Friday, January 17, 2020

Essay on Horatio Essay

Often overlooked in the critical analysis of the play, Horatio is a character whose actions are of no major importance, yet in the context of the play’s meaning, his role is crucial. Like the Ghost, Horatio helps Shakespeare to refine the concept of the virtuous man. This is shown through Horatio’s ideals, his relationship with Hamlet, their differences and similarities. We assume that his studies in Wittenberg make develop his rational thinking and thus he would naturally reject the possibility of a ghost – however he is the one to tell Hamlet about his father’s apparition. Even after witnessing the Ghost, Horatio remains a rationalist. His mind is sober, and he encourages Hamlet to preserve self-control – a key virtue of the Stoics. Yet when Hamlet dies (possibly in Horatio’s arms, depending on stage directions) the roles reverse – Horatio, charged by Hamlet’s passion, almost dies with the prince. For the audience, Horatio becomes a separate and important entity as Hamlet delivers the speech about his character that defines Hamlet’s own ideals. Shakespeare gives Hamlet the chance to voice the faculties he admires, thus giving us another chance to understand the greater aspirations and aims of the protagonist. He says: ‘Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man As e’er my conversation coped withal. Nay do not think I flatter,†¦ †¦ Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice, And could of men distinguish, her election Hath sealed thee to herself; for thou hast been As one, in suff’ring all, that suffers nothing; A man that Fortune’s buffets and rewards Hath ta’en with equal thanks; and blest are those Whose blood and judgment are so well co-mingled That they are not a pipe in 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. ‘ (3. 253-73) Horatio is not passion’s slave – if passions, like Fortune, is personified, then it becomes a sort of ancient deity that chooses to blind humans and deny them all rational choice. To a certain extent, all other characters in the tragedy are to varying degree subject to their passions. Horatio by contrast is calm and stable; he is skeptical and rational, as can be seen from his encounter with the Ghost. If passion is a disease-like quality that Hamlet believes to be defectious, then Horatio exemplifies a pure and honourable person – honest by definition, since he does not allow passions to fool his conscience and justify any selfish means or aims. However the most important aspect highlighted by the Prince is Horatio’s philosophical understanding of life. The speech suggests Horatio is a follower of Stoicism, an ancient way of thinking developed once by the ancients and then revived by the great thinkers of the Renaissance. Founded by Xenon, (334-262b. c. ) the philosophy taught to discipline one’s behaviour according to one’s rational mind. Hamlet states that his ideal is such. However the prince himself is not ‘free’ or deprived of passions. The qualities he admires in Horatio are starkly different to the ones he himself displays in his very first monologue. He speaks of evil as ‘self-slaughter’ and cannot come to terms with things ‘rank and grosse in nature’ (1. 2) Hamlet is a man of many different moods and tempers; in this one speech he begins disgusted, grows more passionate in his hatred and it is not until the last two line of that speech when Hamlet says ‘I must hold my tongue’ and regains control of his emotions. It is clear the protagonist cannot remain unaffected when he sees evil’s manifestation in any form; his whole being actively protests and rejects amoral and dishonourable actions. Because of this, Hamlet’s ideal human nature that Shakespeare personifies through Horatio’s character remains, until the time comes at the end of the play, unlike Hamlet’s own. Preparing to fight Laertes, says to Horatio who is desperately trying to prevent the Prince from fencing, convinced he will lose: ‘There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow’ (5.2). This whole speech signifies the way Hamlet matures from admiring into exhibiting Stoic ideals, yet applying them in a more universal way than Horatio. Through hardship and experience Hamlet accepts Fate, but refuses to step aside and give up fighting for his cause. He takes Horatio’s logic and focus, acknowledges all the basis of the teachings of Stoicism, yet unites this with his burning desire to fight evil and restore justice. Horatio’s attempts to save Hamlet from death are doomed, because the protagonist believes the question about his own life has been decided, and thus no longer bothers him. A true Stoic does not fear death. Hamlet’s mysterious last words, uttered to Horatio, echo this: ‘†¦ the rest is silence’ (5. 2. 351) Furthermore, if at the beginning of the play Hamlet and Horatio lack the virtues of each other (Hamlet, unlike his friend, cannot distance himself from anxieties, whereas Horatio comes across as almost emotionally withdrawn), by the end different dimensions of both characters are revealed to us. Horatio, although still wise and composed, truly loves Hamlet. Realising the imminence of the Prince’s death, Horatio grabs the cup with the remaining poison, ready to follow his friend in death. Hamlet stops him and, on his deathbed, urges Horatio to remember the philosophy they both adored, and live by it: ‘If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart, Absent thee from felicity awhile, And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain To tell my story. ‘ It is important that Hamlet hands over his secret to Horatio, trusting him to clear his name and justify his actions to posterity. Horatio obeys and we trust him to communicate the truth, restoring Hamlet’s innocence. Horatio’s character helps us to understand Hamlet better, to realise how the protagonist matures, and witness the best in him even as he lay dying. Shakespeare’s inclusion of Horatio and his relationship with Hamlet stresses the importance of nobility, dignity, felicity and other moral principles and virtues valued by the Ancient. And lastly, Horatio rules out a conclusive judgment concerning Hamlet’s death and his suffering, and tells of them as ‘carnal, bloody and unnatural acts’ ensuring the audience perceived those strong feelings too.

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