Horatio (Hamlet)

Horatio is a character in William Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet.

Hamlet character
Hamlet und Horatio auf dem Friedhof (Eugène Ferdinand Victor Delacroix).jpg
Horatio (standing, dressed in red) with Hamlet in the "gravedigger scene" by Eugène Delacroix[1]
Created byWilliam Shakespeare
In-universe information

He was present on the field when King Hamlet (Hamlet's father) defeated Fortinbras (the king of Norway),[citation needed] and he has travelled to court from Wittenberg University (where he was familiar with Prince Hamlet)[citation needed] for the funeral of King Hamlet.[citation needed] Hamlet is glad to see him, and Horatio remains at court without official appointment, simply as "Hamlet's friend".[2] He is on relatively familiar terms with other characters. For example, when Gertrude (the queen) is reluctant to admit the "distract"[citation needed] Ophelia, she changes her mind following Horatio's advice.[citation needed] Hamlet has departed for England by this point, and is not supposed to return.[citation needed]

Horatio is not directly involved in any intrigue at the court, but he makes a good foil and sounding board for Hamlet.[citation needed] Being from Wittenberg, a university that defined the institutional switch from theology to humanism, Horatio epitomizes the early modern fusion of Stoic and Protestant rationality.[3]


Horatio is a variation of the Latin Horatius. Many commentators have linked the name to the Latin words ratiō ("reason") and ōrātor ("speaker"), noting his role as a reasoner with Prince Hamlet, and surviving to tell Hamlet's tale at the end of the play.[4][5][6]

Role in the playEdit

Horatio is present in the first scene of the play, accompanying Barnardo and Marcellus on watch duty, for they claim to have "twice seen"[citation needed] the ghost of King Hamlet. He is initially sceptical, but is "harrow[ed] [...] with fear and wonder"[citation needed] when he sees the ghost. Being a scholar, he is urged to speak to the ghost.[citation needed] It is Horatio's idea to tell Hamlet about the ghost, supposing that "This spirit, dumb to us, will speak to him".[citation needed]

Horatio swears secrecy pertaining to the ghost and Hamlet's "antic disposition".[citation needed] He is privy to much of Hamlet's thinking, and symbolizes the ultimate faithful friend.[citation needed] In Act Three, Hamlet confesses his very high opinion of Horatio.[citation needed] Horatio is the first main character to know of Hamlet's return to Denmark. Horatio only doubts Hamlet's judgement once, when Hamlet has arranged for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to be killed.[citation needed] Otherwise, Horatio supports every decision Hamlet makes.[citation needed]

Horatio is present through most of the major scenes of the play, but Hamlet is usually the only person to acknowledge him. When other characters address him, they are almost always telling him to leave.[citation needed] He is often in scenes remembered as soliloquies,[citation needed] such as Hamlet's famous scene with Yorick's skull. He is present during the mousetrap play, and when Ophelia's madness is revealed, and when Hamlet reveals himself at Ophelia's grave, and in the final scene. Near the end of the play, when Hamlet tells him "how ill all’s here about my heart"[citation needed], he suggests that Hamlet obey that ill feeling. But Hamlet is indifferent to prospective harm.[citation needed] Horatio is the only main character to survive. He does intend to poison himself, saying that he is "more an antique Roman than a Dane",[citation needed] but Hamlet, dying, implores him rather to deal with the fallout and "wounded name":[citation needed]

If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity a while,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.[citation needed]

Horatio's role, though secondary, is central to the drama.[clarification needed] Through his role of 'outside observer', he makes the audience believe Hamlet's actions, no matter how incredible they may look to readers at first sight.[clarification needed][citation needed] For example, Horatio sees the Ghost, so the audience is led to believe that the Ghost is real.[citation needed]


  1. ^ The Gravedigger Scene is Hamlet 5.1.1–205.
  2. ^ "Hamlet". www.folgerdigitaltexts.org. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  3. ^ Hui, Andrew (2013). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1–2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651. Retrieved 4 March 2020.
  4. ^ Rokem, Freddie (28 August 2018). Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance. Stanford University Press. ISBN 9780804763509 – via Google Books.
  5. ^ Hui, Andrew (1 September 2013). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1/2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651.
  6. ^ Hui, Andrew (28 August 2018). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1/2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910. JSTOR 10.1086/673910. S2CID 191575651.