In the year 10,191, the Emperor in Dune is Shaddam Corrino IV. His role in the story is one of a jealous ruler whose actions lead to the downfall of Duke Leto Atreides and the rise of his son, Paul.
Though depicted as an enigmatic figure in director Denis Villeneuve’s Dune: Part One (2021), the books by author Frank Herbert (the creator of Dune) and the writing duo of Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson have explored the history of this pivotal character.
In this blog, we will discuss the ascent of Shaddom, his role in the betrayal of Duke Leto Atreides, the line of succession, and who plays the character in Dune: Part Two (2023).
Be warned: there may be spoilers ahead.
How Did Shaddam Corrino IV Become The Emperor?
Shaddam IV of House Corrino was born to Elrood IX, who reigned as the 80th Padishah Emperor of the Known Universe. As the second in line to the Imperial Golden Lion Throne, Shaddam knew that his ascent was not guaranteed and so required a series of political schemes to make it come to fruition.
He did not accomplish this alone, however, aided by his cousin and friend Count Hasimir Fenring, who was an assassin and Mentat (the name for individuals with minds capable of rivalling computers, which were banned in the Imperium).
The first step to becoming Emperor was to eliminate his elder brother, Crown Prince Fafnir, and prevent his mother, Habla, from delivering any future heirs by secretly administrating contraceptives. With potential successors a non-issue, there was only one person in his way: Elrood.
Fenring acted on Shaddam’s behalf, delivering poison into Elrood’s system. Though initially imperceptible, the effects of the substance catalysed over time and eventually turned fatal. It was soon after this that Shaddam was crowned, and he secured his position by bribing the Spacing Guild and marrying a member of the Bene Gesserit — Anirul, with whom he later had five daughters.
Why Does The Emperor Betray Duke Leto Atreides In Dune?
When the plot of the first Dune book begins, Shaddam has been the established Emperor for many years. Nevertheless, he does not feel safe in his position, threatened by the rising popularity of Duke Leto Atreides, who has gained support among the Landsraad, the collective that represents all the Great Houses.
To remove any potential challenge to his rule, the Emperor devises a plot to eliminate Leto and his entire House. This involves moving the Atreides from their homeworld, Caladan, to the desert planet Arrakis, which recently belonged to their rivals, House Harkonnen.
At first glance, this appears a generous act, for Arrakis is known as the most lucrative planet in the Imperium, having a monopoly on the drug that drives the economy — melange (or ‘the spice’). The reality, however, is that Shaddam has made a pact with the Harkonnens.
Combining the forces of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen and the Sardaukar (the Padishah Emperor’s elite military arm), Shaddam launches an invasion on Arrakis, and Duke Leto’s army — trained by Gurney Halleck, Duncan Idaho, and Thufir Hawat — is all but destroyed.
Who Succeeds Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV?
The downfall of the Emperor comes at the hands of Paul Atreides, who survived Shaddam’s assault and fled to the Fremen, the native people of Arrakis. His expert skills and status as the Kwisatz Haderach (a title bestowed upon a messiah-like figure) help him assume the mantle of their leader, and with a large army of fighters on the level of the Sardaukar, Paul manages to defeat the Emperor and his Harkonnen allies.
It is the loss of ‘the spice’ that forces Shaddam to surrender his throne, with both he and the Spacing Guild fearing that Paul will destroy this essential resource in its entirety. Despite the former Emperor’s loss of station, his daughter Princess Irulan is married to Paul, thus securing the Corrino’s family position.
Unfortunately for the Corrino lineage, Irulan never bears any children with the new ruler, as he is entirely devoted to his Fremen consort, Chani. The throne goes to Paul and Chani’s male heir, Leto II — the future God Emperor.
Who Plays The Emperor In Dune: Part Two?
In the first part of Villeneuve’s Dune film adaptations, Shaddam is known through title alone. He never makes a physical appearance, but his presence nonetheless looms over the events of the plot.
Dune: Part Two sees the Emperor play a more vital role, putting actor Christopher Walken in the royal shoes of the character.
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