Hamlet Dramaturgy

Informing Bethany Lutheran College's Spring 2013 Production. Shows at: April 19, 20, 26, 27 at 7:30pm and April 21 at 2pm

Character Notes: Horatio

Nick Lilienthal recently requested more information on his character, Horatio. After a little digging, I’ve discovered a couple articles about Horatio’s character, beyond what is in the text. For those of you who interact with Horatio, this might be helpful to you as well.

Keep in mind: all the information I have looked at comes from opinions of others. As a rule, if what we’re doing with the production ever disagrees with the things in you read in articles, ignore the articles and do what your director tells you to, please.

horatio and hamlet


The primary article I found on Horatio’s character was “Horatio: A Shakespearian Confidant” by Francis G. Schoff. Schoff has much to say on Horatio’s actions and even analyses the where most of Horatio’s lines fall in the production and what that says about the importance of his character.

Schoff ultimately sums Horatio’s purpose in the play, thusly:

“Horatio, then, is a nonentity in the play except in the degree that Hamlet’s treatment of him makes us feel otherwise. Because the hero loves and trusts him, we do. And thus, apart from being auditor and reporter, he becomes an embodiment of that helpless love for Hamlet which each member of the audience feels. That, and that only, is his meaningful function in the play” (55.)

I really love the idea that Horatio is the embodiment of the audience’s feelings towards Hamlet. Horatio acts, not only for himself, but for everyone watching the production. If we’re getting really theoretical, then I imagine depending on who your Hamlet is and how the audience in endeared to him from night to night, Horatio would need to respond differently.

Other Articles:

1) An analysis of Horatio’s initial report to Hamlet.

2) A poem written from Horatio’s perspective after Hamlet’s death.

3) An introduction to the character, Horatio.

4) A brief character analysis.



Lydia Grabau, Dramaturg


6 comments on “Character Notes: Horatio

  1. Nick Lilienthal
    March 13, 2013

    Again, thanks for this. These help a lot.

    • hamletdramaturgy
      March 14, 2013

      You’re welcome! Out of curiosity, what are yours thoughts on the theories about Horatio?

      • Nick Lilienthal
        March 14, 2013

        The theories pretty much agree with what my thoughts were on the characterization of Horatio, namely that I couldn’t seem to find a character for him. The concept that Horatio is not a fully developed character as much as an observer and reporter of events fits well with his almost nonexistent backstory and his state of being almost outside of the events of the plot util the very end of the play. I like theses theories, and they’ve definitely been helpful in figuring out how to portray Horatio.

      • hamletdramaturgy
        March 14, 2013

        Cool! I would definitely encourage you to chat more with Pete if you continue having difficulties, he has interesting thoughts on Horatio that definitely in line with the theories in the articles here.

  2. Rae Gleason
    March 16, 2013

    One of those articles links Horatio’s name to the Latin word for speaker, “orator.” My name book, however (the Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook) lists the Latin meaning of the name Horatio as “timekeeper.” While Shakespeare didn’t generally seem to take name meaning into consideration when he named his characters, I find this one interesting. It adds another dimension to Horatio’s relationship with Hamlet. Yes, he helps keep Hamlet grounded, and yes, he communicates sympathy for Hamlet to the audience, but… does he do something else? Is he just an anchor to help keep the Prince from going completely bonkers, or does he actually give direction to Hamlet? I’m having visions of Horatio as some sort of social secretary for Hamlet, which is probably way off-base, but still amusingly interesting. Although, for a final thought, isn’t that one of great things about having close friends? A single conversation with them can clear up confusion and give direction about the path we want to take.

    • Michael
      March 20, 2013

      This fits with my word-theory of Hamlet (blog post forthcoming). Horatio as an orator, a reporter, a messenger, and an anchor all falls together. Hamlet calls him “just,” specifically in “conversation.” Look over the whole play and find anyone else who is so honest, true, dedicated. Horatio at the end is the herald anointed by Hamlet to “tell my story.” Consider prophets. They spoke never for themselves (and if they did they were punished, e.g. Moses striking the rock), but always for someone else, namely God. These are the men who are the most honest, the most sanctified, the most selfless. Horatio is the prophet of the play, who speaks not for himself but always for others. Never does he endeavor toward selfish gain with what he does or says, unlike every other character.

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This entry was posted on March 8, 2013 by in Performance.

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