Article Title

Friendship in Hamlet


Robert C. Evans


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

In 1958, Harry Levin reported that in the previous sixty years a new item of Hamlet commentary had been issued every twelve days.1 By now the rate must be something closer to a new item every twelve hours or minutes. My chief justification for adding one more straw to the camel's back rests on the surprising fact that friendship--a crucial concern of classical and Renaissance thinkers-has not received much explicit or systematic attention as an important and pervasive theme in Shakespeare's great tragedy. Inevitably the topic is raised-usually in passing-in discussions of Horatio and of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, but it has not received much sustained exploration.2 My immediate purpose is merely to show that the theme of friendship does run throughout the entire play-that it appears even where it might seem present only slightly. While trying to establish its general importance, I also hope to focus on a few scenes and characters in some detail, as well as to discuss in broader terms how Shakespeare's concerns with friendship help enrich his tragedy.3 Hamlet seems at least in part a play that is very much about friendship: a play about finding, making, losing, and keeping friends. It explores, from numerous perspectives, one of the most significant and inherently complex of human relationships-a relationship particularly fascinating to Renaissance thinkers, for many of whom friendship (in the words of Clifford Davidson) "is not only a radiant ideal but is also an expression of a most necessary kind of good will that makes society cohesive."4

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