Home > Multimedia Essays > What If Shakespeare Wrote a Hiphop Soap Opera: A Look into Fox’s Shakespeare Inspired “Empire”

What If Shakespeare Wrote a Hiphop Soap Opera: A Look into Fox’s Shakespeare Inspired “Empire”

by: Calisin, Johanna Rose E.
University of the Philippines – Diliman

Disclaimer: All videos and photos below belong to their respective owner, those are not mine.

Through the years, there have been a lot of adaptations of Shakespearean works and works inspired by Shakespeare. It is amazing how producers, writers, directors, etc, still find multiple ways on how to re-imagine Shakespeare’s works.

One of the most recent Shakespeare inspired works that I’ve found is “Empire” by Fox. Look into the trailer below and see a Hiphop Label’s CEO can be connected to Shakespeare:

Here are some of the inspirations “Empire” lifted from Shakespeare:

The Plot


Danny Strong, one of the writers of the show, admits that one of the inspirations for “Empire” is Shakespeare’s King Lear. The plot follows the story of Lucious Lyon, the CEO of Empire Entertainment who is diagnosed with ALS. He now begins to look for a successor to the company from his three sons: Andre, Jamal and Hakeem. Sounds similar but not quite King Lear.

This is due to the show being inspired by another work, this time by James Goldman’s The Lion in Winter which is the story of King Henry II’s family being together for Christmas and the family drama it brings as the King is set to pick his successor.

Compare the trailer of The Lion in Winter below to the one of “Empire”

The Themes

A lot of themes seen from the show can be traced to Shakespeare as mentalfloss.com’s April Daley wrote:

  • Sibling Rivalry

The show’s plot itself reeks of competition between siblings to see who would inherit very similar to the one seen in King Lear.  No one states it better than Jamal who says “We King Lear now?”

  • The Guilt-ridden Murderer

An episode of the show features Lucious being guilty of killing his childhood friend, Bunkie (an obvious reference to Shakespeare). Macbeth, anyone?

  • Star-Crossed Lovers

A familiar term that usually brings Romeo and Juliet into mind, this actually refers to Camilla and Hakeem whose story is part Romeo and Juliet with a dash of Anthony and Cleopatra on the side.

  • The Villain with Good Intention

Though it can be said that the show features many characters with noticeable faults, one of the villains in the story is actually Lucious himself who claims that his actions stem from good intentions, similar to Shylock

  • War

Though not quite swords, armors and bloodbath, “Empire” features a raging war between the characters. One of the notable comparisons is that of the episode wherein the family gears into a war of sorts with the rival company, Creedmoor, to a scene in Ac III of Henry V.

The show also boasts of titles taken from Shakespeare’s works such as “The Devil Quotes Scripture” which is a line taken from The Merchant of Venice.

“Empire” goes to show how Shakespeare is still influential in the production of modern entertainment. It shows how even the smallest touches from the bard can be quite magical and changing to the work it influences.


Benton-Martin, Erika “‘Empire’ Writer Danny Strong Says He was Inspired by a Shakespeare Pay and Kane West Interviews.” Mar. 24, 2015. Web. Nov. 30, 2015. http://www.musictimes.com/articles/32888/20150324/empire-writer-danny-strong-inspired-shakespeare-plays-kanye-west-interviews.htm

Daley, April “5 ‘Empire’ Themes Pulled Straight from Shakespeare.” Web. Nov. 30, 2015 http://mentalfloss.com/article/68925/5-empire-themes-pulled-straight-shakespeare

Osman, Sarah “The Shakespearean Roots of Fox’s ‘Empire'” Web. Nov. 30, 2015. http://www.younghollywood.com/scene/the-shakespearean-roots-of-fox-s-empire.html


Fox. “EMPIRE| Official Trailer| FOX BROADCASTING” youtube.com. Web. Dec 1, 2015.

Nikoteajay. “The Lion In Winter (1968) – Trailer” youtube.com. Web. Dec 1, 2015.



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