Hamlet: Character Profile - Horatio


Basic Facts:

At the beginning of the play, we see the character Horatio as a loyal and close friend of Hamlet. Horatio appears very knowledgeable and rational as he did not believe in the supernatural ghost until he finally saw it. Horatio’s rational personality also enable the audience to understand his discomfort when faced with the disruption of natural order where he was hesitant in going after Hamlet when he followed the ghost. Hamlet and Horatio’s intimacy can also be seen through their interactions where Horatio expresses his concern for Hamlet being too attached to the ghost.



Quotations & Analysis:





Tush, tush, ‘twill not appear

The first impression of Horatio comes from his appearance on the bridge with the other guards. He does not believe in the existence of the ghosts, and therefore has decided to come see for himself during the night watch. As readers, we identify with Horatio’s rationality in the beginning, as we too are unconvinced by the ghost’s presence. His use of the phrase “tush tush” makes him seem calm, collected, and in control of the whole situation. We can possibly infer that the other guards look to him for reassurance, as Marcellus asks him to speak to the ghost first when it appears. Furthermore, his tone in “tush tush” suggests that he is a “big brother” figure to the other knights. Just as mothers tell children to “hush hush” and not be afraid, Horatio is doing the same for the other knights.



A mote to trouble the mind’s eye

In the most high and palmy state of Rome

A little ere the mightiest Julius fell,...

And prologue to the omen coming on

Shakespeare uses Horatio to foreshadow the turmoil of events that are to come. He compares Old Hamlet’s death to the fall of the mighty Julius Ceasar, emphasizing the chaos that ensued afterwards. Horatio first introduces the idea of the disruption of Natural order, with “Disasters in the sun; and the moist star...sick almost to doomsday with eclipse”. There is a sense that Horatio is narrating the story to come. Later on, we know that Horatio is in fact a foreigner to Denmark. This perhaps has implications that one of Horatio’s purposes in this play is to narrate the story from an “outsider” point of view.



My lord, I came to see your father’s funeral

In comparison to Laertes, who has returned to Denmark to see Claudius receive his throne, Horatio came to see Old Hamlet’s funeral. From such, we can see that his allegiance lies with Hamlet and Old Hamlet, rather than Claudius.



[A flourish of trumpets, and two pieces goes off within] What does this mean my lord?

Is it a custom?

From Horatio’s questioning, we can see that he is indeed an outsider to Denmark’s affairs. His attachment is limited to Hamlet on a personal level, but not to Denmark as a whole state. The effect of Horatio’s questioning is that it reveals Hamlet’s character as well; through his explanation of the customs of Denmark, we can see that Hamlet is an “outsider” in many ways; being inferior to the royal family and to his country. If we look at Horatio as a “narrator” of the story (see above), this is another way that he gives insights into the characters of the novel. He prompts Hamlet to reveal more of his own character.



You shall not go, my lord, Be rul’d, you shall not go

Horatio commands Hamlet not to seek the ghost and this command clearly oversteps the bounds of his authority because Hamlet is a prince. The direct words and short phrases, and willingness to risk censure suggest a genuine care for Hamlet which exceeds the expectation to “appear” humble and subservient. This is reinforced later when Horatio and Marcellus disobeys Hamlet’s orders at the end of the scene to follow him and the ghost.



What if it tempt you toward the flood, my lord, Or to the dreadful summit of the cliff...

In the quotation, Shakespeare creates a sense of concern in Horatio’s tone as he urges Hamlet not to follow the ghost. The use of ‘or’ shows Horatio thinking of the consequences of following the ghost in contrast with Hamlet. This once again helps to establish Horatio as a rational character, an idea reinforced by the fact that he maintains some distance from the supernatural by calling the ghost ‘it’ despite the ghost appearing in the form of the late king.



Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man As e’er my conversation cop’d withal

In the midst of his despair at mankind after having told Ophelia to go to the nunnery so she will give birth to no more sinners, Horatio is described as the most ‘just’ man that Hamlet knows. This is not only high praise but it also suggests that Horatio’s ability to reason allows him to make better judgments and this further implies that Horatio is the only person that Hamlet truly trusts.



Half a share

After Hamlet believed that he has gained enough evidence to prove that Claudius did kill Old Hamlet, he was overjoyed, and thought that he could earn a living in acting if he had no money. Horatio’s comment here may either be intended as a friendly form of banter (suggesting their friendship) or a pragmatic reminder that Hamlet should not assume Claudius is guilty of murder just because he walked out of the play.



Good my lord, be quiet.

Upon seeing Ophelia dead, Hamlet becomes very emotional and quarrels with Laertes. Horatio stops Hamlet and his line here shows their closeness and positions Horatio as the one who balances Hamlet’s emotions, preventing him from doing something rash. This line also suggests the intimacy between these two characters as telling the Prince of Denmark to ‘be quiet’ is clearly not something that many commoners could get away with.



Why, what a king is this!

Throughout the play, it is unsure to the audience who is truly on Hamlet’s side and understands him. Even Hamlet’s mother who is closest to him told Claudius about her encounter with Hamlet. From this quotation, Shakespeare portrays Horatio as the only character who is clearly on Hamlet’s side. Horatio does not even question Hamlet’s claims about the pirates and the letters and the stichomithya between Hamlet and Horatio accentuates this sense of intimacy and their trust.



His purse is empty already. All's golden words are spent. This lapwing runs away with the shell on his head.

Horatio demonstrates a similar wit as with Hamlet when teasing Osric as well as similar disdain for the empty pretentiousness of most courtiers.



If your mind dislike any thing, obey it. I will forestall their repair hither, and say you are not fit.

This quotation shows Horatio’s concern about Hamlet’s decision to accept the fencing match with Laertes. Horatio’s commitment to supporting even the vaguest misgiving that Hamlet has reinforces his loyalty to the prince and also creates tension by foreshadowing what is to come as Horatio implies that the fencing match is not a good idea. There is also considerable dramatic irony here as the audience, who are aware of Claudius’ plan to murder Hamlet, know that Horatio is right to be suspicious.



Report me and my cause aright To the unsatisfied. And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story

From Hamlet’s dying words, Shakespeare creates the impression that throughout the play, Horatio is the person who Hamlet trusts the most. Hamlet constantly speaks of people deceiving each other using appearances. However in these two quotations, Hamlet trusts Horatio to tell Hamlet’s story the right way, knowing that Horatio will be able to describe Hamlet’s side of the story, which would otherwise remain unknown to the rest of Denmark.



I am more an antique Roman than a Dane. Here’s yet some liquor left.

In this quotation, Horatio who watches Hamlet die and is willing to commit suicide to die with him in the same way that Roman soldiers may have fallen on their swords in similar situations. His willingness to die clearly reveals the depths of Horatio’s loyalty and the reference to Ancient Rome suggests his honour.



So shall you hear / Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts; / Of accidental judgments, casual slaughters; / Of deaths put on by cunning and forc'd cause; . And, in this upshot, purposes mistook / Fall'n on th' inventors' heads. All this can I truly deliver.


Shakespeare uses Horatio to end the play; and through his words, the essence of the plot is boiled down to “bloody and unnatural acts; accidental judgments, casual slaughters”. Thus, we can see that the tragedy of Hamlet is not the fact that many of the characters died, but more so that it was “unnatural”, “accidental”, “causal”; words that imply that it could have been avoided. Horatio’s reflective words prompt readers to question what caused all the deaths and come to conclude that ultimately, Claudius and Hamlet’s respective obsessions (in avenging for his father, and keeping the throne) is what caused their own downfall at the end. The tone in which Horatio speaks here is contemplative, regretful, which further reinforces the tragedy of the play’s ending.




Role in the Play:

Horatio’s role in the play as the only ally of Hamlet is significant as he helps to develop Hamlet in a more sympathetic light to readers. Through the close relationship between the two, we can see that Hamlet has the ability to love and create close bonds with people around him. Hamlet’s abuse of both Gertrude and Ophelia might turn the audience more strongly against him were it not for the fact that Hamlet and Horatio’s relationship is so strong that it resembles a brotherly bond. This closeness is clearly demonstrated by how they are able to understand each others’ humor (as with the teasing of Orsic), and how Hamlet entrusts Horatio with the task of clearing his name before he dies. Moreover, the strength of their relationship is indirectly reinforced by the fact that Horatio is in many of the significant scenes where Hamlet experiences change, for example his presence in the scene where Hamlet reflects upon Yorick.


Horatio is also used to reveal Hamlet’s sense that he does not belong his own country. This is implied in Act I, scene iv when he does not participate in the celebratory customs of Denmark and explains his reasoning to Horatio.


Horatio is also one of the most noble characters in the play (having done nothing almost wrong) and not only does his allegiance to Hamlet sways the audience to empathize more with the prince but Horatio’s presence also throws into sharper relief the unreliability and self-serving sycophancy of everyone else at court. The fact that Horatio seems to plainly and clearly speak his mind also perhaps acts as a foil to the general sense of uncertainty and confusion that runs throughout the play.


Thematically, Shakespeare creates a sense of disruption in the natural order right at the start of the play with the appearance of the ghost and this sense of disruption is amplified throughout the play as conflicts arise within the royal family result in Ophelia’s madness, the death of Polonius and (in fact) almost everyone else. Horatio, however, is the only major character to survive creating the impression that loyalty to the natural order (in this case loyalty to Hamlet, who is in some senses the rightful king of Denmark) is the only morally correct course of action. Indeed, The most dramatic moment for Horatio’s character comes in Act 5.2, when he proclaims his willingness to take his own life: since “I am more an antique Roman than a Dane.” This final show of allegiance to Hamlet emphasises Horatio’s bravery and fierce loyalty, which contrasts with the behavior of the ugly and manipulative Claudius and the unruly, overly passionate behavior of Laertes.


Shakespeare also explores the power of various motivational forces throughout the play where Claudius is emotionally driven by his greed for power while Hamlet is frequently seen to be paralysed by ‘thinking too precisely on the event’. These two forces may appear to be balanced by Horatio as Horatio is able to make rational decisions but still display warranted emotional responses such as loyalty and compassion. Horatio’s ability to balance the competing demands of reason and emotion can be seen when he cautions Hamlet against the fencing match with Laertes. Although Horatio says he will support Hamlet in whatever he decision he chooses (suggesting the depth of his loyalty) he also implies that Hamlet should be suspicious of Claudius’ motivations and the dramatic irony created here as audience knows that Horatio is right reflects Horatio’s ability to make rational judgments.


Horatio is often key in creating a calm and orderly mood in the scenes in which he is present as his composure lasts almost throughout the play and whenever he speaks, there is a calming effect, both on the audience and on Hamlet. This impact is particularly important in Acts three and four, when there are a series of scenes filled with either passionate soliloquies or the quick development of plot and Horatio’s clear and slow-paced lines contrast with the emotionally charged lines spoken by other major characters and help to modulate tension.


Finally, Horatio is often key in helping the audience understand the development of the plot, for example he was significant in introducing the existence of the ghost of Old Hamlet, in explaining what happened to Hamlet at sea on his way to England, and at the end, explaining the whole story to the court and Fortinbras. Thus Horatio is used as vital narrative element of the play helping Shakespeare to elucidate the events of the plot to the audience.