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Universal Theme of Power in William Shakespeare’s Play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s Film ‘Ran’': Critical Essay

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How and why is a Shakespearean play continuously studied and analyzed to this day? Although there may be minimal relevance to our current society’s culture, through significant ideas and values, narratives have the ability to transcend time and place. William Shakespeare’s 1606 play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s 1985 film ‘Ran’ are three centuries apart and set in contrasting cultural contexts. However, the universal human experiences of managing power exceed the barriers of cultures and historical eras.

Power, whether gaining, dealing, or losing power, has been a fundamental idea throughout history and within many cultures. However, the portrayal of power differs based on contextual background. The universal struggle with power can change the way people act, think, and behave towards others.

In ‘King Lear’ and ‘Ran’, the corruption of power and its consequences that follow are explored. In ‘King Lear’, Kent’s word choices of ‘Royal Lear’, ‘honored’, ‘master’ and ‘great patron’ demonstrates the respectful and superior tones used to address Lear, greatly representing his power acknowledged. However, even after transferring his power to his daughters, his egoistic desire to maintain his kingdom is shown in “You whoreson dog, you slave, you cur!”, where the dramatic irony and animal imagery of 'dog' illustrates Lear’s continual inferior perception towards others, hence denying his loss of power. However, Regan confronts him in Act 2, in “Nature in you stands on the very verge of his confine. You should be ruled and led” the personification of Lear’s nature symbolizes his loss of basic human morals due his thirst for power that drags him down. As a result, the ultimate loss of loved ones is shown in “I know when one is dead, and when one lives; She’s dead as earth”, where the juxtaposition of life and death shows the consequences that Lear has to face from his own misbehavior. Thus, the miscontrol of power leads to inevitable consequences that affect not only the individual, but the surrounding community.

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Similarly, in ‘Ran’, the misuse of power is evident in Lady Kaede. In the beginning, a full shot centered at Lady Kaede followed by her maids are shown at Taro’s castle. The orders in a commanding tone “How dare they block my path!” portrays her position of power. When Hidetora’s concubines kneel before her, it foreshadows the shift of power and that Lady Kaede will stand above Hidetora. As she threatens Jiro, the full shot of Lady Kaede on top of Jiro is followed by a close-up shot of the sword on Jiro’s neck, demonstrating Lady Kaede’s abuse of power as she uses her dominance to manipulate Jiro. We can relate to this form of power in individuals such as Kim Jong Un, who uses his power to threaten world peace. Animal imagery of a fox indicates Lady Kaede’s slyness and cunning behavior, and her use of imperative language on her men to kill Lady Sue displays the lack of poetic justice. Hence, this misuse of power leads Kaede to her downfall and the downfall of others. Lady Kaede’s death wasn’t as punishing when compared to Lear’s ending where he lost all of his loved ones and his people, but her disastrous death is displayed through the use of violence of the blood splattering on the wall. Therefore, the consequences of the misuse of power are revealed.

Thus, despite the difference in text type, culture and setting, it can be proven that both works explore the same idea of how power corrupts people, and the detrimental consequences that follow. ‘King Lear’ is written as a play to suit its time period of the 1606s, where plays were popular among the society and was the most suitable type to pass this idea to the audience. Similarly, for ‘Ran’, as the film industry was developing during the late 1900s, this type was able to successfully deliver its message. Additionally, as the themes and ideas present in these two works are universal, the audiences are able to easily relate. For example, themes like power, family, sight and war are common and exists among different cultures. This will be able to connect people together and allow individuals to find connections to the narrative and the present.

To conclude, through the two works, ‘King Lear’ and ‘Ran’, it was evidently shown that narratives were able to connect people within and across cultures and historical eras. The universal theme of power was demonstrated in various ways and experiences that individuals can continue to relate to now. By being able to connect to these narratives we can learn and compare the similarities and differences through different times and other cultures. Here we will be able to also learn that even though the context between times and cultures can change, the key ideas and values are always kept.

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Universal Theme of Power in William Shakespeare’s Play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s Film ‘Ran’’: Critical Essay. (2023, September 19). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2023, from
“Universal Theme of Power in William Shakespeare’s Play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s Film ‘Ran’’: Critical Essay.” Edubirdie, 19 Sept. 2023,
Universal Theme of Power in William Shakespeare’s Play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s Film ‘Ran’’: Critical Essay. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 Nov. 2023].
Universal Theme of Power in William Shakespeare’s Play ‘King Lear’ and Akira Kurosawa’s Film ‘Ran’’: Critical Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Sept 19 [cited 2023 Nov 29]. Available from:
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