Friday, January 15, 2010

Did Hamlet Have Any Friends?

I’m imagining Hamlet back at school, before news of his father’s death came in.  Do you think he’s the kind of guy (kid?) who was very social, had many friends? Or was that biting sense of humor and condescending tone too much for those around him?

I’ve heard it argued re: Horatio that he was either a) Hamlet’s best friend in the world, or b) just a nice guy acquaintance who tried to pay his proper respects, and got caught up in the whole thing.  I honestly don’t know the answer either way.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, I assume, fall more into that category of “I know them, but they are not my friends.”  I don’t see it as a very great surprise that they turn on Hamlet so quickly, as I have no reason to imagine them as close confidants to begin with.

Thoughts?

7 comments:

Andrew Huntley said...

I've always pictured Hamlet as the "football star" of Wittenberg. This would make sense as he was the Crown Prince of Denmark. In addition, he also says that he is an avid fencer. Between power and prestige, along with a sense of humor (which wasn't truly black until his father's death and the ensuing "madness") It seems like Hamlet would have been quite popular, with a large circle of friends.

Duane said...

Then...where are they? It takes Horatio two months to even let Hamlet know that he's in town.

There's a million reasons for this, of course. Shakespeare simply didn't need them. Who knows, there could be a movie version out there that shows a funeral and a Hamlet surrounded by his college buddies, all of whom wander their way back to school before the two months has passed.

I just like to play that game of extending these partial characters out into the real world as if they were actual people. I was trying to put Hamlet in context for somebody and we were talking about a man having to deal with his father's untimely funeral, and one thing that came up was "You'd hopefully be surrounded by your friends at a time like that."

Which made me think of it. That's one of the admirable things about Horatio - he's the guy who maybe wasn't the closest friend to Hamlet, but he's doing the right thing by going to the funeral to pay respects, and even when everything goes absolutely bonkers, he doesn't abandon ship, he sticks right by Hamlet until the end. Good man, that Horatio.

Andrew Huntley said...

I agree for the most part, although I think tha Horatio was a true friend of Hamlet, as he was going to commit suicide at the end of the play untils stopped by Hamlet. It is a good point though about it being two months until he shows up.

Mystic said...

Rozencrantz and Guildenstern were childhood friends of Hamlets.
From Act II
Queen speaking to R & G: "...I entreat you both,
That, being of so young days brought up with him,
And sith so neighbour'd to his youth and havior..."

The Queen says Hamlet has often spoken of them, and her interpretation is that Hamlet holds them in some regard.

Queen: "Good gentlemen, he hath much talk'd of you;
And sure I am two men there are not living
To whom he more adheres. If it will please you
To show us so much gentry and good will
As to expend your time with us awhile,
For the supply and profit of our hope,
Your visitation shall receive such thanks
As fits a king's remembrance."

While they may not be close at this point in their lives, it is clear they once were indeed friends.


As for Horatio, he is the one person that Hamlet can truly and completely trust. In my book, that is a true friend.

Duane said...

Good points, Mystic! Perhaps you are right, they were childhood friends and Mom, as Moms so often show us on Facebook, isn't really up to date on the fact that her kid grew up and things changed. So when she thinks "Hamlet needs friends" she conjures up some names which in her brain and brand new, but for all we know he hasn't mentioned them in years.

I could buy that.

Monica said...

Within the genre of Tragedy, it is common for the main character to suddenly find himself isolated. In fact, the genre demands it. Hamlet can't have a support network, because then he would be able to seek justice -- not revenge -- for his father's murder.

Horatio, then, is gift to the character who would otherwise be completely alone. But Shakespeare wasn't really being kind by placing him within Hamlet's support network. For his actual rhetorical function is to "report me [Hamlet] and my cause aright
To the unsatisfied." (V.ii) He tells Fortinbras what has happened, Fortinbras picks up the pieces, and social order is restored.

It's up to each director to do with him what they will. I have see versions of Hamlet where Horatio is barely present; our young prince is on his own from much of the play and only when dialog requires it he appears, then disappears again. On the other hand, I once saw a staging of Hamlet at UF, by MFA students, which was excellently done: Horatio was given more action than his mere dialog suggests and he was given a sword. No one else had weapons through out the play, until the final scene. Therefore, whenever Hamlet needed a weapon he had to interact with Horatio first. In I.i. he takes by force Horatio's weapon when Horatio tries to stop him from following the ghost. Later when Hamlet asks Horatio what he thought of the kings reaction to the play, Horatio hands Hamlet the sword he will use when he kills Polonius. By the end of that production Horatio is a wounded name. He has followed Hamlet into hell, and lives on after. Horatio became one of my favorite characters during that play.

JM said...

Hamlet can trust no one around him, but he trusts Horatio.There must be a reason for this.

Not surprisingly, once again, some answers can be gleaned from the language and Shakespeare's pronoun usage. Hamlet, from the very beginning scenes, refers to Horatio in very intimate terms (for a Prince to a Subject) using the familiar 'you'/ 'your' when addressing Horatio. He's distracted when he doesn't 'recognize' Horatio--then says "...or I do forget myself." I don't think that statement is mere social propriety. I think it states just how close they are to one another.

As to pronouns, in essence, Hamlet brings himself down to Horatio's level but, in doing so, also shows great respect by elevating Horatio's status-- i.e. refers to him as his friend and equal. Any unfamiliarity would preclude this.
What's clear to me from Hamlet's "Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man as e'er my conversation coped withal..." is that he knows Horatio better and somewhat more intimately than he would a mere acquaintance.
And the switch to 'thou' in this speech shows both intimacy and great seriousness. He also reveals things about himself that he feels he lacks; things Horatio has naturally in his character. Hamlet now speaks from his position of authority and means to be taken absolutely seriously in complementing Horatio and denigrating himself. This pronoun switching wouldn't be lost on the character of Horatio. Nor would it be lost on the audience.