It happened when I was reading Ophelia Thinks Harder, a play which reinvents William Shakespeare’s Hamlet from the POV of Ophelia.
I was struck by how much this characterization of her reminded me of someone else – a character I had grown up with, and who I had always felt got the short end of the stick, not unlike Ophelia: Padmé Amidala from the Star Wars prequels.
Naturally, I couldn’t stop thinking about this and soon enough I was daydreaming about Anakin Skywalker as Hamlet himself and Obi-Wan Kenobi as Horatio. Then the idea for this article was born.
The parallels aren’t perfect; there’s no clear Star Wars characters to fit Gertrude (Anakin’s mother is nothing like her), Fortinbras, or Laertes, but I hope you enjoy this silly mash-up nonetheless! Plus, with the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death yesterday, this article is even more relevant!
Anakin Skywalker and Hamlet
Two young men who are ruled by strong, reckless emotions. Both Hamlet and Anakin have seen trauma and grief in their lives, and end up acting out in damaging and destructive ways, especially towards the women in their lives, Ophelia and Padmé. Arguably, Hamlet is a slightly more nuanced character, who is trying to expose corruption, while Anakin ends up murdering a bunch of Padawans and joining the corruption. Still, the parallels are definitely there.
Padmé Amidala and Ophelia
These two characters begin their stories with the world at their feet – one is a senator, the other a young noblewoman. They are beautiful and full of life, and wind up as tragedies in the environments around them, mostly thanks to politics and their leading men. Neither gets an ending that they deserve (except for in the case of Ophelia Thinks Harder, where Ophelia finds herself liberated), but they still manage to make long-lasting impressions.
Obi-Wan Kenobi and Horatio
Soft-spoken and reasonable, these characters act as the best friend and, largely, conscience to the leading men. Both Obi-Wan and Horatio are far more rational than Anakin and Hamlet, but still compelling characters in and of themselves. Furthermore, they also both have fascinating relationships with Padmé and Ophelia, especially in Ophelia Thinks Harder for the latter, where they explicitly develop romantic feelings for one another. These parallels of the two main trios are especially striking in both stories, and it makes me wonder if George Lucas wasn’t at least partially influence by the Bard.
Qui-Gon Jinn and King Hamlet
It’s easy to see the similarities between these two characters – both father figures to the male lead (one literally a father) who meet their demises, leaving our male leads without that specific type of guidance which could have shifted the entire story. While we’re far more familiar with Qui-Gon, it’s hard not to see how these two characters are related.
Palpatine and Claudius
Of course, what would a good story be without some type of villain or antagonistic force? While they do not occupy exactly the same roles, both Palpatine and Claudius are able to manipulate the situations and environments surrounding them, and wind up causing a lot of the tragedies and chaos that ensue. Palpatine starts a galactic war and gets Anakin to the dark side, while Claudius murders his brother, King Hamlet, setting off the chain of events which lead Hamlet down his path.
Count Dooku and Polonius
Count Dooku is definitely more effective than Polonius, and far more evil, but they both act as side characters to the antagonists and make some truly horrible choices throughout their stories. It’s easy to intensely dislike both of them.
R2-D2 and C-3PO and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern
Before I talk about this last parallel, let me say I am aware that this image of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are not from Kenneth Branagh’s Hamlet like the rest of the images, but I just couldn’t resist Gary Oldman and Tim Roth’s depictions, and they are largely the most famous and recognizable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
Anyway, this might be one of my favorite parallels, and the one that really sealed this article for me. Both pairs of characters are friends to the male leads, and end up as witnesses to everything that transpires. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern definitely have more ambiguous roles to play (whether they know the contents of the letter Claudius gives to them, Shakespeare never reveals), but they still act as a fun side-by-side comparison to our favorite droids. After all, it’s hard to just dismiss two sets of characters like these without drawing some conclusions.
What do you think of these parallels? What other Shakespearean parallels can you draw to Star Wars? Let us know in the comments!