Horatio – Unsullied Character in Shakespeare's Hamlet Essay

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Horatio – Unsullied Character in Hamlet

Perhaps even more innocent than Ophelia in Shakespere’s Hamlet is Horatio. This essay will treat his character in depth, including many literary critical evaluations.

Who is the play’s historian? None other than Horatio. In the first scene Horatio gives a detailed history of what has gone before regarding King Hamlet:

Our last king,

Whose image even but now appear'd to us,

Was, as you know, by Fortinbras of Norway,

Thereto prick'd on by a most emulate pride,

Dared to the combat; in which our valiant Hamlet--

For so this side of our known world esteem'd him--

Did slay this Fortinbras; who by a seal'd compact,
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But this scene is not his most important; such would be the final scene of the tragedy where he accompanies the hero to his death and turns over the rule of Denmark to Fortinbras.

A.C. Bradley in Shakespearean Tragedy notes a problem involving Horatio:

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the funeral took place some three weeks ago, it seems rather strange that Hamlet, however absorbed in grief and however withdrawn from the Court, has not met Horatio [.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)

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.

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