What makes the greatness of a literary work, or, to put it more simply, what is a literary masterpiece? Creative works that have stood the test of time are considered the creations of masters. Creations tested by time - works that have not lost their topicality and esthetic value, are considered the production of genius. That is what one should remember analyzing a classical piece. It is especially true of classical drama.
“Hamlet, Prince of Denmark” is a five-act tragedy written by William Shakespeare about 1599-1601 (brittanica.com, n.d.). According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the play is adaptation of Gesta Danorum, Books III and IV, by Saxo Grammaticus, and Histoires tragiques, volume 5, 1570 – a free translation of Saxo Grammaticus by Francois de Belleforest (britannica.com, n.d.). The tragedy of Hamlet told by Shakespeare was the first portent of humanism. William Shakespeare himself is forebear of English literary language and precursor of Renaissance in English literature. State, governance, enlightenment, loyalty, honesty and faithfulness as they were and remain by now, these are what William Shakespeare’s Hamlet is about. The topicality of the play, eternal verities and themes make it interesting to the reader. Hamlet’s soliloquy is nowise a marker of madness. It is a confession of young soul, surrounded by putridness and lie. Hamlet’s hesitation is caused by the strong rejection and radical response towards any violence. Modern psychological doctrines base on the intimate sphere of personage’s life and suggest another explanation of Hamlet’s “antic disposition” (Shakespeare, I.V., n.d.) and hesitation, but I adhere to the classical viewpoint – where all the aspects of Hamlet’s psyche are investigated separately. On the whole, the play is the perfect illustration to what is happening to the world and the human soul at our days. This is a tragedy of minority that opposes the major force. This is the tragedy of progressive youth, whose freethinking was doomed to be put down with the heavy hand of the Middle Age. Finally, the play is the tragedy of loss, fidelity to the duty, integrity and real friendship.
Horatio is Hamlet’s university friend: a gentle, decent, enlightened and generous man. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also two friends of Hamlet’s. Hamlet made Horatio’s acquaintance in Wittenberg University. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are also friends of Hamlet, instigated by the new Emperor Claudius to spy on Hamlet. And if they question Hamlet’s sanity, Horatio does not. Thanks to Horatio, Hamlet gets to know about the Ghost disturbing the guards. Throughout the play Horatio is acknowledged to be Hamlet’s only faithful, loyal and unfailing companion. Hamlet proves that Horatio is the only whom he may confide in:
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. (Shakespeare, III.II, n.d.)
He is the only protagonist, who remains living. In the final scene Hamlet entrusts Horatio a mission of telling his story to the people of Denmark:
Of that I shall have also cause to speak, And from his mouth whose voice will draw on more; But let this same be presently perform'd, Even while men's minds are wild; lest more mischance On plots and errors, happen. (Shakespeare, V.II, n.d.)
Why Horatio? The best word for this character is honor. Midst the avarice, treason and decay, in the sun that “breed maggots” (Shakespeare, II.II, n.d.), Hamlet strives for virtue, justice, integrity and attempts to resist the evil.
Elsinore is a sort of microcosm. Horatio is a stranger to this enclosed space, not perverted by its evil. So is Ophelia, but she is a faithful daughter to her father Polonius, and a faithful sister to her brother Laertes. For the same reason young Fortinbras, Prince of Norway, is a new sovereign at the lands of Denmark – outlander to the throne means, first of all, reconciliation, pardon and the end of the long feud between Norway and Denmark; indirectly, it means the renewal and purification of the Danish people.