I'm Gonna Make Cordelia An Offer She Can't Refuse

Wait, wait, wait… The Godfather was supposed to be a modern version of King Lear?

Ten Academy Awards nominations and the winner of 3 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor (Marlon Brando), and Best Adapted Screenplay; the top-grossing film of the year, and a $134 million box-office hit; set in the mid to late 1940s NYC to the mid 1950s, a 10 year period, with Marlon Brando as Don Vito Corleone, head of the crime family; it was filmed as a modern version of Shakespeare’s King Lear (featuring a king and three sons: hot-headed eldest Sonny, Fredo and Michael); the ‘honorable’ crime “family,” working outside the system due to exclusion by social prejudice, was threatened by the rise of modern criminal activities – the “dirty” drug trade. Family loyalty and blood ties were juxtaposed with brutal and vengeful blood-letting, including Corleone’s attempted assassination in 1945 after he refused to bankroll a crime rival’s drug activities…

[ Spotted on Filmsite.org’s history of the Oscars ]
Anybody want to discuss that? Beyond the “king separating his empire among three children” bit I’m not sure how long it holds up. Is this a legitimate comparison, or more like how Lion King is supposed to be Hamlet?

5 thoughts on “I'm Gonna Make Cordelia An Offer She Can't Refuse

  1. Oh my god! I totally see that! Michael appears to be the favourite child but disappoints his father by not living up to his father's expectations. Michael goes away. Bad health times befall his father. Sonny and Fredo, who initially appeared to be loyal to their father, ultimately prove disappointing. Michael comes back. He proves to be rather more bad-ass than anyone expected the quiet little ingenue to be, and ends up head of the Family. (Obviously they didn't go with Shakespeare's "and my poor fool is hanged" ending for Michael, but his total assimilation into the mob life is death enough as far as his wife Kay and/or the readers are concerned.)

    Does this mean Johnny Fontaine is the Fool? Who is Tom Hagen? I'm SO going to reread The Godfather now with Lear in mind!

  2. I encountered that theory some time ago. I just don't see it. There are far more parallels—and a far more deliberate, intentional engagement with Shakespeare's text—in The Lion King than in any of the Godfather films.

    And horrible uses of horses comes from Macbeth, not King Lear. 'Tis said they eat each other, remember?


  3. It's obviously not an exact copy, but it certainly riffs off the theme of "a man has three offspring. The older two profess loyalty and love but end up disappointing the old man, while the young one – who everyone assumed just didn't care despite seeming to be the father's favourite – turned out to be the most loyal child of all" pretty accurately. And it's a teeny bit more than just a basic riff; there's also a professional entertainer who's not really connected to the major plot but who the old man is inordinately fond of. I think I can see some parallels between Kent and Hagen, but I need to work on it.

    Just because The Godfather is not a carbon copy of King Lear does not mean that The Godfather was not initially based on King Lear. 🙂

  4. Although ultimately, it may be irrelevant whether people "buy it" or not. If this statement was made by someone watching the film and drawing parallels themselves, then it could just be a coincidence. But if the film-makers purposefully set out to have echoes of Lear, then it doesn't matter whether you buy it or not – the connection *is* there. 😉

  5. True, Weez, true. Is there any evidence that that was the filmmaker's intention?

    If so, I'll allow that there are echos of Lear in The Godfather. Indeed, I'll allow that there are echoes now that you'e explicated them more thoroughly—but I'll still call them faint echoes!

    And I'll still wonder about the significance of them. The King's Speech, for example, has many Shakespeare references—and they're purposeful and intentional. They are part of the story. Are these Learian moments part of the significance of The Godfather?


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