Arrow is Hamlet

Hear me out!

I’m not a huge DC fan, Marvel is much more my style. I’d never much wanted to check out Arrow, but when I saw it was on Netflix I figured it would be worth a shot. When I first started watching it, I thought it was basically Batman if his parents, or at least half of them, were alive. Further in (I’m about halfway through season 2) I realized it’s not Batman 2.0, it’s actually Hamlet. From what I can tell, that comes from the show’s deviations from the comic book plot, such as leaving his parents alive into his young adulthood, but I do feel it’s been done to great effect to draw in more viewers.

Arrow-Cast-Members-Tease-Season-4

Image via

Oliver QueenHamlet, obviously. The billionaire playboy returned from five years on an island (school), to set his city (kingdom) straight after the death of his father. He goes undercover as a superhero (madman) to try to draw out the corruption, and solve all woes. Meanwhile, he’s discovered that his mother has married his father’s friend and CFO (uncle) and the woman he loves, Laurel, is going a bit mental (Ophelia). Further into the first season, it became far more obvious the parallels that can be drawn between the two. He is regularly visited by his flashbacks of the island and his father asking him to right his wrongs (The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father).

Moira Queen – Queen Gertrude. Moira, just like Gertrude, was somehow involved/complicit in the death of her husband. While Gertrude is much more the complicit victim than Moira, the two are both women who control some sort of dynasty and fall victim to a man who wants the power for himself. Moira is much more involved in the troubles of the dynasty, trying to protect her family by playing an active role in the Undertaking. I haven’t finished the second season yet, but I’m starting to feel like they’re setting Moira up to meet much the same fate as Gertrude. It certainly makes for better TV if he loses both parents, just look at every superhero ever (but start with Batman).

Malcolm Merlyn/Walter Steele – King Claudius. This one was a bit trickier to find a parallel to because he is, in a way, played by two roles. Malcolm Merlyn is the scheming Claudius, the one who kills to take over the dynasty and the power. Merlyn is the corruption Oliver/Hamlet comes back to fix. However, in terms of the role of marrying Moira/Gertrude, Claudius is also Walter Steele. Walter is an odd double role; he is both Claudius, the new stepfather, and also Polonius, trying to figure out what the heck is going on with everyone. Which brings me to…

Quentin Lance/Walter Steele – Polonius. This is another shared role, the role of the person trying to figure out what Oliver/Hamlet is up to and the person trying to figure out what is going on with the dynasty. Lance is definitely Polonius, the father of Laurel/Ophelia and the person most determined to figure out the strange things going on with Oliver/Hamlet and also with the dynasty as a whole. Walter is also Polonius, also trying to discover what is going on with the dynasty and the corruption going on in the city, and the Queen corporation’s role in it.

Laurel Lance – Ophelia. For most of the season, I honestly felt like Thea Queen was the Ophelia of the story. Maybe she is, in a way, but as the story continues, Laurel becomes the clear Ophelia parallel. She’s been through so much, that she’s slowly starting to lose it a little. Oliver/Hamlet continues to try to push her away for her protection, but it only works to push her toward madness even more. Or, in Laurel’s case, substance abuse = madness.

John Diggle – Horatio. At first I thought this was a split role, but I just had second thoughts. Horatio is the moral compass and friend, confidant and accomplice, of Hamlet’s madness, and in this case no one fits the role better than John Diggle. Though not initially Oliver’s best friend, he quickly becomes his closest ally in all of his endeavors, including making sure that he stays grounded when he starts to act questionably. Tommy Merlyn may be Oliver’s best friend, but he better fits another role…

Tommy Merlyn – Laertes. Although he does not work directly against Oliver as Laertes does Hamlet, Tommy is a big reason for Oliver having an attack of conscience after the Undertaking and giving up the Hood. Laertes is motivated by the murder (or accidental killing) of Polonius, his father, and the madness of his sister, Ophelia. Tommy is motivated by the madness/love of Laurel and the deception and killings Oliver has committed as a vigilante. Just as Laertes dies after realizing the truth of Hamlet’s mad search for revenge, Tommy unfortunately meets the same fate after realizing the truth about his father, Malcolm, and his role in the Undertaking.

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Couldn’t resist it. Image via

Try as I might, I have been unable to find a parallel for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. And if I tried to link up some of the other roles, say Thea, Felicity, Slade, or Sara, I feel that I would be stretching the parallels or overlapping too much. I recall in one of the early episodes someone mentions that Oliver is like Hamlet, and I think this is all incredibly intentional on the part of the writing staff. It has certainly made the show more enjoyable for someone like myself, who had no knowledge of the source material before I started watching!

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2 responses to “Arrow is Hamlet

  1. Ha, brilliant. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been watching this (almost through Season 3 now) and was saying the other day how Shakespearian it felt. I think you got it!

    Liked by 1 person

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