Why ‘Succession’ is a Modern Shakespearean Tragedy

In the rich tapestry of contemporary television, few shows have managed to capture the raw essence of a Shakespearean tragedy quite like HBO’s “Succession.” This intricate drama, chronicling the power struggles within the Roy family, a media empire’s ruling dynasty, resonates with the thematic and narrative depth characteristic of Shakespeare’s works. Let’s explore why “Succession” can be seen as a modern rendition of a Shakespearean tragedy.

A Family at War with Itself

At the heart of many Shakespearean tragedies lies a family tearing itself apart, and “Succession” mirrors this with precision. Like King Lear’s daughters or the feuding Montagues and Capulets, the Roys are embroiled in internal strife. Each family member’s quest for power and recognition sets the stage for a narrative rife with betrayal, manipulation, and emotional tumult. This is a classic Shakespearean setup: a powerful figure at the end of their reign and the ensuing battle for succession.

Tragic Flaws and Moral Ambiguity

Shakespeare’s characters are often defined by their tragic flaws, and the characters of “Succession” are no exception. Logan Roy, the patriarch, is reminiscent of King Lear in his stubbornness and diminishing grip on reality. His children, too, are tragically flawed, from Kendall’s desperate need for approval to Roman’s juvenile recklessness and Shiv’s strategic but cold manipulations. These characters, much like Shakespeare’s, are not purely villainous or heroic but are complex figures with ambitions and vulnerabilities that drive the narrative forward.

The Language of Power

Shakespeare was a master of using language to convey power dynamics, and “Succession” follows suit. The show’s dialogue is sharp, witty, and often laced with underlying threats, echoing the Bard’s ability to use words as weapons. The characters’ verbal sparring sessions are reminiscent of the courtly intrigues of Shakespeare’s plays, where language is both a tool for manipulation and a weapon to maintain power.

The Tragicomic Element

Shakespeare often infused his tragedies with elements of comedy, and “Succession” similarly balances its darker themes with biting humor. The show’s satirical take on the absurdities of the ultra-rich and powerful adds a layer of tragicomedy that is very Shakespearean in nature. It’s in these moments of dark humor that the show reveals the absurdity of the characters’ actions and the futility of their power struggles.

The Fallibility of Greatness

A key theme in Shakespeare’s tragedies is the fallibility of greatness, the idea that those in power are often the architects of their own downfall. “Succession”

reflects this theme vividly. Logan Roy, despite his immense power and influence, is continually undermined by his own actions and decisions. His inability to choose a successor or relinquish control sets off a chain of events leading to the family’s (and his own) downfall. This parallels Shakespeare’s tragic heroes, who often meet their demise not solely due to external forces, but because of their own hubris, indecision, or moral shortcomings.

Foreshadowing and Symbolism

Shakespeare’s use of foreshadowing and symbolism to add layers of meaning to his narratives is mirrored in “Succession.” The show subtly hints at future events through dialogue and symbolism, creating a sense of impending doom that pervades the series. The grand but cold settings, such as the Roy family’s corporate offices and luxury homes, symbolize the isolation and moral decay of the characters, much like the foreboding castles and foggy moors of Shakespeare’s plays.

A Reflection on Power and Morality

Finally, “Succession,” like many Shakespearean tragedies, offers a profound commentary on power and morality. It asks pressing questions about the nature of leadership, the corrupting influence of power, and the price of ambition – themes that are central to Shakespeare’s work. The show, through its portrayal of a powerful family’s downfall, serves as a modern-day reflection on these timeless themes.

Conclusion: A Modern Bard’s Tale

In conclusion, “Succession” stands as a striking example of how the themes of Shakespearean tragedy are timeless, resonating even in the context of a modern-day media empire. The show’s exploration of family dynamics, power struggles, tragic flaws, and moral ambiguity, all set within a narrative structure that echoes the Bard’s work, cements its place as a modern Shakespearean tragedy. It’s a testament to the enduring relevance of Shakespeare’s insights into the human condition, proving that these themes are as potent today as they were in Elizabethan England.