Friday, December 26, 2014

Sons of Anarchy & Hamlet, Act 1

If you’re any kind of Sons of Anarchy fan, then you know that creator Kurt Sutter (loosely) based the motorcycle-club drama on Shakespeare’s Hamlet. With all the Shakespeare I read in college as an English major, Hamlet was one drama I never read. I thought about reading it as I watched the series unfold, but it got to the point where I didn’t want to know what might happen on SOA because of what did happen in Hamlet. So I waited until now to begin reading.

I finished the first act last night, and it’s interesting to begin to see connections from the play to the show. I find myself marveling at Sutter’s imagination—how he was able to see the Sons within the play.

Within the first act, we meet King Claudius and Queen Gertrude, Hamlet’s stepfather (and uncle) and his mother, who married only two months after the death of Hamlet’s father. Those connections are easy to draw to Clay, Gemma, and JT, with Jax, of course, in Hamlet’s role. Hamlet isn’t happy about the union of his mother and his uncle. He feels his uncle is unworthy, not the man his father was. He remembers the love his mother and father shared and doesn’t like seeing Claudius in this new position.

This is different from the way Sutter introduced us to the Tellers and the Morrows. When we first meet the family, Jax is comfortable with Clay, as both his stepdad and his mother’s husband. Maybe it’s because JT died so many years ago; he’s had much more than two months to process it and get used to it. Regardless, there seems to be genuine affection and respect between the two men when we first meet them.

When the play opens, two guards are discussing having seen the ghost of Hamlet’s father, and then not long after that, the ghost appears again. They talk to Hamlet’s good friend, Horatio, about it, and they convince him to come to the platform in front of the castle so that he can see it too. When the ghost appears, Horatio agrees to talk to Hamlet about the ghost, and the two wait together for it. When the ghost appears, it beckons for Hamlet to follow it. Hamlet does, and the two converse. The ghost tells Hamlet that Claudius murdered him and that Hamlet must avenge the murder—but that Hamlet must not bring Gertrude into it. Hamlet vows (while writing) that nothing else will matter except for gaining this vengeance.

For me, the ghost in Hamlet is JT’s manuscript that Jax finds early in the show and then the letters Maureen Ashby sends home with him when he leaves Ireland. They create the initial doubts he has regarding Clay’s leadership and then reveal JT’s fears that Clay (and Gemma) are plotting against him. Once Jax knows the contents of the letters, he wants revenge against Clay. The time Sutter took to build the relationship up between Clay and Jax at the beginning of the series makes the destruction of it that much better. I don’t think I’m going to get that in Hamlet between Claudius and the prince. I also liked the fact that Hamlet was writing; it connects to Jax writing in his journals.

I believe, but I’m not sure yet, that Horatio’s character is represented by Opie’s. I haven’t seen enough of Horatio to be sure of this, but I think that’s how it will turn out. I’ve seen an element of trust between Hamlet and Horatio that makes me think of Jax and Opie, but I also could see Horatio in Bobby or Chibs too. I’ll keep you posted on that.

Also introduced in Act 1, although it’s only a brief introduction, is Ophelia. Hamlet has evidently been expressing affection toward Ophelia, and she seems to be interested. However, her father, Polonius, and her brother, Laertes, don’t believe his love will be long-lasting or true, and they warn her—in her father’s case, forbid her—from being with Hamlet. In the play, Hamlet is above Ophelia in social standing, which I find interesting when thinking about Sons.

Obviously, Tara plays Ophelia’s part. (Maybe I shouldn’t say “obviously.” I guess Wendy could be Ophelia, which would fit with the whole social-standing thing better than Tara. But I think it’s Tara.) I like the foreshadowing of Hamlet’s love not being stable or true for Ophelia. Although Jax did always love Tara, it certainly wasn’t a love she could trust or depend on as a wife should be able to depend on her husband. I’m thinking that the characters of Polonius and Laertes are going to be represented in Margaret Murphy and maybe Wayne Unser. I’m looking forward to seeing how these relationships evolve in the play and what further connections I can find.

Finally, there’s a potential conflict brewing in Hamlet over lands that Hamlet’s father won from Fortinbras. Fortinbras’s son wrote to Claudius demanding the land be returned. Claudius, of course, does not intend to return the land. I’m wondering if this will be related to territorial issues between the Sons and other MCs—drugs, guns, alliances, something nefarious to be sure.

I’m enjoying the play, and I’m glad I waited to read it. I’ll post again after reading farther. I miss Sons of Anarchy, so this is turning out to be a new, fun way to revisit it (before I start watching the whole thing over again). Care to read along?