He Lives In You: Hamlet and The Lion King

Hipster Simba is unforgiving

Shakespeare has influenced uncountable works of art over the years. One of my favorites is the influence of Shakespeare’s Hamlet on Walt Disney Pictures’ The Lion King. 

Hamlet and Simba, are driven to action through the memory of their father.  Though Hamlet and Simba both act on the advice their ghost fathers give them, the key differences between the two tales are in the advice.  The ghost of Hamlet’s father commands him to “revenge his foul and most unnatural murder” (1.5.25), meaning Hamlet must kill his uncle Claudius so his father can exit purgatory to enter heaven.  However, Mufasa’s spirit tells Simba to “remember who you are,” so he can take his place as the true king in the Circle of Life.  Both sons are obedient.  Hamlet eventually kills Claudius, along with most of the play’s cast, and Simba defeats his Uncle Scar to become king of Pride Rock.

Differences arise, however, in how how the princes go about completing their fathers’ wishes.  Hamlet is driven mad with the tragedy of his father and the trickery of his mother and uncle.  This madness causes him to become especially violent in trying to avenge his father’s death.  For example, he stabs Polonius (his girlfriend’s dad, by the way) through a curtain, thinking he is actually Claudius.  This violent mistake leads to the total ruin of Hamlet’s life, basically.  Though he succeeds in murdering his uncle and his mother, Polonius’ son, Laertes, avenges his own father’s death by killing Hamlet, causing the play to end in tragedy. Hamlet’s girlfriend Ophelia also kills herself along the way because Hamlet is supposedly acting like a complete lunatic, but actually becoming a complete lunatic. Simba, however, is not consumed with violence over the death of his father.  While Scar and Simba are fighting, Simba discovers Scar actually murdered his father.  Instead of killing him, Simba tells him to “run away and never return.” It is led to believe that the hyenas kill Scar.  Hamlet’s reactions to his father’s death lead to tragedy, while Simba’s reactions lead to hope.

The female roles align the least in the two works. While Gertrude takes up with her dead husband’s brother (and it’s believed they were having an affair before her husband’s death), Sarabi despises Scar’s malice and evil nature. Both Ophelia and Nala love their respected men, but Ophelia is driven to insanity when Hamlet is too consumed with taking out Claudius to notice her. Plus, he kills her father, which was probably a low point in their relationship. Nala, however, is strong and independent. Though she wants Simba to love her, her duty is to her pride no matter what happens.

Polonius and Zazu both serve as long-winded advisers, unaware/uncaring of their annoying personalities.

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Polonius, Shakespeare’s Hamlet

Other Shakespeare-inspired films: 

  • 10 Things I Hate About You, inspired by The Taming of the Shrew 
  • She’s The Man, inspired by Twelfth Night
  • The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride, inspired by Romeo and Juliet
  • West Side Story, inspired by Romeo and Juliet (obviously)