Playing video games. Going to the mall. Watching paint dry. There are a million things you would rather do than English homework. How do thee wish there was another way to get through school without studying old dudes in tights? Let us count the ways.
Lucky for you, your favorite new shows may be good for more than just getting your weekly dose of drama and Timbaland produced songs. “Empire,” the hit musical soap opera that chronicles the lives of fictional music mogul family, the Lyons, may also be the key to skating through that Shakespeare unit and so much more.
Spoiler Warning: If you're not caught up on the most recent episodes, proceed with caution.
The plot of "King Lear"
The premise of “Empire” is based on Shakespeare’s play “King Lear.” After learning he has a terminal disease, Lucious Lyon must choose one of his sons to be his successor as head of the Empire record company. This sparks a tense competition between his three sons: Andre, the oldest, and the only non-performing son, schemes with his nefarious wife; Hakeem, his middle son, sets out to build a flashy rap career that will bring him fame in his own right; Jamal, his youngest, is disavowed by Lucious for being gay, and thus longs to earn a career without the support of his dad's money.
In “King Lear,” the king intends to divide his kingdom evenly between his three daughters: Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. However, first all three of his girls much prove how much they love him through a series of test. When Cordelia protests, Lear disowns her. Therefore, Lucious is Lear, Andre the power obsessed Goneril, Hakeem the ambitious Regan and Jamal is Cordelia. B.S. your way through "King Lear" discussions accordingly.
Other Shakespearean references
Not reading "King Lear"? No need to protest too much. “Empire” is chock full of other Shakespearean nods as well, including the title of episode six, "Out Damn Spots," which is reference to “Macbeth." During the play, a guilt-ridden Lady Macbeth says this line when imagining blood on her hands after a murder. This phrase implies guilt over a wrong that a character has committed, such as the way Lucious might feel about killing Bunkie or the way Cookie might feel about secretly working as an FBI informant.
The show frequently utilizes this literary tool, in which a literary work references another work, historical figure or event, without directly mentioning it. Examples of this include the investor showcase in episode seven, wherein Hakeem’s performance samples the Dire Straits song, “Money For Nothing,” which includes the lyrics “I want my MTV.” The backup dancers are all wearing TVs in their heads, which is presumably a nod to the music videos that helped launch the rap industry Hakeem and his family now reign over.
The theme is essentially what the work is about or it's underlying message. In this series, as in “King Lear,” family is a dominant theme. Lucious frequently insists, “Empire is about family.”
Power is another main theme. Virtually every character is seeking some kind of power. Andre and Hakeem want control of the company. Cookie wants power as a serious A&R person. Lucious wants his company to be as big as possible to bring it public. Even their family name, Lyon, is a nod to the theme of power.
In literature an object may stand for something beyond its literal meaning. Shakespeare often used roses as symbols for love, as is the case in the famous “Romeo and Juliet” quote: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet." In "Empire," Cookie receives a rose from Lucious on their anniversary...and then proceeds to rip it apart when Lucious announces his engagement to Annika.
Water is commonly used in many works to symbolize a variety of things: from a baptism or fresh start to troubling brewing in the form of a storm. When Andre learns of his father’s illness, he sobs uncontrollably in the shower, alone and drowning in his own private storm.
Metaphor and simile
Metaphors and similes describe something by comparing it to something else. Similes use the words “like” or “as,” while metaphors make comparisons without those words. These devices are very common in poetry, so it makes sense that hip-hop lyrics are rife with simile, as is the case in Jamal’s song “Good Enough”: “It feels like I walked a thousand miles/ And didn’t even come close.”
Alliteration is the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of closely connected words, such as the title phrase in Hakeem’s hot single, “Drip Drop.” Quick note: leave the phrase “Drip Drop” as far away from your English teacher as possible.