Horatio is a character in Shakespeare’s most famous play, Hamlet.

The most interesting thing about Horatio is that he is an almost completely uninteresting character. As a character in a Shakespeare play he is unusual as, even in his most minor characters, Shakespeare rounds them and makes them come alive, but he does not do that with Horatio. Shakespeare presents him almost as a non-person. He has no dramatic role in the play: in other words, he does nothing, performs no actions and has no effect on the dramatic development, even though he has a lot of lines and appears in several scenes.

Lady playing Horatio on stage stands with arms raised mid speech

Horatio as played by Dawn Jani Birley

So why is he there?

He is a student at Wittenburg University where Prince Hamlet is also a student, and he’s Hamlet’s best friend. Hamlet has returned to Elsinor Castle because his father has died, only to find that his mother has very quickly married his brother. That has sent Hamlet into a tailspin. He is surrounded by people he doesn’t trust and with the double blow of his father’s death and his mother’s marriage, he doesn’t know where to turn. Horatio comes to Elsinor. That is some comfort to Hamlet and during all the rest of the story, the two friends spend almost all their time together.

One of the things that has made Hamlet the unique play that it is is that it is not only an exciting drama about murder and revenge but an exploration of the mind and inner life of its hero. Horatio plays an important part in that process.

Hamlet has several of Shakespeare’s most famous soliloquies. The story is told from the viewpoint of Prince Hamlet and in his soliloquies, Shakespeare takes us into his hero’s mind. Horatio, as close friend and confidant, provides another device for the audience’s insight into the thinking of the hero. Hamlet confides in Horatio and tells him what he’s thinking and how he plans to proceed. He also shares his thoughts and feelings about the other characters so, all in all, the audience has a wide picture of what’s going on in Hamlet’s mind. The fact that Hamlet usually ignores Horatio’s advice is beside the point: the point is about the entrance Horatio gives us to Hamlet’s mind as Hamlet tells him how he’s feeling and what he’s planning to do.

If one wishes to take a conventional view of Horatio and look at the characteristics he displays as a character one could say that he is honest and honourable, loyal, intelligent and wise. However, those qualities don’t add anything to the drama and have no effect, given that Horatio plays no part in it.

At the end of the play all the main characters have died. Horatio survives to tell the tale.

Top Horatio Quotes

‘In my mind’s eye’ (Act 1, Scene 2)

‘More in sorrow than in anger’ (Act 1, Scene 2)

‘Thrift, thrift, Horatio’  (Act 1, Scene 2)

‘More honored in the breach’ (Act 1, Scene 4)

‘Something is rotten in the state of Denmark’ (Act 1, Scene 4)

‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio’ (Act 1, Scene 5)

‘There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow’  (Act 5, Scene 2)

‘They did make love to this employment’  (Act 5, Scene 2)

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