The CW's 'Arrow' Is More 'Hamlet' Than 'Robin Hood'

Whether 'tis Nobler in the mind to suffer

The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune...

Critics seeking to contrast The CW's new show "Arrow" (and check out these hot new pics from the show at MTV Splashpage) with the original comic books upon which it is (admittedly, loosely) based might do better making a comparison with a different classic -- namely, "Hamlet." This story about the troubled scion of a wealthy family carrying out, for his dead father, a mysterious mission of revenge is very reminiscent of the William Shakespeare know, with really attractive young people in it. And arrows.

The series pilot opens with formerly foppish Oliver Queen coming back to civilization after being shipwrecked on an (abandoned? maybe not) island for 5 years. Queen has a bunch of not-so-awesome revelations waiting for him -- and not just, as his best friend Tommy points out, the "Twilight" movies. For starters, his mom (the "Queen" of the Queens) is sleeping with the dude his dad used to trust. His younger sister is now a smack addict. And something is smelling really really rotten in Denmark Starling City.


Spurred on by memories of his father (who died in the same shipwreck...sort of), Queen dons a green Robin Hood-inspired outfit, takes along a whole lot of arrows, and fights the corruption plaguing his city. But beyond the desire of crimefighting is definitely a Hamletesque/Freudian sense of outrage at coming home and finding a "new guy" as dad (and potential challenger to his right as male head of the household). Also like  Hamlet, his female "love interest" apparently drowns, and the bumbling dad of said female (Detective Quentin Lance) is on his case to prove to the world that he's no good (compare to the classic play's Polonius). And, of course, Queen has the aforementioned Best Buddy (just like Horatio).

What follows is far more neo-gothic angst combined with shadowy conspiracy theories (of the "Revenge"/"Harper's Island" variety) than it ever is about the Oliver Queen character you might have known in the past. The question of the hour is -- should that matter?

I don't know...did it matter when this happened in "Smallville"?

And that's what it really boils down to. I can accept the premise of this show outside of established comic book continuity. And I can do that, in part, because the show turns to some very basic, primal tropes that have stood the test of time. It was hard for me to warm up to the uber-handsome, ripped, male-model "look" of Stephen Amell -- especially after many years of Justin Hartley in the Green Arrow role for "Smallville." But by the end of the "Arrow" pilot, when watching Queen pretend to be that same foppish playboy at a party in his honor -- trying to keep up this facade but obviously looking miserable in the midst of the festivities around him -- I sort of "get it." This is Hamlet with a superhero hoodie.

Oliver Queen: crying on the inside

There are some "easter eggs," of a sort, in the first episode of "Arrow" for comic book fans: we see DC Universe character Deathstroke's mask in one of the opening shots; Queen's sister Moira's nickname is "Speedy" (just like his drug-abusing sidekick in the early comics); his ex-girlfriend (and sister of aforementioned drowning victim) Dinah "Laurel" Lance has, of course, the same name of the superheroine (and GA lover) Black Canary; Queen looks like the "classic" GA on the island, complete with beard. But for the most part, "Arrow" is solidly a CW show -- more soap-opera and "Smallville" than "Longbow Hunters"; more "Hamlet" than "Robin Hood." In the process, the show might lose some hardcore comic book fans...and maybe DC will gain some new young television fans.

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