In Shakespeare's Hamlet, why doesn't Horatio tell Hamlet of Ophelia's condition?
June 8, 2010 4:16 PM   Subscribe

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, why doesn't Horatio tell Hamlet of Ophelia's condition?

I've seen many production but I only noticed this tonight listening to the 1977 Old Vic production with Derek Jacobi.

Horatio knows about the effect Polonius’s death has had on Ophelia – it is he who convinces Gertrude that she should see her but has he told Hamlet?

There should be time between meeting him from England and their return to Elsinore.

The Danish prince is in good, if melancholic humour before his ex-girlfriend's funeral and whilst talking about Yorrick suggests not, in which case, why not?

Any scholarly suggestions?
posted by feelinglistless to Media & Arts (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: IIRC, I don't think Horatio is shown to know about the Hamlet-Ophelia relationship in its full effect. We assume he does, but recall that the last time Horatio is present when Hamlet interacts with Ophelia is the "mousetrap" scene, and Hamlet is not "romantic" toward her.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:18 PM on June 8, 2010

Best answer: Could be a lacuna in the text. Possibly Shakespeare didn't realize he didn't fill in this hole, OR possibly something was cut or not included as the text was changed in different versions or in revisions.
posted by pised at 6:33 PM on June 8, 2010

Best answer: Like Cool Papa Bell says, I'm not sure whether or not Horatio knows about the full extent of Hamlet and Ophelia's relationship. Or perhaps he thought that it would be kinder not to tell Hamlet about Ophelia, or because he hoped that she'd be better by the time they got back?

Horatio definitely doesn't know that she died though, right? And the next scene, after the whole mess at the grave, is Hamlet telling Horatio about the plot to kill him, which is kind of a weird transition.
posted by pecknpah at 7:27 PM on June 8, 2010

It's not clear that Horatio doesn't tell Hamlet that Ophelia's gone crazy; after his return from England, we first see Hamlet in the graveyard with Horatio. We don't know what they're doing there (although I like to think Hamlet's visiting his father's grave to gin up his nerve for what he knows he has to do).

Horatio certainly doesn't know that Ophelia is dead, as he's already left to meet Hamlet's ship by the time Ophelia's body is discovered. Hamlet also clearly doesn't know about Ophelia's death, as he remarks on the fact that the body's apparently a noble who committed suicide, but doesn't figure out who it is until Laertes refers to her as his sister. So Horatio may very well have filled Hamlet in on Ophelia's madness, only for both of them to be caught by surprise by the funeral.

Also, Horatio functions mostly as a plot device in the play. He's treated alternately as a foreigner and a native of Denmark, a learned scholar and a fellow student of Hamlet's, a visitor from Wittenburg and a trusted member of the court. He fulfills whatever function Shakespeare needs him to in the scene to move Hamlet forward, which makes assigning modern narrative logic to him a bit fruitless. He works a bit like the chronology of the play, which makes no sense if read literally.
posted by EarBucket at 11:14 AM on June 9, 2010

recall that the last time Horatio is present when Hamlet interacts with Ophelia is the "mousetrap" scene

For what it's worth, that's the last, and only one of two times that Hamlet interacts with Ophelia in the play at all (the other being the "nunnery" scene). We get a bit of what happens offstage described, but it's not clear from the text that they've had much of a relationship at all. We know that Hamlet's been sending her letters, and it sounds in Ophelia's mad scene like they've slept together, but that's all that the play is clear on. In performance, there's a wide range it can take, from a very passionate but doomed romance to a creepy Hamlet stalking a young, naive, virginal Ophelia. We don't get much indication that Hamlet feels responsible for driving her to madness--he seems to feel much worse about yelling at Laertes at her funeral.
posted by EarBucket at 11:22 AM on June 9, 2010

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