Brian Cox Views Succession's Logan Roy As A Misunderstood Shakespearean Tragedy

This post contains spoilers for "Succession" season 4 up to episode 3, "Connor's Wedding."

There aren't a lot of characters as powerful, compelling, and morally complex as Logan Roy. The Murdoch-like media mogul has left a gaping hole at the head of the table in the fourth and final season of "Succession," and the loss has made Logan's incomparable nature all the more clear. To find other men like Logan Roy, one has to delve into the works of another unparalleled figure: William Shakespeare. Critics have not shied away from comparing the American titan to formidable kings from classic literature, and neither does Brian Cox, whose portrayal of Logan has twice been nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award.

Cox got his start in the theater and has both starred in and directed Shakespeare's plays (he even wrote a book about it). He has a knack for playing tragic villains, from Macbeth to King Lear, and he knows how to play them with unexpected insight and petrifying force. The actor has always been typecast as an antagonist, he revealed on the Succession Podcast — but he doesn't mind.

"I've played so many of these characters in Macbeth, and Shakespeare, and all these bad guys, Iago and all that. I sort of got to a point where [...] I think I was playing Lear and I was on tour and I was thinking, 'Why do I have to play all these bad people, all these people that are flawed in some way? And you realize that we're all flawed. That's the interesting thing, is to take somebody like these characters and give them a point of view. [...] You know, rather than play the mustache-twirling villain, these villains are deep and mysterious."

But which Shakespearean anti-hero bears the greatest comparison to Logan? There's a fair bit of debate on the subject, and even Cox himself has weighed in. And, as every good "Succession" fan knows, his vote counts twice.

Logan is usually compared to King Lear

Shakespeare's King Lear has borne a natural comparison to "Succession" because it centers around a king attempting to divide his kingdom. He and Lear have a lot in common — for one thing, they both possess a bootstrap mentality. The central point of discord between Logan and his children is that his wealth has made them out of touch with reality. This issue frequently bubbles to the surface, like during their hunting trip in season 2 when Logan antagonizes his sons for not knowing the price of a gallon of milk.

Like Logan, Lear doesn't appreciate it when people (particularly his own children) blame the world or their parents for their problems rather than taking responsibility for their own actions. Lear laments: "When we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behavior, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars"

Then there's the dog pound. King Lear disinherited one of his daughters after pitting them against each other, and Logan apparently took on a very similar philosophy when it came to disciplining his own children. His eldest son Connor sheds some light on the subject at Tom's bachelor party when asked why Logan's youngest son, Roman, was sent to military school.

"Dad's theory was you got two fighting dogs, you send the weak one away," he recounted. "You punish the weak one. Then everyone knows the hierarchy, then everyone's happy. So, away he went."

Logan and Lear might have a lot in common, but Cox thinks critics are comparing him to the wrong Shakespearean king. He and Macbeth have a lot in common — ambitious men from Scotland that clawed their way to the top, letting fear make them powerful and ambition make them countless enemies — but the seasoned stage actor sees another side of Logan Roy.

The tragedy of Henry IV

Cox revealed which Shakespearean king Logan is really most similar to in an April 2023 interview with Vulture.

"I think he's a tragic figure, very much in the tradition of those tragic kings of Shakespeare. Actually, the king that comes to mind more is Henry IV. Obviously there's Lear connotations, but it's also the father dealing with a child in his son Hal and not understanding him. He doesn't understand the whole low-life thing, that his son is involved with Falstaff. The play also has the sense of the world changing and history moving forward. Logan is at this point where he's making this deal to give up his empire and trying to cling to what he can."

Ultimately, Cox is right; Logan bears a greater resemblance to Henry IV than King Lear. Henry is utterly disappointed by his son Hal, just as Logan is disillusioned by his own children. Logan tells them, with a sigh, that they are "not serious people" the night before his death. Cox agrees that the billionaire's children have failed to prove themselves. "They haven't stepped up to the plate; they haven't stepped up to the mark," the actor told Variety.

Henry IV is envious of his rival's son and laments that he can "See riot and dishonor stain the brow / Of my young Harry." Henry isn't misguided in his concerns, and neither is Logan. Both have sons that test the limits of their privilege and make the lives of poorer men their sport: as Hal does with Falstaff, as Roman did when he taunted a child with a check for a million dollars, and as both of Logan's sons did when they paid a homeless man to tattoo Kendall's initials on his forehead.

Cox knows his character best

The story of "Succession" might resemble King Lear on the surface, but he and Logan share one fundamental difference: while Lear wants to divide his kingdom up amongst his children, Logan "is trying to keep it all for himself," as Cox explained to Rolling Stone. Neither patriarch had children that were up to the job of inheriting their empire; the only thing that separates the two is the awareness of this fact.

"He's not giving up anything until people prove that they are worth it," Cox said of Logan. "Of course he's greedy and selfish — he's a monarch. The mistake that Lear makes is that he gives his empire away to a bunch of people who aren't really fit. And of course, in classic Shakespearean fashion, s*** hits the fan in a big way."

The first season of "Succession" has parallels to "King Lear": Shiv is banished from inheriting the company for refusing to join it, while Kendall and Roman divide the kingdom and make a mess of it. Depending on how the company gets divided up in the wake of Logan's death, the show could return to those roots in one way or another.

Either way, it doesn't change Logan's dominant emotion toward his children on the day of his death: disappointment. He loved his children, but he couldn't trust them with the keys to the kingdom. This conflict is the entire crux of the series and the main source of pain of Logan's life — in all of the Roys' lives — which is why the self-proclaimed pirate so closely resembles Henry IV.