The drama is usually centred upon one or more main character who acts in a way which proves disastrous.’ ‘There is a calamitous outcome which causes an emotional response in its audience.’ ‘The protagonist is a character with whom the audience can identify, someone who makes a wrong decision for good reasons or with the best of intentions.A.C. Bradley’s Shakespearean Tragedy (1904)
All of the above mentioned features of William Shakespeare’s tragedies are still typical mechanisms of contemporary TV drama series.
The TV series shown in the pictures are Breaking Bad, True detective, Lost, Empire and House of cards.
In Breaking Bad ,the protagonist recalls Macbeth as he is driven to seek power in any way. When he is diagnosed with a terminal disease , Walter starts to sell and prepare drugs to earn extra money for his family, but he will not stop even when given a different diagnosis, thus turning from a hero into a villain, both attracting and repelling the audience.
In True detective, there are echoes of Hamlet, the young prince struggling to resolve his internal unrest, torn between rationality and the irrationality of avenging his father’s murder. Shakespeare often created characters whose key details were missing but who were rather victims of inner disorder and not fully understandable by the audience. In True Detective the dialogues between the two protagonists, the detectives Marty and Rust, have several elements in common with Hamlet’s reflections, thoughts and doubts.
In Lost, a group of survivors whose plane crashed are stranded on a strange island, where they spend their ‘exile’. Similarly, Prospero and Miranda spend their own ‘exile’ on a magic island in the last play Shakespeare ever wrote, The Tempest. The plots are similar, even though the Bard made his play a (tragi)comedy with a magic dimension, whereas Lost is more serious and dramatic, with many mysterious elements too.
In Empire, the protagonist, Lyon, is CEO of Empire Entertainment, a successful hip-hop label. When he is diagnosed with a fatal disease he must choose an heir to his position/throne. The scriptwriters take the story of King Lear and bring it into the 21st century, adding elements from Dynasty and The Godfather. Like the play, the show is filled with manipulation and deceit.
House of Cards tells the ruthless and Machiavellian rise to power of Congressman Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) who becomes President of the UN. The plot of the series mirrors that of Shakespeare’s Richard III as well as Macbeth. Richard III is the cunning usurper ready to do whatever it takes to achieve his goals, Macbeth, in turn, follows his manipulative wife’s suggestions to reach power. Frank is definitely influenced by his wife, a modern Lady Macbeth.