reasoning, and give Hamlet [thoughts] of desperation/Without more motive, into every brain referring to thoughts of depression and suicide (1.4.84-85). Shakespeare employs Horatio to unveil Hamlet’s subconscious apprehension of what following his father’s ghost may entail. The second advise by Horatio is about the duel between Laertes and Hamlet. Horatio advises him against fighting to which Hamlet admits to having ill all’s here/about [his] heart or a presentiment about the fight (5.2.226-227). To which Horatio responds to listen anything his mind dislike, Horatio’s urging highlights Hamlet’s own hesitation (5.2.231).
One might argue that as a symbol for Hamlet’s conscience Horatio would display a greater disposition for vengeance such as the one Hamlet displays throughout the play, however Hamlet expresses clear hesitance at his own ideas. Horatio as his conscience aids Hamlet in manifesting his self doubt. At Hamlet’s peak madness, his return from England, he discloses the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to Horatio. Throughout his accounts he appears mad with pride of his cleverness and luck to have escaped with retaliation for what he believed was an intentional betrayal on Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s part. Horatio’s first reaction is one of questioning intended to give Hamlet an opportunity to express some remorse at his betrayal, but instead Hamlet responds with no remorse they did make love to this employment in an attempt to justify his actions (5.2.64).
Hamlet’s doubt increases with Horatio’s response to his attempts to justify himself [why], what a king is this! Horatio questions, what kind of king would send his subjects to a damning death like he has done (5.2.70). At this comment Hamlet is not only reminded that if he is to successfully avenge his father he will become the king and the responsibilities that it implies, but of his task which will end in the spilt of Claudius’ blood. Causing him to doubt himself out loud [is it] not [in] perfect/conscience/To [kill] him with this arm? completely baring his hesitancy. As Hamlet’s conscience Horatio counsels him to a path of rightfulness.
Horatio provides insight to Hamlet’s mind and credibility to the events and characters of the play. Comparable to a conscience, for he is morally upright, trustworthy, constantly urging Hamlet to do what is best for him as a person. Without a Horatio Hamlet might have truly lost himself in his quest for vengeance. Everyone needs a friend and a voice of reason. Students, kings, kids, anyone who is in a dilemma needs an advisor as humans need friends.
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