The Lion King and Shakespeare's Hamlet: Similarities and Differences

Updated on February 6, 2018
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bangell08 is an English major at University of Akron in Ohio. Writing is her passion, which she plans on pursuing for a career.

"Hamlet" versus "The Lion King": What are the similarities and differences?
"Hamlet" versus "The Lion King": What are the similarities and differences? | Source

The Lion King is one of my favorite "classic" Disney films; I'm sure many people out there feel the same. It is a fun movie for both children and adults. But like most great works, it is both entertaining and meaningful.

In this article, I will specifically discuss how The Lion King connects to Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet and talk about the similarities and differences between the two.

Was The Lion King Based on Hamlet?


You may have heard the rumor that The Lion King was actually inspired by Hamlet; this rumor is true. It is confirmed in the 1994 special edition DVD release of the film, The Lion King: Platinum Edition. Creators have also stated that the story was partially inspired by the lives of biblical figures Joseph and Moses as well.

Comparing and Contrasting The Lion King vs. Hamlet

Lion King
Murderous uncle
X (in most interpretations, though might be a figment of Hamlet's paranoia/madness)
Important male friendships
Love interest
Father dies
Father appears in vision after death
Takes revenge on uncle
Deals with internal struggles/indecision
Father dies as a child
Happy ending
Most characters die
Moral Guides
Mother remarries
Plot-critical minor characters
Both the lives of Simba and Hamlet are profoundly changed by their uncles.
Both the lives of Simba and Hamlet are profoundly changed by their uncles.

Similarities Between the Lion King and Hamlet

Main characters are princes.

Simba is the main character in Disney's The Lion King. he is the son of Mufasa, the king of the lions, which makes Simba a prince. Hamlet, from Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark is the son of the dead King Hamlet, which makes him a prince too. Both princes are only sons and have no siblings.

Both have shady uncles.

In The Lion King, Simba has an evil uncle named Scar. Scar is jealous of his brother, Mufasa, and wants to be the king instead. Scar ultimately kills his brother to get what he wants. Hamlet also has an uncle, Claudius. At the beginning of the play, Claudius has already become king— possibly by killing his brother.

Close male friendships.

In The Lion King, Simba develops incredibly deep friendships with the ever-entertaining Timone and Pumbaa. The two friends support him while he is alone and in exile. They teach him how to enjoy life.

Hamlet has a friend from college, Horatio. Though Horatio does not have as big of an impact on Hamlet as Timone and Pumbaa have on Simba, he does help Hamlet on several occasions and can be considered a true friend. Hamlet also has two more peripheral friends, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, from university. However, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern quickly fall out of Hamlet's confidence when he realizes they are spying for Claudius.

One love interest.

Simba has a love interest named Nala. Simba and Nala were friends as cubs, but romance blossomed when they met again as adults.

Hamlet also has a love interest named Ophelia. There is much controversy about whether he truly loved her or was simply using her, but she is the only young woman in his life either way.

Both of their fathers die.

Both King Mufasa and King Hamlet die. Mufasa is murdered by his brother who usurps his throne. In the case of Hamlet, the events are a little less clear. Hamlet sees the ghost of King Hamlet who claims to have been murdered by Claudius, but it is also possible that Hamlet is slowly going crazy over the course of the play and that he is seeing things. Most interpretations assume the ghost is real and that his father was murdered, but it is never definitively resolved.

Both fathers reappear as ghosts.

Mufasa and King Hamlet both make appearances after death. Mufasa appears to Simba in the stars and tells him to take his proper place as king in the circle of life. Hamlet’s father appears as a ghost and urges Hamlet to take revenge on his uncle.

Sent into exile.

Simba is convinced by Scar to flee after his father's murder and spends a long time growing up with Timone and Pumbaa in exile. Claudius also convinces Hamlet to leave and travel to England, where he survives an attack by pirates.

Both battle their uncles and take revenge.

Simba fights with Scar, who ends up being killed by the hyenas. Hamlet kills his uncle with a sword and poisoned wine.

Internal struggle.

In The Lion King, Simba has to learn to step up and take his place as king instead of running from his past. Hamlet has overcome his indecision. He ultimately chooses to kill his uncle (a struggle that takes place in his famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy).

Simba lives a largely happy, carefree life for years after his father dies, unlike Hamlet.
Simba lives a largely happy, carefree life for years after his father dies, unlike Hamlet. | Source

Differences Between the Lion King and Hamlet

Simba is a child when is father dies, while Hamlet is an adult.

Simba is a young child when his father dies, whereas Hamlet is probably about 30. There is some debate about Hamlet's age in the play because he is often referred to vaguely as being very young, but his age is explicitly stated in Act V, Scene 1. In lines 147-149 the gravedigger says that he has held his position since King Hamlet overcame Fortinbras, and later in lines 152-153 he clarifies that this was the same day Prince Hamlet was born. Finally in lines 166-167 he states that he has held his position 30 years. So, if he started on the day Hamlet was born and has held the position for 30 years, Prince Hamlet must be 30 years of age.

Simba's story is a happy one.

Simba is sad when his father dies, but spends most of his time growing up in a happy, “Hakuna Matata” (♪ it means "no worries" ♪) lifestyle with Timone and Pumbaa.

Hamlet, on the other hand, is depressed and suicidal for most of his story, possibly with bouts of madness.

Hamlet has a tragic ending.

In The Lion King, only two characters, Mufasa and Scar, die. The rest live happily ever after once the circle of life is restored along with the rightful king. Simba and Nala even get married and have a baby.

In Hamlet, most of the characters, including all the main characters, die.

Simba receives moral guidance.

Simba has moral guides like Zazu and Rafiki to help him make good decisions. Hamlet does not receive any moral guidance, except the ghost’s call for revenge, which may be imagined and isn't very moral.

Sarabi never remarries.

Simba’s mother, Sarabi, and Scar do not get married after Mufasa's death. Hamlet’s uncle does marry Hamlet's mother.

The number of minor characters differs.

Hamlet includes "extra" plot-relevant characters who play minor roles. For example, Hamlet kills Ophelia’s father, Polonius, and fights her brother, Laertes. These are crucial events in the play that have no equivalent in The Lion King.


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    • profile image

      Nora Seville 12 days ago

      really good!

    • profile image

      Dan 3 months ago

      Yes but one could say that the differences is just to make the plot more child friendly.

    • profile image

      the best 3 months ago

      cool but i just don't get it

    • profile image

      sneezing man 4 months ago

      atsjoo, so much salt in the coments, that my nose started dripping.

    • profile image

      kasey 9 months ago

      ahem lion king is entirely ripped off kimba, this was debunked years ago..

    • profile image

      wren the bird queen 13 months ago

      hamlet is 30. The book specifically says it. Don't say things you don't know unless you have checked your facts. My senior honors English class spent 20 minutes arguing about this.

    • profile image

      Kitty 13 months ago

      I love The Lion King it's my favorite film! Thanks for making this it really helped with my work :)

    • profile image

      Imma 14 months ago

      Hamlet is not 30, he is about 18. He asks to go back to college because he's still in college and had come home for a visit.

      If this author didn't know that, than this article is useless.

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      commentor 16 months ago

      there is no fortinbras for the lion king! no outside forces, even. unless u count the hyenas.

    • profile image

      awesome 16 months ago

      u got it all wrong. a cloud and a ghost r diffrent things. (be scared of the clouds!!evil precipitation!!doesn't make sense!!)

    • profile image

      Thomas 16 months ago

      Great, but Edmond Rostand was far superior to William Shakespeare

    • profile image

      Karla 19 months ago

      In response to John who said, "comparing Lion King to Hamlet is like comparing Miley Cyrus to Beethoven" is missing the point. The blog writer is not comparing them -- Disney did. The Lion King was intentionally written as a modern telling of Hamlet. And while I agree it's not true to the original theme, tone, or intent, it is what it is. A borrowed plot line adapted to make a children's movie. I do agree with you on one point -- Shakespeare is the greatest playwright of all time. And Hamlet is one of his greatest works!

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      Jerry 23 months ago

      One might say that the hyenas represent rozencrats and guildenstin because they help the new king of scar/Claudius

    • DanaDoes profile image

      Dana Culverwell-Solomon 23 months ago from Port Alfred, Eastern Cape, South Africa

      Great find to come across. Being a fan of both Shakespeare and The Lion King; I had heard about The Lion King being comparable to Hamlet. However, I've never known about the exact details until now. Thanks for that

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      Mayte 2 years ago from Seville

      When I was 20 I had a class about this topic. It was amazing for me to see the similarities. A good teacher, showman and talented man in University of Huelva

    • profile image

      Natalie 2 years ago

      This information really helped☺ credits to whoever made this

    • profile image

      Jenavive 2 years ago


      Prides work that way. Do you know anything about lions?

    • profile image

      nameguy 2 years ago

      what about fortinbras?

    • profile image

      Carson 3 years ago

      Hamlet's father is not killed by Hamlet's Uncle, Claudius. He is killed by Fortinbras's father.

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      John 3 years ago

      Stealing a few plot points from Hamlet doesn't make it the same story. The Lion King is another lame misogynistic Disney story about women's inability to lead and society's need for an all powerful male ruler. The kingdom suffers famine until the "rightful" male heir to the throne is reinstated. He comes back and saves the day and all the she-lions love him. What a crock. Hamlet is about the inability of a man to take action and revenge the incestuous murder of his father. It's about insanity, melancholy and indecision. The Lion King is a childish hero story written by corporate hacks. Hamlet is a tragedy written by the greatest playwright ever to live. Comparing the 2 is like comparing Miley Cyrus to Beethoven.

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      David 3 years ago

      I would also say that both Mufasa and King Hamlet are benevolent rulers, and known to be the strongest and the greatest among men (or lions), and those who kill them both end up being ineffective rulers, especially Scar, and are physically and morally weak in comparison to the previous rulers.

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      Jamie 3 years ago

      I would equate timon and pumba to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. A pair of friends that are there to aid the main character with the dilemma. (In both cases an emotional problem.) But r and g die, but timon and pumba don't.

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      Jacob 3 years ago

      Just because he had to go back to school doesn't make him young in those times, the play indirectly mentions his age of about 30 in act five.

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      jj 3 years ago

      Hamlet would have been around the age of 18 because he specifically asks to go back to university to study.