When watching the movie Gladiator, one might notice how very similar this story is to the Shakespearean play, Hamlet. In Gladiator the main character seeks vengeance for the loss of his son and wife, as does Hamlet for the loss of his father. The vengeance sought out in Gladiator is a result of treachery involving loved ones as is the vengeance sought out in hamlet. Finally, both Hamlet and Gladiator are examples of dramatic tragedy where the main character ends up dying. Along with these similarities there are also many differences. There are the difference in characters, the difference in when these stories take place, and the difference in the endings. By comparing and contrasting a modern tragedy, Gladiator, with an ancient tragedy, Hamlet, it shows why dramatic tragedy has survived throughout the ages.
In the beginning of Hamlet King Hamlet’s ghost pays a visit to Prince Hamlet. The ghost tells Hamlet that while “sleeping in [his] orchard, a serpent stung [him].” He then tells Hamlet “the serpent that did sting thy father’s life now wears his crown.” Hamlet, who already suspected his father’s death to be murder, is furious upon learning that it was not only murder, it was his father’s uncle that committed the act of treachery. In a rage of fury Hamlet swears to the ghost of his father that he will seek vengeance on Claudius, for his sake and that of his father’s.
This is very similar in Gladiator when Commodus kills his father, the Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Maximus, a Roman General, was very close with Marcus who told Maximus “he [was] the son [he] should have had…” and wanted Maximus to carry on as Emperor instead of his son Commodus. Maximus seeks vengeance on Commodus not only for murdering Marcus, but also because he murdered Maximum’s wife and eight-year-old son.
In both cases Claudius and Commadus wanted to reign, to have power; in both cases they were not meant to have it. Hamlet was the “heir to the throne,” and Aurelius wanted Maximus to take his place as emperor. Both Claudius and Commadus wanted power so badly, that they killed in order to get what they wanted.
These stories are both similar in treachery because the men that they had trusted and confided in had murdered them. Claudius betrayed his brother by poisoning him then marrying his wife; Commadus betrayed his father by suffocating him after learning Aurelius did not want his only son to rule.
Another example of the similarities between these two stories is that Hamlet and Maximus both had to change themselves in order to seek their vengeance. They both went from being looked highly upon in society, to being looked down on. Hamlet fooled people by acting like he was crazy. This way his stepfather could not suspect Hamlet of knowing that he had murdered Hamlet’s father.
Following the death of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Maximus finds himself an enemy of the new Emperor Commadus. He is reduced to the status of a slave and eventually falls into the hands of a gladiator trainer. He then begins to forge a new life for himself as a ruthless killing machine that entertains the fickle crowd, as the behind-the-scenes politics of second century Rome stand to make him a hero of the people.
By fighting as a gladiator he seek revenge on the new Emperor of Rome.
Hamlet and Maximus want to avenge those who have been killed so badly that they undergo obstacles with courage and their heads high as well as they both risking their lives for what they believe in.
Throughout Hamlet, one might also notice they have taken similar ideas from “Hamlet” and used them to help make their story a (better one). Towards the beginning of the story before Aurelius is killed, Commadus tells the senators that “they’ll be pouring honey potion in people’s ears…” in order to make the country republic. What is similar is that Claudius poured “potion” into King Hamlet’s ear, in order to kill him.
Another moment in Gladiator that makes you think of Hamlet is towards the end when Commodus tells his nephew, Lucius, about their ancestor Emperor Claudius. He tells Lucius that “[Claudius] was betrayed! By those closest to him…” This is similar to Hamlet because Gertrude betrays Claudius and Lucilla betrays Commodus. This is ironic because both Claudius and Commodus betrayed loved ones in order to gain power.
Along with these similarities there are also many differences. For instance Hamlet was born a prince while Maximus was the general for Aurelius’s army. Also King Hamlet was killed by his brother and Aurelius was killed by his son, and Hamlet’s mother dies in the end while Commadus’ sister survives. The main difference, however, is in the end of these stories.
In Hamlet, he never lets on to Claudius that he knows how his father died. Instead he acts as if he is crazy. It is not until a theatrical group re-enacts how King Hamlet was murdered that Claudius realises that Hamlet knows…………………….
In Gladiator, as soon as Maximus sees Commadus in the Coliseum he tells Commadus that he will kill him for the murders he has committed. In the end Maximus kills Commadus while all of Rome watches this form of “entertainment” take place. Maximus, badly wounded dies soon after giving the Empire to the senators to become republic.
Even though these two stories have their differences, they are both dramatic tragedies. The emotion that a tragic character portrays helps us to relate and become more entranced with the story. Up until the heroes have died they have got to know that person. They have understood the character, their motivations, and reactions. When they die, they have died courageously for what they have believed in.
In life we are always looking for an “idol” hero-worshipping. Our fascination for dramatic tragedy has survived throughout the years because man in his inadequate ways needs to have someone whom they can look up to, so to speak.
Lets face it we are often intrigued by human suffering especially if it is for noble causes.
People often carry the same beliefs as these leaders, and fully support them. These heroes are the epitome of what we believe in, willing to die for causes. We love to believe that someone is willing to go to that extent for our beliefs. Their deaths often accomplish what could not be done while they were alive. This is illustrated when Maximus says “what we do in life, echoes in eternity.”
The similarities and differences in Hamlet and Gladiator are what help make dramatic tragedies survive through the ages. However, it is not only in movies or plays, it is also in real life. These heroes have died for what they believed in and have made a difference in our lives. It gives us strength to face the world we live in today, and it gives us understanding as to why these leaders are fighting. This is why dramatic tragedies have survived throughout the ages, and this is why they will continue to survive for years to come.
Courtney from Study Moose
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