Hamlet and Horatio’s friendship in Act 3

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Act 3 Scene 2 is the scene where The Murder of Gonzago is performed for the court and it highlights Hamlet and Horatio’s friendship further. Horatio is portrayed as a man worthy of Hamlet’s trust and respect. He is a very good listener and a man who observes things silently. It is clear that  Hamlet finds it easy to confide in him and that he respects his friend’s opinion. Horatio is used in this play as a man whom Hamlet finds distinctly different in many ways from himself. In the following speech, Hamlet is carried away by his praise for Horatio:

‘Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou has been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks; and bless’d are those
Whose blood and judgement are so well comingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.’

Perhaps there is a suggestion in this speech that Hamlet is lamenting a lack of virtue in himself. It would appear that, in this Danish court of false seeming and role playing, Horatio is the only authentic figure who is true to himself: a man of utmost integrity and virtue.

It is at this point in Act 3 Scene 2 that Hamlet asks a favour of his friend. He wants Horatio to help him observe Claudius’s reactions to The Murder of Gonzago. Hamlet trusts Horatio more than he trusts himself:

‘There is a play to-night before the King;
One scene of it comes near the circumstance
Which I have told thee of my father’s death:
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe my uncle. If his occulted guilt
Do not itself unkennel in one speech,
It is a damned ghost that we have seen,
And my imaginations are as foul
As Vulcan’s stithy. Give him heedful note:
For mine eyes will rivet to his face,
And after we will both our judgements join
In censure of his seeming.’

When Hamlet has successfully caught ‘the conscience of the king’, we see how Horatio is used to mirror Hamlet’s excited and ecstatic responses:

Hamlet:   ‘O good Horatio! I’ll take the ghost’s word for a thousand pound. Didst perceive?’

Horatio:  ‘Very well, my lord.’

Hamlet:   ‘Upon the talk of the poisoning?’

Horatio:  ‘I did very well note him.’

 

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