Who is Osric in Hamlet? - Character Analysis & Quotes

Instructor: Joseph Altnether

Joe has taught college English courses for several years, has a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies and a Master's degree in English literature.

Although he speaks few lines, they serve well to define Osric's character in Shakespeare's ''Hamlet''. Osric is nothing more than a man who serves at the court because he has money. He represents everything that Hamlet dislikes in the royal court.

The Text of Hamlet

There is some debate among scholars about how best to edit Hamlet for the reader. Two authoritative texts exist, but there are some differences between them. The first is Quarto 2, and the other is the Folio. Because of the slight discrepancies, it is important to note which version is being used, based on the editor's preferences. Whether the text is from Quarto 2, the Folio, or a blend of the two texts, with discrepancies noted in italics within the print, the general understanding of the play is not affected, but the role of Osric could be truncated. This analysis uses a text from both sources to capture the full role of Osric.

Courtier

As noted in the list of characters, one can see that Osric is mentioned as a courtier. What exactly is a courtier? A courtier would be similar to a personal assistant. They are available to the king or queen and serve to assist or even advise on certain matters. Osric seems to be around Hamlet quite a bit, likely at the request of King Claudius.

Osric attempts to explain who Laertes is to Hamlet. He begins by stating that Laertes is ''an absolute gentleman, full of most excellent differences…and of great showing.'' After Hamlet expresses his frustration with the conversation, Osric presents the king's wager on a battle between Hamlet and Laertes. The king ''hath laid…that in a dozen passes between you and him he shall not exceed you three hits.'' Osric finally gets around to completing his task on behalf of the king.

Later, Osric says he will ''commend my duty to your lordship,'' offering his services to Hamlet. He does so during Hamlet's battle with Laertes, confirming that Hamlet achieved a ''hit, a very palpable hit.'' Osric essentially serves as a judge or referee during the battle, calling misses as ''nothing, neither way.'' He even calls attention to the fact that the queen has fallen, informing both Laertes and Hamlet, ''Look to the queen there.'' In some regards, he seems to perform this duty with some competence.

Relationship with Hamlet

Hamlet does not appear to hold those in court in high regard. This may in fact influence how Osric is perceived. The most telling comment about Osric comes upon his first appearance before Hamlet. He asks Horatio ''dost know this water-fly?'' Horatio responds that he does not, to which Hamlet replies that Horatio's ''state is the more gracious, for 'tis a vice to know him.'' Apparently Hamlet believes that Osric is disagreeable to all who know him.

Hamlet further solidifies this with his comment of letting ''a beast be a lord of beasts, and his crib shall stand at the king's mess.'' Osric is a man ''of much land and fertile,'' but in Hamlet's opinion this doesn't mean he should have a place beside the king, much less at his table. Money doesn't make a man, according to Hamlet. Hamlet makes this point even further when he shows how malleable Osric is to persuasion.

Hamlet talks about the weather with Osric. He tells him he should put his hat ''to his right use; 'tis for the head.'' Osric thanks him and notes that '''tis very hot.'' Hamlet disagrees and indicates that '''tis very cold. The wind is northerly.'' When Osric agrees that it is cold, Hamlet disagrees and notes how ''it is very sultry and hot.'' Through this conversation, Hamlet shows that Osric will do and say whatever he thinks will make him most agreeable. Unfortunately, it makes Osric look foolish. Based on these exchanges, Osric comes across as a buffoon.

Conspiracy?

Osric appears to be out of place within the king's court. He is there because of his wealth, and tries to flatter those around him, but seems unaware that he is made to look foolish. A comment Laertes makes to Osric as he dies creates the possibility of scandal. Laertes reveals his role in the plot to kill Hamlet. He reveals ''as a woodcock to mine own springe, Osric. I am justly killed with mine own treachery.'' Laertes falls victim to his own trap, yet Osric says nothing. There is no sign of disbelief.

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