Sons of Anarchy part one: Connections to Hamlet.

I was intrigued from the moment I first witnessed the promo for season one of Sons of Anarchy. A deputy police officer driving down a two line highway with a biker riding next to him in the opposing lane. The biker argues with the police officer of the freedoms of being an American. The biker was Jackson “Jax” Teller played by British actor Charlie Hunnam. The officer played by Taylor Sheridan is Deputy Hale. The ad served it’s purpose and drew a lot of viewers, but it was the spectacular writing, and superb acting that made this show the highest rated show in the history of the FX network. I plan to write many articles about the show including a complete series retrospective from season one to season 4 (the present season) and continue writing as the show progresses. For now however I want to touch base on the fact that the show is based on the Shakespearean play “Hamlet”.

Years ago when I had first heard that the show was based on Hamlet I kind of laughed it off. I thought the badass show about a motorcycle club was way too cool to be based on Shakespear. I had never read or seen the play. In fact I believe I have only ever seen Romeo and Juliette, and I have kind of read Macbeth. What I knew of Hamlet I learned from the Simpsons and it was so campy and ridiculous that I brushed it off. However series creator Kurt Sutter has spoken on record many times and indeed the show is based on Hamlet.

Now without spoiling to much of the show for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, or are a little behind I am going to point out the connections to Hamlet in a broad complete picture aspect and not go into great details about the show. The reason I decided to do this was because season 4 of sons has thrown me through a loop. It’s so gritty and intense it compelled me to learn about Hamlet just to try and figure out what’s going to happen next. I am also not going to go into great detail on Hamlet either. It is the longest of all of Shakespeare’s plays, and is really confusing to try and wrap your head around it in a brief read online. So here is a wiki link for Hamlet. This is where I did my research to better understand the direction of the show.

Hamlet is the story of a prince who’s father died, and his Uncle married the Queen and became King. Eventually Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his father. The ghost tells Hamlet that he was murdered by his brother, (hamlets uncle) Claudius by poison. Hamlet swears to avenge the death of  his father. Before I go further lets take a look at some similarities between Sons and Hamlet.

Jax is Hmalet. The main character of the show. His father John Teller was president of a motorcycle club, but died an untimely death. Jax was always told it was because of a heart condition, but we see very early into the show some implications that suggest the current club president had killed John Teller. The first season is about Jax realizing that the club had gone down the wrong path. He had found an old journal of his fathers that had revealed John didn’t want to be an outlaw and run guns through charming.

The writings of John Teller, jounral/letters are the ghost of the king. Still haunting, trying to reveal the truth of his death.

Clay is Claudius. The name alone gives it away. In season four it has been confirmed that Clay killed John Teller. We still don’t know why. However he killed the president and married his old lady Gemma. This is right on path of Claudius who killed King Hamlet and married Queen Gertrude.

Gemma is Gertrude. The old lady/Queen/woman in charge. I believe Gertrude was unaware of the true reason of King hamlets death, and Gemma is kind of kept in the dark by Clay of the real reason of John Tellers death.

At this point it’s safe to say that Sons of Anarchy is pretty much Hamlet. There are more similarities to be discussed, but those are the main ones. Hamlet is courting a woman named Ophelia. She is the daughter of Polonius. Polonius is a trusted adviser to Claudius. Ophelia eventually believes that hamlet is not serious about her, her father is accidentally killed by Hamlet and she goes mad. Then she drowns.

So at this point I am reluctant to say that Tara, Jax’s old lady and father of one of his two sons is Ophelia. We know Tara was part of the club many years ago. She was Jax’s girlfriend and then got away from the life. She became a doctor and came home. Eventually gets back with Jax and reluctantly falls back into the lifestyle. We are not sure if her father had anything to do with the club so that also rules out Polonius as a character in Sons as well. However there are a few similarities. Tara has questioned many times (to a fault I think) if Jax is serious about her. Recently pointing out that she is the mother of his son etc. and that he better stay straight kind of stuff. She has recently had a hit put on her by Clay, but as it is she has not died.

Some other similarities are that Clay, much like Claudius puts hits out on his own club to save his ass. In season one he convinces the club that Opie is a rat and has Tig try to kill him. Tig ends up killing his wife Donna instead. Claudius puts several hits like this out mainly attempting to kill Hamlet, but others die instead.

A big plot point is Hamlet is that Hamlet begins doubting the ghost. He believes the ghost is lying to him about his murder. So he gets a group of actors to act out a scene in front of Claudius reenacting the ghosts account of his murder. When Claudius quickly leaves before the play finishes Hamlet sees this as a sign of guilt and begins trusting the ghost once more.

Something to this effect has not happened yet. Jax is still unaware of the true details of his fathers death. However Jax begins to doubt his father, when he learns that John Teller had a separate life and second family in Ireland. A girlfriend and daughter he kept from everyone. This can represent the loss of faith in the ghost. This is really the only thing I can tell from season 2 and 3 that relate to Hamlet. It seems like since the show was so popular they couldn’t rush the Jax vs Clay stuff. Jax does almost have sex with his half sister before they know they are related, and incest is addressed in Hamlet so this is yet another connection.

Eventually everyone dies.

Laertes Son to Polonius poisons the tip of his sword and stabs Hamlet. Gertrude drinks poison, Hamlet takes Laertes sword and stabs him with it poisoning him. Laertes admits to Hamlet that Claudius is responsible for everything and then Hamlet stabs and poisons Claudius. They all die and Horatio wishes to drink poison as well, but Hamlet stops him saying he will be the only one able to give the true account as to what happened. Hamlet names Prince Fortinbras of Norway as the probable heir to the throne, since the Danish kingship is an elected position, with the country’s nobles having the final say.

My best guess as to which other characters represent those in Hamlet are:

Polonius- Piney

Laertes- Opie

Rosencrantz, and Guildenstern- Tig and Chibbs

Yoirck the dead Jester- Uncer

Prince Fortinbras of Norway- Deputy Sheriff Eli Roosevelt

It’s really just one persons guess against another until this series concludes. However this is the best show on television and I am freaking stoked to be part of the fanbase.

Filed Under: Whats on TV?

avatar About the Author: I am a jack of all trades in show business. I am a writer, screen writer, Independent filmmaker, journalist, artist. I plan to apprentice in tattooing soon. I am a student at IUP, but am unhappy and about to drop out. I drink a gallon of tea per day. Love hockey.

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  1. Quite interesting, noble sir. A sincerely thought out article. Many movies and television shows have been based around some Shakespeare’s different works. I don’t have a list right now, but i’m sure there are a few.

    (I don’t feel like doing the research just for a comment. Google can do it for me.)

  2. avatar Mike Slag says:

    Opie = Ophelia. (Use your name connections)

  3. avatar jacob says:

    Opie is Ophelia

  4. avatar StaceyAdamz says:

    Now that we are in season 5, have your thoughts on who certain characters are in correlation to Hamlet changed? I’d love to see an update on this post

  5. avatar Bar Golf Will says:

    Opie is ophelia. Opie.

  6. avatar meesha says:

    Good analysis — one update though, clearly Opie and Piney are Ophelia and Polonius. Just like Ophelia who “failed to save herself” — Opie did the same. Piney’s connection as a trusted advisor to John is self-evident in that they were best friends. The plot thickens…

  7. avatar redebeth says:

    Opie is/was Ophelia.
    Piney is/was Polonius

  8. avatar Not Gertrude says:

    It should be apparent by now that Polonious was Piney and Ophelia was Opie.

    If the series follows the Hamlet format, everyone will be dead by the end.

    • avatar Not Gertrude says:

      In Hamlet it is Polonious’ daughter Ophelia that doubted Hamlet’s love and she ultimately killed herself. This was transferred to a male character as Opie is the son of Piney (Polonious) who ended up sacrificing his own life. There are other correlations as well. Not quite sure how the Tara character fits yet but she is not Ophelia.

  9. avatar BB says:

    A friend of mine and I recently blew our own minds by realizing the connection between SOA and Hamlet without knowing how much was already out there about this. Glad to see you draw the connection between Piney and Polonius as other sites have related Bobby to Polonius. We struggled with the Ophelia/Tara connection and even though there are some aspects that relate the two, I would say that Opie actually is more Ophelia than Tara. Think on it… it blew my mind.

  10. avatar Andrew Christy says:

    I can safely say that it was a true piece of short shortsightedness that I did not make the connection to Opie and Ophelia. Perhaps tha change in gender lead me to ignore it, but yes you all are correct. Op was clearly Ophelia.

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