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Hamlet and The Lion King: An In-depth Look on

Shakespearean Inspirations on Todays Entertainment


Oh yes, the past can hurt. But from the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from
it. (The Lion King, 1994)
Walt Disneys The Lion King manages to put on a faade of revenge and responsibility by
retelling the story of Hamlet by William Shakespeare through a childrens perspective. At
first glance, The Lion King looks like another childrens film with its plethora of talking
cartoon animals, goofy songs, and jokes, but, with the overarching themes of revenge and
responsibility playing a major factor in the movie, the comparison to Shakespeares most
memorable play, Hamlet: Prince of Denmark isnt unexpected. It might be hard to imagine
Shakespeares mature themes and complex characters being put successfully put into a
childrens film without completely ruining the meaning the original work but Disney does it
very eloquently. Both Hamlet and The Lion King share similar characters, plots, and themes
and the influence of Hamlet on The Lion King are evident throughout the entire movie.
Although both works are very similar, they are also different in many ways.
The first thing many noticed when comparing The Lion King and Hamlet is the striking
similarities between many of the characters. First and arguably most important is the
protagonist in both works. Prince Hamlet and Simba have so many different characteristics in
common. Both are the sons of a recently deceased king and the rightful heir to the throne of
their respective kingdoms. They also both have an uncle who takes over the kingdom after
the deaths of their fathers. Both also want to avenge the death of their fathers, whom they
both loved, respected, and admired a great deal, but end up running away from their
responsibilities in one way or another. They both experience extreme sadness when their
fathers die and find other ways to take their minds off of the horrible things that they have
experienced in the past. Both of their fathers appear to them as a ghost, compelling their acts
of revenge. They both also have strong emotional relationships with their mothers. Both of
these relationships take a turn for the worst after the deaths of their fathers as well. Another
thing they share is the final act of killing the uncle who killed their father and subsequently
put them through much suffering. Even so, with these numerous similarities, there are bound
to be countless differences. Apart from the obvious fact that Hamlet is a grown man and
Simba is a nave lion cub-turned adult lion during the movie, there are some things that are
different about these two princes. Hamlet delays his act of revenge on Claudius because of
his morale. He wanted to make sure Claudius actually killed his father before he acts. Simba,
on the other hand, didnt know Scar killed his father, therefore he couldnt act upon that.
Hamlet is also very bitter as a character; he is filled with sadness over his fathers death and
thoughts of revenge taking over his brain, sending him into madness. Simba, although filled
with sadness is still a sweet and agreeable character. Just as the main protagonists are very
similar, the antagonists of both works bear striking character resemblance. Both Scar and
Claudius are greedy for power and will do anything in order to receive this power. Scar and
Claudius both kills their respective brothers and take over the kingdom, instead of the rightful
heir. Following this murder, both uncles lie about what killed the king. Both characters are
ruthless and intimidating, using this characteristic to manipulate those around them into doing
what they want. Both uncles send their nephews away in order to ensure their safety. Both
also admit to their crime at some point during the plot. There are little differences between

Hamlet and The Lion King: An In-depth Look on


Shakespearean Inspirations on Todays Entertainment
the two evil, conniving characters. Claudius admits to his crimes and wishes for forgiveness,
as seen in the following quote: Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven. / It hath the
primal eldest curse upon t, / A brothers murder. Pray can I not (Shakespeare, Raffel and
Bloom, 2003). Scar, on the contrary, admits to his crime but not once does he seem to regret
his decision or desire forgiveness for what he did.
All of the above characters have a strong correlation to one another and they add to the plot
of both works which are also very similar but also very different. There are several critical
plot points that are the same but also very different. For instance, both the uncles kill the
father of the king but in different ways. Scar drops his brother off of the top of a rock and into
a stampede while Claudius poured poison into King Hamlets ear. Another plot point like this
is the death of both uncles. Hamlet stabs his uncle and then proceeds to make him drink the
poison he concocted to kill Hamlet. However, when Simba kills Scar he throws him off of the
top of a rock and into the mouths of the hyenas, who were once his allies. In a way, this is
Simbas way of making Scar drink his own poison. Scar used the hyenas to torture and
torment the remaining lions and lionesses of Pride Rock and in turn, Simba pushes him to
them to finish off the kill. Another scene is the apparition of the King. In The Lion King,
Mufasa appears to Simba in the sky pretty far into the movie. In Hamlet, King Hamlet
appears to Hamlet as a ghost in the woods in one of the first scenes of the play. Even though
they occur at different parts of the plot, both apparitions lead to a similar To be, or not to
be? (Shakespeare, Raffel and Bloom, 2003) scene. Hamlet utters the words before one of his
most famous soliloquies and during the soliloquy, he contemplates his place in the world and
whether he should live to fulfill what is expected of him or to kill himself. He chooses not to
kill himself but to fulfill his destiny. Simbas similar scene occurs directly after Mufasa
reminds him who he is and at this moment Simba chooses between his carefree life and his
rightful seat as king of Pride Rock. These plot similarities and differences add to the
emphasis on major themes in both The Lion King and Hamlet.
The themes that occur in both works are fundamentally the same as, so was the case with the
plot and characters. The significant themes addressed in The Lion King and Hamlet is
vengeance, leadership, and loss. The theme of vengeance develops significantly throughout
the storyline of Hamlet and more towards the end of The Lion King. In any case, both Hamlet
and Simba struggle with avenging the demise's of their fathers for various reasons. Simba
doesn't know who was responsible for his fathers death and is convinced that he was
responsible, while Hamlet wants to ensure that Claudius really did murder his dad before he
settles on any thoughtless decisions. This theme is integral to the plot of both storylines since
it contributes intensely to the resolution. Although both works end in two different ways,
vengeance drives the characters to this ending and resolves the real difficulties they faced.
The topic of leadership is exceptionally critical in both works from beginning to end. In The
Lion King, Simba learns as a young cub that he will one-day rule over Pride Rock and that it
will require a large amount of responsibility for him to carry. Hamlet, on the other hand,
knows about his inevitable responsibility of controlling the kingdom yet continues on running
from his responsibility by delaying his revenge for the death of his father. Both Hamlet and
Simba stray from their responsibilities but after bearing several different conflicts and

Hamlet and The Lion King: An In-depth Look on


Shakespearean Inspirations on Todays Entertainment
interruptions, they both come back to their kingdom prepared to go up against their uncles
and acknowledge the responsibility that has been bestowed upon them. The last theme that
develops throughout both The Lion King and Hamlet is loss. Loss is evident from the
beginning of Hamlet and from the death of Mufasa. The protagonists deal with extraordinary
loss with the deaths of their fathers and they both grieve vigorously over their loss. In the
wake of losing their fathers, they both additionally lost the close relationships they had with
their mothers and their sense of responsibility. These themes help develop the characters and
plots of both The Lion King and Hamlet and because of this, they are essential parts of both
stories.
Although they are different in several ways, it would be almost impossible for one to miss the
influence of Shakespeares Hamlet on Disneys The Lion King. This affirms the fact that
Shakespeares works have and will continue to inspire entertainment for years upon years.
The Lion King takes the characters, plot, and theme of Hamlet interpret them in such a way
that a child can understand them, without the true meaning of the original work being
misconstrued or destroyed. This is evident in their countless striking similarities while both
continue to be unique in their own way.

Hamlet and The Lion King: An In-depth Look on


Shakespearean Inspirations on Todays Entertainment
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