A Hamlet timeline – chronicle of events

      Setting the Timeline – considerations

Claudius – planning my foul murder

King Hamlet's funeral – where was Hamlet?

Gertrude & Claudius – adultery or not?

Horatio – Hamlet's friend?

Horatio – is he passion's slave?

Polonius – the evil that men do

Ophelia's love? – did she love Hamlet?

Ophelia closetted – Polonius on love

      O help xxx ....... – Olivier's version

Ophelia's change – is Hamlet suspicious?

Hamlet feigns madness – protective "cover"

Is Hamlet mad? – Polonius's opinion

Hamlet kills Polonius – stabs the "Voice"

Laertes on Ophelia – madness & death

Ophelia's death – a recipe

Hamlet's age – digging up the past

Yorick – something rotting in Denmark

Betting on Hamlet – the fencing match

Hamlet's fencing skill – better than Laertes

Horatio — that is not passion's slave?

Witness for the Prosecution

If Claudius ever came to trial his defence council would, without any difficulty whatsoever, destroy Horatio's credibility under cross-exam­ination. Horatio would be exposed for exactly what he is: unreliable, evasive, and not particularly bright.

Horatio is evasive!

Hamlet asks Horatio why he has returned from Wittenberg. Before Horatio can reply Hamlet breaks off to greet the others but then repeats the question. Horatio attempts a childish deflection but Hamlet asks another question and Horatio has to answer. Even this answer irks Hamlet who then suggests the real reason and this finally drags a more sober admission from Horatio.

Hamlet: And what make you from Wittenberg, Horatio? — Marcellus?
Marcellus: My good lord, —
Hamlet: I am very glad to see you. — Good even, sir. —
But what, in faith, make you from Wittenberg?
Horatio: A truant disposition, good my lord.
Hamlet: ..... I know you are no truant,
But what is your affair in Elsinore?
We'll teach you to drink deep ere you depart.
Horatio: My lord, I came to see your father's funeral.
Hamlet: I pray thee, do not mock me, fellow student;
I think it was to see my mother's wedding.
Horatio: Indeed, my lord, it follow'd hard upon.

Horatio's evasion of straight answers show him to be much the same as other courtiers. Compare the procrastination of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern:

Hamlet: ..... in the beaten way of friendship, what make you at Elsinore?
Rosencrantz: To visit you, my lord; no other occasion.
Hamlet: Beggar that I am, I am even poor in thanks; but I thank you; and sure, dear friends, my thanks are too dear a halfpenny. Were you not sent for? Is it your own inclining? Is it a free visitation? Come, deal justly with me. Come, come! Nay, speak.
Guildenstern: What should we say, my lord?
Hamlet: Why, anything — but to th' purpose. You were sent for; and there is a kind of confession in your looks, which your modesties have not craft enough to colour. I know the good King and Queen have sent for you.
Rosencrantz: To what end, my lord?
Hamlet: That you must teach me. But let me conjure you by the rights of our fellowship, by the consonancy of our youth, by the obligation of our ever-preserved love, and by what more dear a better proposer could charge you withal, be even and direct with me, whether you were sent for or no.
Rosencrantz: [aside to Guildenstern] What say you?
Hamlet: [aside] Nay then, I have an eye of you. — If you love me, hold not off.
Guildenstern: My lord, we were sent for.

Horatio is mistaken!

Denmark is expecting a Norwegian invasion. Two highly experienced watchmen are diligently performing their duties. Each says he has seen an apparition twice but Horatio repeatedly disbelieves them. While they are trying for a third time to convince him the Ghost arrives.

Marcellus: Horatio says 'tis but our fantasy,
And will not let belief take hold of him
Touching this dreaded sight, twice seen of us.
Therefore I have entreated him along,
With us to watch the minutes of this night,
That, if again this apparition come,
He may approve our eyes and speak to it.
Horatio: Tush, tush, 'twill not appear.
Bernardo: Sit down awhile,
And let us once again assail your ears,
That are so fortified against our story,
What we two nights have seen.

Horatio is not very observant.

A watchman's most acute faculty is his hearing. If the night is pitch black his hearing is all he can use. If there is moonlight, he will stay in the shadows, otherwise the enemy will see him and kill him. Once again he relies on his hearing. Horatio doesn't hear the clock strike but the watchman Marcellus hears it.

Hamlet: What hour now?
Horatio: I think it lacks of twelve.
Marcellus: No, it is struck.
Horatio: Indeed? I heard it not.

Horatio is not bright.

When Hamlet is told of the Ghost he does not argue against it but can accept the possibility of an apparition. Intellectually, Hamlet is way ahead of Horatio and he tries to expand Horatio's thinking.

Hamlet: There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Horatio is unreliable.

Ophelia is mad and the King orders Horatio to attend her. But does Horatio follow the King's orders? No! He goes off to meet Hamlet and while he is away Ophelia falls into the brook and is drowned.

King: Follow her close; give her good watch, I pray you. [Exit Horatio.]

To be fair, Horatio may have ensured that Ophelia was escorted during his absence. Both he and Gertrude each received a letter from Hamlet delivered by the sailors. Together, they may have agreed that Horatio go off to meet Hamlet while Gertrude watch Ophelia, hence, Horatio's absence and Gertrude's presence when Ophelia fell into the brook.

Horatio is an unreliable witness.

Just before "The Mousetrap" is performed Hamlet tells Horatio there is a scene that simulates his father's murder. He asks Horatio to note Claudius's reaction when the murder is played. He never mentions his mother's marriage. Horatio may, like everyone else, except Hamlet, simply accept the marriage as a normal event, even if he is aware that Hamlet was upset by it. Even then, Horatio would consider the murder to be of vastly greater significance, particularly as this is the only thing Hamlet mentions before the play. If Horatio sees any reaction whatsoever in Claudius he will automatically assume it is triggered by the murder. If Claudius reacts for some entirely other reason, say, Hamlet's snide reference to his marriage, Horatio is unlikely to realise that this may be the real cause of Claudius's agitation.

Hamlet: There is a play to-night before the King.
One scene of it comes near the circumstance,
Which I have told thee, of my father's death.
I prithee, when thou seest that act afoot,
Even with the very comment of thy soul
Observe my uncle ..... Give him heedful note;

Horatio is equivocal.

After the play, Horatio's answers are so vague that they say almost nothing:

Hamlet: O good Horatio, I'll take the ghost's word for a thousand pound! Didst perceive?
Horatio: Very well, my lord.
Hamlet: Upon the talk of the poisoning?
Horatio: I did very well note him.

Though this might seem to be proof that Claudius did something to cause Hamlet to believe "The Mousetrap" had proven the murder, this is far from being a proof! Hamlet has asked Horatio a pair of leading questions and that's not valid. A leading question suggests its own answer, in effect putting words into the mouth or thoughts into the mind of the witness. No court or judge allows such questions to be asked let alone incorporates them in a proof of guilt. Hamlet's leading questions will influence Horatio to think the way Hamlet is thinking. We won't know for sure what Horatio saw or what HE was thinking. Elsewhere, Hamlet asks leading questions of others which clearly demonstrate their unwholesome influence. Both Polonius and Osric are apparently overawed by Hamlet's royal status and respond to his leading questions by agreeing with whatever he says, however ludicrous:

Hamlet: Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
Polonius: By th' mass, and 'tis like a camel indeed.
Hamlet: Methinks it is like a weasel.
Polonius: It is back'd like a weasel.
Hamlet: Or like a whale.
Polonius: Very like a whale.
Hamlet: Then will I come to my mother by-and-by.
— They fool me to the top of my bent. —

Osric: ..... it is very hot.
Hamlet: No, believe me, 'tis very cold; the wind is northerly.
Osric: It is indifferent cold, my lord, indeed.
Hamlet: But yet methinks it is very sultry and hot for my complexion.
Osric: Exceedingly, my lord; it is very sultry, as 'twere – I cannot tell how.

Can it be said with any certainty that Horatio is not also in awe of his illustrious friend? Despite Hamlet's remark, 'Nay, do not think I flatter;' can we be sure that Horatio remains uneffected by Hamlet's unqualified esteem?

Horatio: Here, sweet lord, at your service.
Hamlet: Horatio, thou art e'en as just a man
As e'er my conversation cop'd withal.
Horatio: O, my dear lord!
Hamlet: Nay, do not think I flatter;
For what advancement may I hope from thee,
That no revenue hast but thy good spirits
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter'd?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee
Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath scald thee for herself. For thou hast been
As one, in suff'ring all, that suffers nothing;
A man that Fortune's buffets and rewards
Hast ta'en with equal thanks; and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for 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.

With Hamlet's glowing praise ringing in his ears, is Horatio likely to deny the certainty of Hamlet's conclusion and say he is not sure of what he saw? In response to Hamlet's leading questions Horatio doesn't say anything definite. What he answers to the first question and what he answers the second question are very similar and don't commit him to anything. He might just be responding the way he thinks Hamlet wants him to respond. That is one of the dangers that arises when leading questions are asked. Hamlet could easily have found out what Horatio saw without asking leading questions. The final answer, when it comes, may be a surprise, and may be quite different to what was expected, but it is likely to be the truth. Here are two possibilities:

Hamlet: Didst perceive?
Horatio: Very well, my lord.
Hamlet: And what did you perceive?
Horatio: I did very well note him.
Hamlet: And what did you note about him?
Horatio: He became agitated, started shaking,
got very angry and his eyes were bulging.
Hamlet: And when did you note him so?
Horatio: Upon the talk of the poisoning.
    Hamlet: Didst perceive?
Horatio: Very well, my lord.
Hamlet: And what did you perceive?
Horatio: I did very well note him.
Hamlet: And what did you note about him?
Horatio: He became agitated, started shaking,
got very angry and his eyes were bulging.
Hamlet: And when did you note him so?
Horatio: When you disparaged their marriage.

Neither Shakespeare nor Hamlet is a lawyer (thank God!) nor has Shakespeare written a 'whodunit'. It is utterly brilliant of Shakespeare to have Hamlet ask leading questions! It means that nothing Horatio said can be considered as 'beyond a reasonable doubt' and thus cannot be used in determining the guilt of Claudius. Regardless of whether Claudius is guilty or not, Hamlet is completely mistaken in thinking that he has proven him guilty.

Horatio remains loyal to Claudius.

Again and again we find that experts believe Horatio's response to Hamlet after "The Mousetrap" assists in proving Claudius's guilt but will it stand up to examination? It seems doubtful, for Horatio remains loyal to Claudius and continues to serve him as a courtier. Claudius gives him an order and he instantly responds:

King: Follow her close; give her good watch, I pray you. [Exit Horatio.]

It is clear Horatio does not think Claudius is guilty of anything. When Ophelia goes mad he warns Queen Gertrude to speak with Ophelia:

Horatio: 'Twere good she were spoken with, for she may strew
Dangerous conjecture in ill-breeding minds.
Queen: Let her come in.

This proves Horatio's loyalty and his deep concern that some of Claudius's subjects might be dreaming up things to threaten him. It is about two months since Hamlet left for England and it is evident that Horatio must have always believed Claudius to be innocent and that Hamlet had talked nonsense. A couple of days after giving his warning to the Queen, he meets Hamlet and reads the commission ordering Hamlet's death. Only then does he come to the realisation that Claudius is a villain:

Horatio: Why, what a king is this!

Horatio is hot-headed.

Near the end of the play, Horatio attempts suicide but Hamlet forcibly stops him.

Horatio: I am more an antique Roman than a Dane.
Here's yet some liquor left.
Hamlet: As th'art a man,
Give me the cup. Let go! By heaven, I'll ha't.