John Osborne's Jimmy Porter is a Modern Hamlet- A Comparative Analysis

John Osborne (1929-1994), British playwright and motion picture screenwriter, is known for his sharp criticism of modern British life. His play Look Back in Anger (1956), about rebellion against traditional mores, is regarded as a landmark in post-World War II British drama and made its author famous as the first of “the angry young men”.

Jimmy Porter, the protagonist in Look Back in Anger is called the 'angry young men, the disillusioned protagonist for his anti-establishment philosophies. The plot involves Jimmy Porter, who works at a candy shop despite his university education. He torments his wife so badly that on the advice of her best friend Helena, she eventually leaves him. Jimmy takes up with Helena, whom he previously despised, until his wife returns to tell him she had been pregnant but lost their child.
The character of Jimmy Porter in Look Back in Anger is an enigma, almost as much as the character of Shakespeare’s Hamlet who has been hailed as Mona Lisa of literature by T. S. Eliot. Like Hamlet, Jimmy is a rebel against the conventional traditions and present nature of civic society. In this he certainly the upper hand of the movement against the establishment launched by a group of authors and dramatists including John Arden, whose Serjeant Musgrave's Dance (1959) discussed class and war; Arnold Wesker, whose The Kitchen (1959) used a restaurant kitchen as a microcosm of British society; and Edward Bond, whose Saved (1965) presented so grim a picture of lower-class British life that it was banned for a time. But the question that has often been raised is whether Jimmy has only the superficial characteristics rather than the essentials of the Shakespeare’s sublime hero. A through study of the play would reveal that the Hamlet like features of Jimmy are not limited to only the external aspects, for Jimmy has all the more profound qualities of Hamlet.
 Sir John Gielgud performing the title character in Hamlet
Anger from the very outset is what distinguishes the Shakespearean Hamlet from the heroes of other tragedies. Jimmy too is famous for the unceasing outbursts of anger. Jimmy’s anger finds its targets in almost everyone, be it his intimate friend Cliff, his wife Alison or all other acquaintances of his. While Hamlet subjects almost everyone to his scathing tongue, including his mother Gertrude, his beloved Ophelia and his uncle Claudius, Jimmy goes on similar spree.

Hamlet is famous for his inaction. His inaction is the result of his native procrastination or his intellectual uncertainty about the real guilty party in the murder of his father, the truth remains that he is not able to force the action. Similarly, Osborne’s hero Jimmy can only rave and rant, fret and fume, curse and abuse, but can not take any concrete measure for any specific action. Consequently, just as the Shakespearean play is full of to be not to be monologues, Look Back in Anger is a mosaic of Jimmy’s soliloquies. He keeps narrating his disturbing experiences like the death of his father and death of the charwoman Mrs. Tanner, but he has neither been able to reduce their sufferings nor educate others about any form of idealism.

Hamlet and Jimmy are both remarkable for being men who are above the average, both in terms of social status and in terms of native ability. Hamlet himself produces a play and on another occasion displays a striking poetic quality. On the other hand, Jimmy does not fare any worse as far as creative talent is concerned. He is remarkably successful in writing a poem called cesspool parodying T. S. Eliot’s waste land. He also writes a play and tries to stage it at home itself. Socially, both Hamlet and Jimmy are above their compeers. While Hamlet is the prince of Denmark, Jimmy can not of course claim any such regal distinction in the modern age of democracy. But he is distinguished in his own way because he is the only man in Cliff’s group who is in possession of university education.

The external circumstances of their lives, too, are similar. While Hamlet’s misery has been caused partly by the suspicion that his mother Gertrude is one of the conspirators in the murder of his father, Jimmy suspects no less. His father might not have been murdered in the literal sense, but his death has certainly been caused by lack of care. His mother, angered by the fact that Jimmy’s father spends his energy in fighting for the idealist cause in Spain rather than earning money for the family, took little care of him in death bed. Hamlet’s hostile relation with his possible in laws like Polonius and Laureates finds its reflection in Jimmy, too. Jimmy cannot tolerate his in laws, particularly Alison’s mother and Alison’s brother Nigel who almost a direct parallel to Laureates. If Hamlet in his anger asks Ophelia to go to a nunnery, Jimmy would want to stand in her tears and sings in her sorrow.

As for the question regarding whether Jimmy’s anger is the result of his egoism in contrast to Hamlet’s anger which is the result of his genuine dissatisfaction with the corrupt world, the answer would be that Jimmy’s anger is caused by almost as genuine dissatisfaction with the lack of idealism of the post war British society. While Hamlet finds the time to be out of joint after the passing away of his father, Jimmy finds that in present society there are ‘no beliefs, no conviction and no enthusiasm’. While Hamlet found something to be ‘rotten’ in the state of Denmark, Jimmy finds that even the clergy and the aristocracy of the British society are corrupt. Therefore, Jimmy’s entire tirades in the play, in spite of its seeming irrelevance, are caused by as profound a concern for his society as Hamlet’s.

The mysterious character of Jimmy and his apparently irrelevant accusations only optimize a profound character. He remains, in many ways, a modern Hamlet--- ‘a Wolverstone Hamlet’.

Ardhendu De

1.Web English Teacher
2.Adhunik Natya Shastya- Dr. Amio Patra.


  1. Dear sir, plz suggest some useful books for UGC NET EXAM ENGLISH


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