Boys without Dads in “Hamlet”
and photo of an Iranian Boy

World Press Photo of the Year 2002 by Eric Grigorian


Hamlet and the photo do not have that much in common without a little history. In the back story of the photo, the little Iranian boy has just lost his father to a series of earthquakes, June 23, 2002. He is clinging to his father’s trousers, kneeling by the grave where his father will be buried. The photographer, Eric Grigorian noted that the boy seemed “oblivious to the world” – and that is where the comparison begins. Hamlet and the young boy are both oblivious to the world. They are so wrapped up in the death of their respective fathers that they clutch the memory of their fathers as the world turns. The photo and Hamlet compliment each other in plot, artistic motives and death as a universal contingency.

The plot or material of “Hamlet” and the photo are similar first and foremost because they are centered on the loss of a father. Granted, Hamlet’s father was murdered and the young boy’s father was killed by a natural disaster, but loss is there and the story springs from it. As the little boy clings to a material representation of his father, his trousers, and Hamlet similarly clings to a memory. One can compare Hamlet’s father as a ghost and the setting of the photo, both symbolize the afterlife. Hamlet’s father becomes a ghost and Hamlet can come closer to his dead father through conversation – they are close in a metaphorical sense. In the photo, the boy is sitting next to the unfilled grave of his father; he has a literal proximity to the deathbed.
Another element of the plot is in outlying characters such as the uncle, and the man in the white shirt with an out stretched hand. Both of these characters are trying to orchestrate the goings-on of the story after the death of the fathers. In contrast to the scared and withdrawn main characters, they have agendas. The body language of the man in the photo communicates that he is giving instructions to a man across the grave. Hamlet’s Uncle also gives instructions to Hamlet to forget his father and stop grieving for his father, the dead king. Both sets of instructions are in regard to how the dead will be dealt with, the difference is in burial and in memory.

Both the play and photograph tell stories of grief and both are highly acclaimed, and yield highly emotional responses. In the photo, one can hear the shovels digging, the women crying in the background, and feel the loss that the little boy feels. This is a result of the artists’ motives. Grigorian ended up winning the big shot, even though he only took five photos of the scene because he himself was so overcome with emotion (“World Press Photo”). Conversely, Shakespeare had a larger plan. His goal was to create parallels between the fictional plot and monarchies of his time, and to do so using common language, entertainment value, and unmatched metaphor and wit. Both artists achieved their objectives, but consequently can be accused of pandering.

In Shakespeare’s work there are often crude references or metaphors to maintain the text’s appeal to a wide audience. For example, Hamlet delivers many innuendos in discourse with Ophelia that definitely appeal to the base humor of Shakespeare’s audience: “Lady, shall I lie in your lap?”, “Do you think I meant country matters?” and more explicitly, “That’s a fair thought to lie between maid’s legs,” (“Shmoop”). All of which are very cheeky sexual references that would’ve been well known and intentionally written into Shakespeare’s work.

Today in photography, pandering is usually attributed to the tabloids with unflattering celebrity shots, but that’s transparent. More importantly and less noted are the shots whose publication raises the ethical eyebrow, such as the earthquake in Iran photo. According to the National Press Photographers Association code of ethics photographers should, “Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy, and intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see,” (“National Press Photographers Association”). To capture an individual child’s grief and win an award for it is not justifiable. However, examining the World Press Photo of the Year winners, most photos are all of great and terrible scenes of strife. Therefore, Grigorian is also pandering to extent. In the defense of the artists, death sells because it is considered a universally shared experience.

Everybody is subject to death. As per culture, circumstances or causes of death differ, interpretation of death differs, and predictions of afterlife vary; but still, all mortal beings die. Death as a facet of the two pieces of art is significant. Without that element, the pieces may be stuck to their time or region. Instead, an Iranian boy and a Danish teen separated by centuries share a common thread: the loss of a father. Likewise, they share grief which is a contingent element of death. It is a response to death that is not held in other cultures. Also the circumstances are contingent: Hamlet’s father was murdered, and the young boy’s father killed in an earthquake. The concept of the afterlife represented in the stories is also different. One can assume that the boy is Muslim under the Iranian theocracy, and therefore would have been taught that, “Until the Day of Judgment, deceased souls remain in their graves awaiting the resurrection. However, they begin to feel immediately a taste of their destiny to come,” (“ReligionFacts”). The afterlife in Hamlet is represented by his father’s Ghost, which could be an element of the Catholic faith, purgatory, or that Hamlet’s desire to have his father back is so strong he imagines an encounter. Either way, there is an afterlife for Hamlet’s father in the text.

In summary, the photo and Hamlet compliment each other in plot, artistic motives and death as a universal contingency. They are from different regions, different centuries, and the artists use different mediums. Mostly, they serve to illuminate loss of a family member as a universal-contingency and form an example of two directions that loss can be used as a starting point for a story line.

Works Cited:

Grigorian, Eric . "2002 - World Press Photo." World Press Photo. 2002. 9 Nov. 2008. <>.

"NPPA: Code of Ethics." National Press Photographers Association. 2008. 8 Nov. 2008. <>.

"Sex in the Tragedy of Hamlet." Shmoop. 2008. 9 Nov. 2008. <>.

"The Afterlife in Islam." ReligionFacts. 2008. 9 Nov. 2008. <>.




By: Erica VanNatta
Major: Public Relations
Expected Graduation Date: December 2010
Hometown: Hockinson, WA

The photo of the Iranian boy and Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” do not initially appear to have much in common. After considering the parallels between the two pieces of art, it’s hard to ignore the similarities. The photo and “Hamlet” compliment each other in plot, artistic motives and death as a universal contingency.