Horatio (Hamlet)

Horatio is a character in William Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet. Horatio's origins are unknown, although he was present on the battlefield when Hamlet's father defeated Fortinbras (the king of Norway), and attended Wittenberg University with Prince Hamlet. Horatio is evidently not directly involved in the intrigue at the Danish court; thus, he makes a good foil or sounding board for Prince Hamlet. He is often not identified as any specific court position, but simply as "Hamlet's friend".[2]

Hamlet character
Horatio (standing, dressed in red) with Hamlet in the "gravedigger scene" by Eugène Delacroix[1]
Created byWilliam Shakespeare


Horatio is a variation on the Latin name Horatius. Many commentators have pointed out that the name is reminiscent of the Latin words ratiō ("reason") and ōrātor ("speaker"), reminding us of his roles as a reasoner with Prince Hamlet, and of his role at the end of the play, surviving to tell Hamlet's tale.[3][4][5][6]

Role in the play

Horatio makes his first appearance in Act I, Scene 1, when he, Bernardo, and Marcellus encounter the ghost of the deceased King Hamlet. He, having attended a university, is called upon as a scholar and is told to communicate with the ghost by Marcellus, and unsuccessfully attempts to do so. It is he who then explains the conditions surrounding King Hamlet's death.[7] Later, in act two, Horatio is revealed to be Hamlet's most trusted friend, to whom Hamlet reveals all his plans.[8] Horatio swears himself to secrecy about the ghost and Hamlet's pretense of madness,[9] and conspires with Hamlet to prove Claudius' guilt through the traveling players' production of The Murder of Gonzago.[10] He is also the first to know of Hamlet's return from England, and is with him when he learns of Ophelia's death.

“Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man
As e’er my conversation coped withal.”

— Hamlet to Horatio[11]

At the end of the play, Horatio proposes to finish off the poisoned drink that was intended for Hamlet, saying that he is "more an antique Roman than a Dane", but the dying prince implores Horatio not to drink from the cup and bids his friend to live and help put things right in Denmark; "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." Hamlet's last request creates a parallel between the name Horatio and the Latin orator, meaning "speaker".

Horatio is present through most of the major scenes of the play, but Hamlet is usually the only person to acknowledge that he is present; when other characters address him (except in I.i), they are almost always telling him to leave. He is often in scenes that are usually remembered as soliloquies, such as Hamlet's famous scene with the skull of Yorick. Horatio is also present during the mousetrap play, the discovery of Ophelia's madness (though the role of an anonymous gentleman-courtier has been substituted in this scene), Hamlet's display at Ophelia's grave, and the final scene. He is the only major character to survive the action of the play.


  1. The Gravedigger Scene is Hamlet 5.1.1–205.
  2. "Hamlet". www.folgerdigitaltexts.org. Retrieved 2019-04-09.
  3. Rokem, Freddie (28 August 2018). "Philosophers and Thespians: Thinking Performance". Stanford University Press via Google Books.
  4. Hui, Andrew (1 September 2013). "Horatio's Philosophy in Hamlet". Renaissance Drama. 41 (1/2): 151–171. doi:10.1086/673910.
  5. "Horatio in Hamlet". www.shmoop.com.
  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.
  7. (I.i.40-108)
  8. III.ii.61-3. “Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice / And could of men distinguish, her election / Hath seal’d thee for herself...”
  9. I.v.144-180
  10. III.ii
  11. "Hamlet, Act III, Scene 2 :-: Open Source Shakespeare". www.opensourceshakespeare.org.
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