‘Empire’ is a modern retelling of ‘King Lear’

Originally published on foxct.com on 11/19/14

empireHARTFORD – At least, according to series star Terrence Howard, it is.

“The [Empire] premise is basically King Lear and the tragic tale of a father who has attained great wealth, great respect, great honor, has a family,” Howard explained. “His wife (Taraji P. Henson) has been separated from him for 17 odd years, the woman that helped him build his kingdom, his empire. He’s got two sons, Hakeem and Andre, and then he has one son that’s not sure of his sexuality, that he won’t accept as his own.”

Those of you who know the tale of King Lear can surmise that Lucious Lyon (Howard), the former gangster who now heads the biggest hip hop record label in the industry, is a combination of both King Lear and the Earl of Gloucester.  Empire kicks off with Lyon learning that he has a disease that will leave him physically and mentally incapacitated within the next three years, launching his plan to groom a successor out of one of his three sons.

Similar to King Lear, Lyon has three potential successors, and similar to the Earl of Gloucester, one of those three potentials is teetering on the edge of unsuitability.  In the Shakespearean play, Edmund is considered unsuitable due to his illegitimacy, and in our Fox drama series, Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is considered potentially unsuitable in Lucious’ eyes because he is gay.

Boydell-LearAfter Lucious prompts his sons to vie for control over his empire, Hakeem (Bryshere Gray) and Andre (Trai Byers), his youngest and oldest, respectively, jump at the opportunity, while Jamal shies away from the spotlight.  This is similar to King Lear, who prompts his daughters to convince him of their love in order to receive their shares of his kingdom.  The two oldest, Regan and Goneril, immediately jump at the chance, while the youngest, Cordelia, refuses to partake in the exercise.

In King Lear, the fight for control leads to the emotional and physical destruction of the family, quoted as one of the greatest tragedies of all time by George Bernard Shaw.  In a similar vein, the struggle for the Lyon empire, between Andre, Hakeem, and Lyon’s ex-wife Cookie (Henson), will incite an emotional and dramatic chess game that will either cause the family’s destruction or redemption.

Empire is set to air in 2015 on FoxCT.  Watch the first look trailer below.


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