Tuesday, September 16, 2003
The Lion King

The Lion King

Hamlet and the Myth of Happy Vengeance

Disney does a knockoff of Shakespeare and gives Hamlet a happy ending.

By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) ::: philms ::: ::: Read the whole thing



Just some clarifications to potential commentors:

1. The article is not about whether or not we should have engaged in wars with Iraq and in Afghanistan.

2. The article is about the mindset revealed by our entertainment and political rhetoric, and what’s dysfunctional about it.

So there you go :)


Posted by Jim Rovira on 17 Sep 03 at 02:13 PM

Not so fast Jim:

YOU may get to write the interpretation.
But WE get to interpret your interpretation.

Or what’s a Metaphilm phor?


Posted by publisher on 18 Sep 03 at 02:15 PM

heh :)

let me qualify your correct observation a bit:

1. I get to write my interpretation.
2. WE get to interpret my interpretation.

I’m a reader too, you know. :)


Posted by Jim Rovira on 18 Sep 03 at 02:22 PM

How can tLK be a myth of happy vengeance when you say that vengeance doesn’t play a motivating role?

And you’ve got Hamlet all wrong.  It’s not about the futility of vengeance.  It’s about the futility of everything BUT vengeance.  In the great soliloquy in IV.iv Hamet answers his earlier, more famous soliloquy from III.i as he watches Fortinbras’s army storm into Poland, Hamlet is essence says, what am I doing sitting here on my duff while the world gets about its futile mission?  I’ve got a job to do and I’ll be damned if I don’t do it!  So “from this time forth, My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth!”  Think of Polonius throwing all his books into the water at the end of the Tempest. 


Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 18 Sep 03 at 05:15 PM


Thanks much for the response.  I think in both cases we need to distinguish between the overall effect of the film/play, and the attitudes of specific characters within it at any given time.

So I would say there’s a difference between Simba’s initial motivation to return to his homeland (the bad state of it all as a result of Uncle’s rule), and the “message” being spoken of by the film as a whole.  The message would be, at least in part, that Simba’s vengeance on his Uncle was an unqualified “good” carried out without any negative results.

Same with Hamlet.  Remember I described the -play’s-  possible effect on its audience as being “of the futility of vengeance.”  The character Hamlet’s attitude, at any given point in the play, is beside the point.  No matter what growth or development Hamlet himself may have went though, he still wound up dead. 

So the major point of different to me was that there’s no overall redemption in Hamlet (the play) through vengeance that’s parallel to the redemption through vengeance in Lion King.  Vengeance in Lion King made everyone happy in the end, vengeance in Hamlet killed everyone off. 

World of difference.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 18 Sep 03 at 06:14 PM

Jim, how can the message of tLK be that Simba’s vengeance was good when it wasn’t vengeance?

Hamlet’s attitude doesn’t matter?  Please!  The point of Hamlet is that everyone will always be killed off.  Everyone progresses from King to the belly of the worm.  Now that circle of life thing would be a much more interesting parallell between the two to explore.  But if you’re reading Hamlet as a moral tale where we all learn not to seek vengeance because everyone ends up dead, you’re way off.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 18 Sep 03 at 06:43 PM

Harry, I think you should carefully read me before you uncarefully disagree with what I’ve said.

“Jim, how can the message of tLK be that Simba’s vengeance was good when it wasn’t vengeance?”

I don’t know if you’ve seen the film, but Simba’s initial motive to return to his homeland was to take his rightful place as King.  He returned, confronted his Uncle, had to fight with him, his Uncle thought he had him beat, then confessed he killed Simba’s father.  Simba, in response, was strengthened by his anger at his Uncle’s murder and defeated him.

My point was about plot structure, though, not about individual motivation.  The plot structure is that revenge was taken on the Uncle for his murder of his brother and his usurpation, and as a result of successful revenge the land was restored and all was made right.  Simba’s individual motivation at any point along the way is beside the point—from the -audience- point of view, the murdering Uncle got what he deserved. 

It’s the message communicated (not the “moral”—the “moral” of a story has to do with conscious intent, usually) at that level that I’m addressing.  In most films, we only care that the bad guy gets it in the end.  It doesn’t even really matter that the good guy kills him; in fact, in many films, the bad guy dies rather inadvertently, not as a direct result of the good guy killing him.  Remember the movie _Ghost_?  Swayze’s character didn’t kill the bad guy—a broken window slid down into him, killing him.  But it doesn’t matter if Swayze killed him or not, or if he meant to kill him or not.  It only matters that he was killed.  With the death of the bad guy, with successful revenge, all evils are removed and the characters can move on, can live “happily ever after” so to speak.

That’s the plot element I’m trying to point out, as well as the mindset behind it.

“Hamlet’s attitude doesn’t matter? Please!”

It doesn’t matter to the point I am making, nor to the approach to the play I am taking.  That should be evident at this point.  The plot structure of Hamlet, at the level I am speaking of it, is completely opposite The Lion King on this point.  You sound like you’re expecting me to do an analysis of Hamlet.  I had no such intent.  My intent was to compare Hamlet to TLK at one specific point only, described above.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 18 Sep 03 at 11:21 PM

My reply to Harry had to be broken up into two sections because of length.  This section deals with the latter end of his response; the meat of it is down below.

“The point of Hamlet is that everyone will always be killed off. Everyone
progresses from King to the belly of the worm.”

If the point of Hamlet is that we all die, then Shakespeare was wasting his time and we’re wasting our times reading it.  Surely you don’t mean this.  I don’t need Shakespeare to tell me were all going to die.  Tragedy has a lot more going on than this.  I think you know this.

“Now that circle of life thing would be a much more interesting parallell
between the two to explore.”

I’m not sure what you mean.

“But if you’re reading Hamlet as a moral tale where we all learn not to seek vengeance because everyone ends up dead, you’re way off.”

If you read me as saying that, you’re way off :).  I think my post below will explain this in more detail, but here’s an abbreviated version of the -sole- significant comparison that I’m making between TLK and Hamlet:

In TLK, the bad guy is killed (successful vengeance) and all is completely restored.  I don’t even recall a, “I wish my father was here to see this.”  Just the happiness and full restoration brought about by the death of the bad guy.

In Hamlet, the bad guy is killed, but we don’t live happily ever after.  In fact, all the “good guys” are dead too, even many innocents (such as Ophelia—what purpose did her death serve?  It’s simply a tragic consequence of the chain of events initiated by the murder of the King).  So in Hamlet, vengeance isn’t a cure all, at least as far as the story works out.

A little more detail below, though.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 18 Sep 03 at 11:27 PM

I defy augury!  I defy Jim!

Hehe.  Jim, you aren’t demonstrating a strong grasp of tragedy here.  Hamlet is not a morality play.  And yes, the “point” (if Shakespeare can be said to have a point) is that tragedy is all there is, so one may as well embrace it.

“ If it be now,
‘tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the
readiness is all: since no man has aught of what he
leaves, what is’t to leave betimes?”


So what are you doing with this article, Jim?  Contrasting two different incorrect “messages” taken away by incompetent audiences?  Look, you yourself admitted in the body of your piece that Simba was not motivated by revenge!  tLK is not about vengeance!!  Your comparison cannot work even on this very basic level.  But ask yourself, why wasn’t it about vengeance?  I mean, yes, tLK was ripping elements off from Hamlet, but its real failure is not in portraying “happy vengeance,” but in portraying a world entirely DEVOID of vengeance.  The “ghost” in tLK doesn’t do his job.  Why the hell didn’t ol’ Mufasa tell his kid, “Listen son, that no good SOB brother o’ mine killed me, took my woman, and blamed it all on you.  It’s up to you to give that Bastard what he has coming to him!”

I mentioned the circle of life parallel you could have played up.  Consider the key conversation between Hamlet and Claudius in IV.iii.  Also, note the importance of the cyclical return of Fortinbras the Younger at the end of Act V. 

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 19 Sep 03 at 09:43 AM

Hey, who bleeped me!

Censorship, censorship!!!  Ak!  What’s this world coming to?  Can’t even get in a good curse anymore.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 19 Sep 03 at 09:45 AM

Harry, you need to begin by demonstrating a strong grasp of -me- if you want to issue a valid critique of my ideas.  You’re missing me, man :).  At least partially. 

Just to answer a housecleaning message, I think the comments are set up to automatically bleep certain words.  It’s pretty funny—even some relatively innocent words (in context) that may be not so innocent (in another context) get bleeped.

Such as “screwed,” I think.  S-c-r-e-w-e-d. 

Anyway, I’d say you’re misunderstanding me at this point:

“Look, you yourself admitted in the body of your piece that Simba was not motivated by revenge! tLK is not about vengeance!! Your comparison cannot work even on this very basic level.”

I said in my previous response that Simba’s -initial- motivation for return wasn’t vengeance, but in the course of his battle with the Uncle he became motivated by vengeance.  But it’s possible for a play/film to be “about” vengeance without one of the main characters being motivated by vengeance.  I feel like you didn’t really read my last two responses very closely here. 

I’m not commenting too much on tragedy at all. The message of “tragedy,” by the way, is never that “tragedy is all there is.”  And that’s certainly not Shakespeare’s message—haven’t you read the comedies? 

Anyway, you’re closer to approaching my point here:

“Contrasting two different incorrect “messages” taken away by incompetent audiences?”

There ya go :).  We can argue about the competence of the audiences, but that’s much more closer to the point.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 19 Sep 03 at 02:27 PM

Harry—I’m going to be leaving for the weekend, so probably won’t be able to respond to you again till Monday.  I’m thinking what I say in this comment, along with my previous comment, may clear things up quite a bit.

I was mistaken in my comment below (and any other comment) by implying or saying that either Hamlet or TLK is “about” vengeance.  Vengeance is a part of both work, but neither necessarily revolves around the theme of vengeance (Hamlet could more credibly be said to do so, though, since so much of the play is taken up with Hamlet’s indecision about when, where, and if to take vengeance on his uncle).

My point in the article was to contrast two very similar stories and talk about how the differences in the late 20th cent. version of the story tell us something about late 20th cent. US audiences, their attitudes and expectations, and perhaps demonstrate how this attitudes permeate our society on other levels.

The most significant difference between the 20th cent. US version of Hamlet and Hamlet itself has to do with the outcome of vengeance, on a plot level, in each work.  In the older work, vengeance is not a solution, really.  Hamlet does successfully kill his murderous uncle, but many innocents are killed, Hamlet is killed, and the kingdom is ultimately lost.

In the 20th cent. version of the story, the act of vengeance is fully successful (even if the act wasn’t vengeance on Simba’s part, the audience would interpret the act as the Uncle getting his just desserts—as successful revenge. Simba’s intention is immaterial, although it did indeed become vengeance during the final battle).  The kingdom is purged of all evil, the kingdom is fully restored, and the circle of life is complete once again.

So the difference is that the act of vengeance in the old story doesn’t really accomplish anything but the death of the guilty, while the act of vengeance in the new story accomplishes -everything-, just as US audiences expect it to.

Get it?  That’s the point.  It doesn’t matter if the plays are “about” vengeance, it just matters that vengeance is a theme in each work, and that this theme is treated differently. 


Posted by Jim Rovira on 19 Sep 03 at 02:47 PM

I found the Lion King to also be much like MacBeth, with Scar being MacBeth, Mufasa sharing the role of Banquo and King Duncan, and Simba sharing the role of MacDuff and Fleonce.  Scar’s mudering of Mufasa is obviously a direct murder like the murder of King Duncan, but the ATTEMPTED murder of Simba is pulled off by “hired thugs(hyenas)” just like the murder of Banquo from which Fleonce escaped.  The Lion King simply compressed the timeline, as Fleonce did not return in MacBeth, but was left with the prophecy that he and/or his descendants would become kings.  Also, another parallel was that the Shakespearean audience would have believed in a concept known as the “great chain of being,” (or, as Disney calls it in this movie, the “Circle of Life,”) by which if the natural order were disrupted, chaos would ensue.  This is apparent in MacBeth with the line that refers to horses eating each other, and with the Lion King in the hyenas’ taking over of the Pridelands.  Be it MacBeth, Hamlet, or whatever, it is obvious that this movie took much of its philosophical standpoint from Shakespeare.

Sam N.
Sophomore, TSU

Posted by Sam N. on 31 Oct 03 at 10:35 PM

Not even really a knock-off of the Bard, more of a rip-off of a Japanese anime Kimba the White Lion.  Take a look at that show and maybe you can connect it with the Bard.

Posted by auckie on 08 Mar 04 at 01:36 PM

Ha!  I remember watching “Kimbaa the White Lion” when I was a kid in the 70s.  Thanks for the reminder.

I’d like to respond to this and the MacBeth post, though:

What I’m arguing for is really nothing more than similarity of plot—in other words, if you compare the story of Hamlet, beginning to end, with the story of Lion King, beginning to end, they’re essentially the same story, with a significant, telling difference in the ending of Lion King.  This really doesn’t have anything to do with characterization or specific plot devices. 

So I won’t argue that the Lion King shares a lot in common with some of the plot devices in MacBeth or the charaterization of Kimbaa (which may also have been influenced by Hamlet, but I don’t recall the story of Kimbaa), but the story of the Lion King is the story of Hamlet.  That’s all.  There are other meaningful comparisons to make with other works, though—not arguing with that.  Kimbaa is a good one :).  Thanks again for the reminder.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 08 Mar 04 at 02:09 PM

Just part of my anti-Disney knowledge.  I also think the reason Shakespeare appears as various inspirations is because he was telling stories that are very general and speak to the common myths of every person…not just a given hierarchy of learned scholars.  But I guess you can say that about the Bible, Sumerian mythology, and even Dr. Seuss.  Alas I digress, Kimba isn’t the only Disney film that “borrows” story.  Can’t wait to see what happens with the company now that Pixar is gone.

Posted by auckie on 08 Mar 04 at 11:02 PM

Yeah…Pixar was the best part of Disney these days, you know? 

Shakespeare had his sources too.  I think a good bit of Hamlet was ripped off from a play by Kidd, and of course he drew from histories and mythology.  But his language…man, that was all his own. 


Posted by Jim Rovira on 09 Mar 04 at 12:05 PM

Isn’t Comcast lined up to buy Disney now?  or did that fall through?

Sam N
Sophomore, TSU

Posted by Sam N. on 09 Mar 04 at 12:32 PM

Good question.  I know Disney’s board recently sidelined Michael Eisner…could be that was a precursor to a move like that.  I haven’t heard about a sale, though.  Haven’t been looking either, though.


Posted by Jim Rovira on 09 Mar 04 at 12:35 PM

The Lionking and Macbeth are similar in many ways. One of these being Mufasa and Duncan. Another being Simba and Malcolm.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15 Feb 07 at 03:11 PM

Mike Is COOL!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15 Feb 07 at 03:11 PM

The story of Macbeth by Shakespear was one of very complex proportions. Simba, in comparison to Malcolm, was seen as a very scared character. He is afraid of his uncle, and in Malcolms case, Macbeth. They both unrightfully hold the power to rule the land. It is simba’s job, as well as Malcolm’s, to undermine the king and take back his throne. This makes these two characters very similar. Macbeth, of course, is Scar, the evil uncle who kills the rightful king. In Macbeth, Macbeth kills king Duncan. They both have power already, one as the king’s brother and the other as the Thane of Cawdor. The stories are directly proportional and should be examined thoroughly if you do not agree with my perception of the relation of the two tales.

Dr. Stew Smith

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15 Feb 07 at 03:25 PM
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