Thor 029: How Much Shakespeare Can We Cram Into This Minute?
In this minute of Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 film ‘Thor,’ Odin and Thor argue while Loki watches. Saddened by his son’s behavior, Odin then makes the decision to tell Thor he’s unworthy and starts stripping him of his ranks and titles. Dr. Jeff Wilson from the Harvard College Writing Program joins us today!
Minute 29: From Old Man to Unworthy
We have a special Shakespearean expert joining us for this minute of royal family drama. Dr. Jeff Wilson from the Harvard College Writing Program talks with us about Thor’s Shakespearean connections and why it makes so much sense for Branagh to be directing.
In the twenty-ninth minute of Kenneth Branagh’s 2011 film Thor…
- We dig into the Shakespearean elements that Branagh saw in this story that drew him in, notably the story of Prince Hal in the first part of Henry IV. That totally makes sense as his draw to this, not to mention some of the people he cast like Anthony Hopkins and Tom Hiddleston.
- Dr. Wilson felt that Branagh pulled it off and also heard that the actors and director walked around talking in Shakespearean shorthand on the set (which surely frustrated anyone not as familiar with the Bard and his stories).
We discuss comparisons with Shakespeare’s Prince Hal.
- Dr. Wilson also breaks down the story of Prince Hal, part of one of Shakespeare’s two tetralogies, and explains the similarities for us in it.
- And apparently, Branagh gave Chris Hemsworth at one point the St. Crispin’s Day speech and told him to come to set with it prepared to read. How amazing would that be to watch?
- When Hopkins and Hemsworth deliver their biting comments at one another, the Shakespearean training shines through as the lines are full of heightened and grand language. It’s like verbal acid they’re throwing at one another.
- What’s amazing here, however, is how Hopkins pivots when Thor calls him old and foolish. The way he drops the anger and becomes almost pensive and thoughtful reflects the wisdom that comes with age.
- And isn’t it funny that so many superhero films boil down to the Spider-Man theme – with great power comes great responsibility.
- Dr. Wilson schools us on the Mirrors for Magistrates as a genre in which leaders (usually princes) learn how to lead responsibly. And to that end, it also fits Screenwriting 101 as a character has to learn and grow over the course of a film.
We discuss comparisons with Shakespeare’s King Lear.
- We find out that Hopkins had approached the moment when he realizes his errors in raising Thor as a King Lear moment. So far, two Shakespeare references playing out in this scene!
- Loki’s attempt at interrupting the fight brings up more Shakespearean references. Hiddleston’s just so good in this role as he clearly is gaming things right now.
- We also find out that Hiddleston actually thinned down for this part to look more lean and hungry-looking, taking cues from Cassius in Shakespeare’s stories.
We even bring up Shakespeare’s Iago.
- There’s also references to Iago. Seriously, this is a very Shakespearean minute.
- This really isn’t so much a battle between the old ways and the new ways as it is between wisdom and youthful eagerness. Thor may see it as the old and the new, but that’s the view from youth.
- Thor finally pushes Odin to the brink and Odin begins stripping Thor of his ranks, telling him he’s unworthy. This is a big minute.
- Odin calls Thor vain, greedy, and cruel. He’ll call him arrogant and stupid. It seems Odin really has let things build up a bit too much, eh?
Look at that! We bring up the film The Life of Emile Zola, definitely not Shakespeare.
- Branagh referenced the Dreyfus Affair from the film The Life of Emile Zola as a point of how a soldier gets stripped of his ranks. It’s quite a ritual in that film. Not so much here, but certainly still involving a lot for Odin to have to take from Thor.
- To that end, it really seems more like an emotional beat (and to that end Shakespearean?) to have Odin make his decision and take action right here instead of bringing Thor back to Valaskjalf to strip him of his ranks in front of all the Asgardians, the Einherjar and more.
- It also is more Shakespearean to have this scene set on this threshold here as a key point between worlds.
Inevitably, we bring it back around to Prince Hal.
- Dr. Wilson does point out how it’s interesting how this story flips Hal’s story on its head – here, it’s Asgard where Thor goes to get his education. In Shakespeare’s play, it’s the reverse as he returns to the palace for his own education. And that comparison of Asgard as a pub kinda makes sense, right?
- The first thing Odin removes from Thor’s armor are the top two discs of the six on Thor’s chest plate. It’s interesting to learn from this that these discs are actually part of the rankings, and now we want to keep our eyes out for other armor designs to see what sort of rankings we may be able to pinpoint.
- Dr. Wilson points out sumptuary laws that had existed in England at one point (as well as other parts of the world) that kept certain classes from wearing clothing or outfits from other classes.
- He also points out the fun that Joss Whedon was having with Branagh by throwing his ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ reference in The Avengers that Tony uses to insult Thor. So great.
- And, of course, since it is Thorsday, we ask Dr. Wilson what his favorite moment is with Thor in all the films. It may involve essentially a play within a play.
It’s an intense minute of Shakespearean family drama, and Dr. Jeff Wilson’s here to walk us through all of it. Tune in!
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