Halverson, John. “The Importance of Horatio.” Hamlet Studies 16 (1994): 57-70.


By analyzing the role of Horatio, this essay attempts to show that “Shakespeare had a much clearer and fuller conception of the part than is usually granted and that he developed the character with care and skill, though by extraordinarily minimal means, for a significant purpose” (57). Inconsistencies in this character receive clarification, using textual evidence (e.g., age, knowledge, relationship with Hamlet at Wittenburg). Although Horatio seems expendable in Hamlet’s plot development, “Shakespeare evidently thought him important enough to invent the character (probably) and have him dominate both the opening and closing scenes” (62). Horatio is also invested with the favorable qualities of learning, courage, loyalty, and candor; he appears as the “disinterested witness” (63), who speaks directly and “virtually compels trust” (64). The strong bond that Horatio forms with Hamlet encourages the audience to vicariously follow suit. Without Horatio, the audience would be suspicious of rather than sympathetic with Hamlet. Reducing Horatio to merely Hamlet’s foil/confidant belittles the importance of the role and Shakespeare’s artistry. Although “Horatio is more stageworthy than ‘text worthy’” due to his frequently silent-yet-important presence as witness (67), Shakespeare “created the role, and with few but sure strokes of his theatrical brush, endowed it with complete credibility” (68).

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Pennington, Michael. Hamlet: A User’s Guide. New York: Limelight Editions, 1996.


Framed by introductory and concluding chapters that narrate personal experience as well as insight, this monograph “is only in the slightest sense a history of productions”—“really imitating a rehearsal” (22). The first chapter focuses on the action by following the script “line by line” in the style of “a naive telling of the story” which can “often provoke a discovery” (22). As in “most productions,” the “script” is an “accumulated version”: a combination of elements “from the Second Quarto and the Folio and any number of later versions, with occasional mischievous forays into the First (‘Bad’) Quarto” (24). Act and scene designations are replaced by days to avoid confusion and “to draw attention to the fact that, while five separate days of action are presented, Shakespeare’s manipulation of ‘double time’ is so skilled that you can believe that several months have passed by between the beginning and the end” (23). The chapter on Hamlet’s characters comes second because one should not “make assumptions about character until the action proves them” (22). Characters are approached in groups, such as “The Royal Triangle” (Claudius/the Ghost/Gertrude) and “The Commoners” (players/gravediggers/priest). Then attention shifts to Hamlet. After discussing the demands of casting and rehearsing the role of Hamlet, the second chapter describes the excitement of opening night and the energizing relationship an actor shares with the audience. Although challenging, playing the role of Hamlet “will verify you: you will never be quite the same again” (193).

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Rosenberg, Marvin. The Masks of Hamlet. Newark: U of Delaware P, 1992.


Combining literary scholarship with interpretive performances, this monograph promises "a way to listen to and grasp the complex tones of Hamlet and the other characters" (x). Chapters follow the chronological order of the play, pausing to "discuss the important characters as they appear" (12). For example, the first chapter explores the opening scene's setting and events, as well as the variations staged in performances; the examination of this scene is briefly suspended for chapters on Horatio and the Ghost but continues in chapter four. This monograph clarifies dilemmas and indicates "the choices that have been made by actors and critics," but its actor-readers must decide for themselves (xi): "I believe this book will demonstrate that each actor-reader of you who engages with Hamlet's polyphony will uniquely experience the tones that fit your own polyphony" (x).

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All information Copyright © 2002-2007 Harmonie Blankenship
Contact the author at h.blankenship@hamlethaven.com