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Literary Analysis of Shakespeare's Hamlet and Horatio

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Hamlet, is composed of many finite layers that make up his irate character. Hamlet's unordinary characteristics could be explained by many things such as his father recently passing. Losing a family member (King Hamlet) is difficult for most and since everyone is different, these situations are all handled differently. Shakespeare created Hamlet's character with madness in mind to bring drama and confusion into his play. However, there is one character who remains by his side through it all, Horatio. Horatio is almost the opposite to Hamlet, and like 2 halves of the same whole, they need each other. Horatio is able to balance out Hamlet somewhat, the calm to Hamlet’s storm, which is one of the reasons he’s such a strong character in comparison to Hamlet, he’s by far the most rational and straight headed of the pair. The contrasts are why Hamlet and Horatio are very attached throughout the play. In Shakespeare's tragedy, Hamlet, the Prince Hamlet is betrayed and deceived many times by different people and is shown to be one of the weakest characters despite being the main focus of the piece, while Horatio is shown to be rather strong despite his supporting role, making them perfect foils for each other.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet stars its very namesake, The young Prince Hamlet, which would lead one to believe that he would be one of the strongest characters in the play; however this is far from the actuality with him being one of the weakest characters in the entire work. In act 2 scene 5 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the young Prince of Denmark speaks to the ghost of his father which has been haunting the castle from the first scene of the play due to the cause of his death. In a normal tragedy, the tragic hero acts almost immediately in revenge for their loved ones, but Hamlet’s weak mind prevents him from doing so. He is shown to be very indecisive and his morals prevent him from taking necessary action. Much like in act 3, when Hamlet misses an incredible opportunity to kill Claudius, the literal murderer of his father (Shakespeare 56). Hamlet refuses to kill Claudius simply because he is praying at the time, and the young prince believes that somehow that would outweigh Claudius’s wrongdoings and he would end up in heaven. Hamlet’s strong morals have yet again prevented Hamlet from doing what he needs to do, as he is too weak to overcome his own mind.

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On the flip side of Hamlet’s weakness, Shakespeare’s Horatio displays the characteristics of an incredibly strong and trustworthy character, worthy of Hamlet’s respect and love. In the very beginning of the play, Marcellus and the other guards call Horatio in order to try and communicate with the ghost of the late King Hamlet (Shakespeare 1). Right off the bat, Horatio is shown here to be a character that is very trustworthy, but also level headed while not flaunting his intellect. He knows enough to value what ignorance he has that can protect him from political ruin, but neither ambition nor deceit determines his loyalties. Horatio also brings the light of truth into the whole scenario, since the level headed Horatio confirms seeing the ghost we can assume that Hamlet is not mad when he sees the ghost as well. The only time one might question Horatio’s unwavering intelligence would be in act 5, when Horatio states to the dying Hamlet that he would rather impale himself on his own sword than live on after Hamlet's death (Shakespeare 112). However, Hamlet passionately demonstrates his own deep love and admiration for Horatio in his request that Horatio tell Hamlet's story. Hamlet trusts his friend enough to leave him the task of finding the words that will divine the truth. For Hamlet, entrusting the task to Horatio declares his love better than expressing that love through any of Hamlet's poetry or philosophy.

These opposite traits that Hamlet and Horatio demonstrate cause them to be perfect foils for one another. In act 5, when Horatio attempts to kill himself by drinking the poison, is the only time that Horatio considers doing something that a reader would consider rash, saying he’d rather die than live after Hamlet’s death (Shakespeare 114). Hamlet is the only one able to bring out this more unruly side of Horatio. On the flip side in act 3, Hamlet speaks of how he admires the many traits of Horatio, wishing to be more like his most trusted companion (Shakespeare 75). He admires Horatio’s level-headedness and insight, and values his opinion more than anybody else’s but his own. The differences between these 2 characters is what draws them together, making them perfect foils.

Throughout Shakespeare’s tragedy, the Young Prince Hamlet is shown to make more than one questionable decision. He doesn’t kill his murderous uncle when he has the chance, he puts his own mother in a chokehold, and sentences 2 of his oldest friends to their death. The prince is not exactly what one might call levelheaded, but Horatio is almost the definition of such. He is intelligent but not outspoken, reserved yet willing to speak about what he deems necessary. In fact, the only irrational thing he does directly involves Hamlet and his actions. Their stark contrasts are what make them such close companions and perfect foil characters. They balance each other out, like the wind and the sea; Horatio’s calm waves only rustled by Hamlet’s erratic winds. The opposite natures of the 2 allows the reader to observe human nature in the way that opposites do indeed seem to attract. People are drawn to things that are different from themselves or their norms, which is beautifully demonstrated in the close relationship between Horatio and Hamlet.

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Literary Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio. (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved December 3, 2023, from
“Literary Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio.” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Literary Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 3 Dec. 2023].
Literary Analysis of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Horatio [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Dec 3]. Available from:
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