Sons of Anarchy is all about motorcycle clubs and the conflicts that arise between them and among the members of the title club, but as it turns out, it’s very similar to William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In 2008, viewers were taken to California to venture into the world of motorcycle clubs in Sons of Anarchy, an action drama TV series created by Kurt Sutter. Sons of Anarchy was praised by critics and viewers from the beginning, and after seven seasons full of betrayals, deaths, and plot twists, it came to an end in 2014.
Sons of Anarchy tells the story of Jackson “Jax” Teller (Charlie Hunnam), VP of the motorcycle club Sons of Anarchy in the fictional town of Charming in California. The events of the series begin when Jax finds a manifesto written by his late father, John “JT” Teller, one of the founding members of the MC. In it, JT detailed his plans and vision for the club, but these were very different from those of the current President and Jax’s stepfather, Clay Morrow (Ron Perlman). These differences and other problems within the club send Jax on a personal journey that leads him to question his path, role in the club, relationships, family, and more.
Although Sons of Anarchy is a fictional story, it takes inspiration from real-life motorcycle clubs and Sutter has been open about the works that inspired the series, mostly William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The similarities between Sutter’s show and The Bard’s work might not be evident upon the first view, but when looking back and revisiting the series, the influences are very obvious, essentially making Sons of Anarchy TV’s Hamlet – but with motorcycles. Here’s every similarity and parallel between Sons of Anarchy and Hamlet.
Jax Teller Is Hamlet
Of course, the lead character in Sons of Anarchy, Jax Teller, is the show’s Hamlet. When viewers meet Jax, he’s the VP of the club that his father helped create and had a close relationship with his mother, Gemma Teller-Morrow (Katey Sagal). Throughout the show, Jax struggles to find his real purpose in the club while also fighting to honor his father’s wishes and discover what truly happened to him. Jax eventually becomes the President of SAMCRO, but he’s corrupted by power and his actions end up bringing a lot of suffering and death to the club and those around it, leading up to his tragic fate at the end of Sons of Anarchy. Hamlet was the future prince of Denmark who also had to uncover what truly happened to his father, and while he was good at heart, he was corrupted by power and also had a tragic ending. Also in both cases, the loss of their loved ones was a turning point that led them into a downward spiral.
Clay Morrow Is Claudius
Clay Morrow was to Sons of Anarchy what Claudius was to Hamlet. Clay was a close friend of JT and together they opened the Teller-Morrow auto shop, and Clay became one of the First 9 of SAMCRO. Following JT’s death, Clay took over as President of the club, and that’s the role he still had when Sons of Anarchy began. In Hamlet, Claudius was Hamlet’s uncle, who took over as King of Denmark after Hamlet’s father’s death, and just like Clay, he kept a dark family secret and did everything he could to stop Hamlet from discovering it and taking over the throne, going as far as to plot his death.
Gemma Teller-Morrow Is Gertrude
Gemma was Jax’s mother and JT’s wife, and even though she wasn’t a member of SAMCRO (and just an “old lady”), she had a lot of power over the club and was a respected figure among its members. Gemma is the equivalent of Gertrude, Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark, who was keeping the same dark secret as Claudius and her fate ended up in her son’s hands as he learned more and more about their family history. Both Gemma and Gertrude saw their sons spiral into madness (one due to power and grief, the other one into literal madness), but didn’t live enough to see their demise.
John Teller Is The Ghost Of Hamlet’s Father
Of course, John Teller is none other than the ghost of Hamlet’s father. JT was killed many years before the events of Sons of Anarchy, but his death had a big impact on Jax and the club throughout the whole series. As JT was the President of SAMCRO at the time of his death and Clay was VP, Clay took over and became President. Hamlet’s father was killed before the events of the play and his ghost visited Hamlet to reveal a major secret to him. JT didn’t show up as a ghost, but he did lead Jax to realize that the club wasn’t going in the right direction.
Jax’s Family Backstory Is The Same As Hamlet’s
With all these Sons of Anarchy characters mirroring those in Hamlet, it’s not surprising that Jax’s family history is also like that of the Prince of Denmark. The big secret behind JT’s death was that it was planned by Gemma and Clay, with the latter sabotaging JT’s bike to make his death look like an accident, and so Jax’s father died when he was hit by a semi-truck while riding his bike. Clay took over the club and led it in a very different direction than what JT had envisioned, and a couple of years later, he married Gemma. In Hamlet, Claudius killed King Hamlet by pouring poison into his ear, and as his brother, he was the one who succeeded him as King of Denmark. Claudius also married Gertrude, as the latter was very comfortable in her position as Queen to lose it, and together they kept the secret of King Hamlet’s murder from the young Prince, who eventually learned all about it thanks to the ghost of his father.
Tara Knowles Is Ophelia… But So Is Opie
Tara Knowles (Maggie Siff) was Jax’s wife and mother of their son Thomas (and she also served as the mother of Abel, Jax and Wendy’s son). Tara was loyal to Jax and thus to the club, and this led her to do things for them that eventually landed her in jail for a while. This was a defining moment in Tara’s arc as it turned her into a darker and resentful character, and as she got tangled in the club’s web of lies, Gemma believed her to be a traitor and killed her, framing others for her horrible actions so Jax wouldn’t go after her (though he eventually did). In Hamlet, Ophelia was the Prince’s potential wife who was frequently warned against falling for him, but she chose to listen to her heart. Ophelia went mad after her father’s death (who was killed by Hamlet), and died when she fell into the brook and drowned (in Sons of Anarchy, Gemma drowned Tara in the kitchen sink).
However, some have found that Opie Winston (Ryan Hurst) can also fit the role of Ophelia. Opie was Jax’s best friend who he had known since they were kids as Opie’s father, Piney, was one of the First 9 and a close friend of JT. Opie was one of the few people Jax truly trusted, and his death changed Jax’s life forever, marking the beginning of his downward spiral. Opie’s story also went through a dark phase during his final months, as the death of his father (who was killed by Clay) led him to seek vengeance, and he died to protect Jax and the club. To some, Opie is the equivalent of Ophelia as a different type of love: brotherly love.
Chibs Telford Is Horatio
Chibs Telford (Tommy Flanagan) stood out as one of the most loyal and grounded members of SAMCRO, who served as Jax’s voice of reason throughout Sons of Anarchy. Chibs ended up becoming the club’s President after Jax’s death, and his loyalty and friendship with Jax were so strong he couldn’t bring himself to kill him, even though the club had agreed he should meet Mr. Mayhem, instead letting him go so he could handle his own death, and he also kept his promise of getting the club out of the gun business, as JT originally envisioned. Horatio was Hamlet’s trusted friend and advisor, who was even willing to die next to the Prince. Hamlet died in Horatio’s arms, making him promise to tell his story and make things right.
Juice Ortiz Is Rosencrantz & Guildenstern
Both Sons of Anarchy and Hamlet saw a lot of betrayal and had spies that were key in their main character’s demise, and those roles belong to Juice Ortiz (Theor Rossi) and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Juice was a member of SAMCRO who was targeted by AUSA Potter to serve as a rat by blackmailing him about his family background, as his father was African-American and that went against the club’s archaic rules. This sent Juice into a downward spiral full of lies and betrayals, and he helped cover Gemma after Tara’s murder. Jax learned the truth and gave him a final task before leaving him without protection in prison, leading to his death. Juice mirrors Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, childhood friends of Hamlet who Claudius used to distract the Prince and later to take a letter to the King of England instructing him to kill Hamlet. However, Hamlet rewrote the letter to instruct the executioner to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, and left them to die when the ship was attacked by pirates.