The Theme of Friendship in Hamlet

Instructor: Michelle Acker

Michelle has a degree in English and a Master's in Education from Temple University. She has taught special education, 4th grade, and high school Communication Arts.

William Shakespeare's tragedy of ''Hamlet'' is about a prince who, while on the hunt for revenge, drives away all of his friends - all but one. In this lesson, we'll discuss what friendship looks like in ''Hamlet''.


Family Drama

The tragic tale Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is one of William Shakespeare's most popular plays - probably because it's packed with murder, revenge, madness, and good old family drama. Although written over 400 years ago, Hamlet's family is similar to one you'd see on a modern-day reality TV show - complete with a murderous, crown-stealing uncle; an oblivious, out-of-touch-mother; and an insane, suicidal girlfriend. Amidst all the family drama, Hamlet battles tragedy and mental health on his own, because - as we'll discuss in this lesson - maintaining friendships is not Hamlet's strong suit.

After a lot of betrayal and despair, all of Hamlet's relationships are in trouble, and he's lost most of his friends. However, amidst all the anger, sadness, and vengeance, or revenge, there is one friend who remains true - Horatio.

The Loyal Friend

We're introduced to Horatio in Act I Scene II, and it's immediately clear that he and Hamlet are old friends. Since we meet Horatio early on, we don't realize just how important Horatio's friendship will be. When Horatio enters the scene, Hamlet's spirits are lifted, and he remarks that he's glad to see him. Horatio appropriately greets the prince, calling himself his 'poor servant'; but Hamlet corrects him, saying, 'Sir, my good friend' - reminding Horatio that he's not just a prince, he's a friend.

Horatio: 'Hail to your lordship!'

Hamlet: 'I am glad to see you well: Horatio, - or I do forget myself.'

Horatio: 'The same, my lord, and your poor servant ever.'

Hamlet: 'Sir, my good friend'

Hamlet has such confidence in Horatio's friendship, that he confides in him his deepest secret - his plan to murder his uncle. Keeping this secret is a true testament, or proof, that Horatio is a loyal friend because Hamlet's uncle is also the new king of Denmark, and keeping such a secret could get him killed. After all, he knows that it's not the throne Hamlet's after; it's revenge. The new king, Hamlet's uncle, murdered his own brother, Hamlet's father, and then married Hamlet's mother less than two months later. Horatio sees that all of this is driving Hamlet mad, but doesn't turn against him and remains his only true friend.

A Friend from the Grave


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