Study Guide

Thor Henry IV

Henry IV

Even The Bard Was Big On Franchises

Director Kenneth Branagh made his name with the film version Big Willy Shakespeare's Henry V, which is the story of a young king trying to prove himself against long odds.

But it's actually a sequel of sorts…and, more properly, the last chapter to a trilogy. (See? Hollywood didn't invent the sequel game: not by a long shot.)

It's preceded by the two parts of Henry IV, which detail Henry V when he was a headstrong young man named Hal.

His father, Henry IV worries about whether or not Hal will be up for the job as king: he's busy spending his nights partying like it's 1599 and waking in a pile of empty ale mugs and barroom wenches. The elder Henry actually prefers Percy Hotspur, who isn't actually his son, but who holds a lot of the qualities that would make a good king.

Here's a quote from Shakespeare to make our point:

HENRY IV: Yea, there thou mak'st me sad, and mak'st me sin
In envy that my Lord Northumberland
Should be the father to so blest a son,
A son who is the theme of Honor's tongue,
Amongst a grove, the very straightest plant,
Who is sweet Fortune's minion and her pride;
Whilst I, by looking on the praise of him,
See riot and dishonor stain the brow
Of my young Harry. (Act I, scene 1, lines 77-85)

Thor: The Lovechild of Marvel And Shakespeare?

Sound familiar? Loki, who isn't Odin's biological son, may actually be a better candidate for king than Thor, who is. (Mostly because Loki doesn't go picking fights with frost giants on a whim.) The central part of Thor'splot borrows this idea wholesale: a troubled relationship between fathers and sons, andthe power of a kingdom that lies in the balance. Odin lavishes Thor with his favor by naming him heir, and Thor wantonly abuses it.

ODIN: I was a fool to think you were ready.

In point of fact, Loki's better king material: he's crafty, he keeps his options open, he forges unlikely alliances, and he's definitely a big picture kind of guy. Okay, so that's accompanied by treachery and deceit, but it's kind of a package deal.

LOKI: I love Thor more dearly than any of you, but you know what he is. He's arrogant, he's reckless, he's dangerous! You saw how he was today! Is that what Asgard needs from its king?

SIF: He may speak of the good of Asgard, but he has always been jealous of Thor!

The thing is, both of them are right. And that leaves Odin in a bit of a pickle as far as the future of his kingdom goes: pick the reckless real son who has some good qualities…but tends to bash before he thinks? Or go with the adopted son who can't be trusted…but might actually do a better job of being king?

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

All of that comes from Henry IV. And just like Henry IV, the solution to Odin's dilemma eventually presents itself. Hal finally figures out that he can't keep boozing and womanizing, and even tosses aside his drinking buddies who actually aren't good buddies after all. (One of them, named Falstaff, is a dark sort of father figure for young Hal, and is ultimately rejected at the end of the play.)

He even does battle with Percy Hotspur, with the throne of England at stake, and emerges triumphant while proving that his bad boy days are behind him.

Thor does the same thing. He learns that he has responsibilities beyond just breaking glasses and starting wars with frost giants. He shows that he can be a better king than Loki, and eventually earns his father's respect: restoring the proper line of ascension and ensuring that Asgard doesn't fall into the hands of a sneaky git.

ODIN: You'll be a wise king.

THOR: There will never be a wiser king than you. Or a better father. I have much to learn. I know that now. One day, perhaps, I will make you proud.

That's the way Hal acts when he picks up his responsibility. The parallels are subtle, but you can definitely spot them, and knowing the director, he's sure to put them front and center where we can spot them easily. For example check out this line of dialogue from Odin, explaining his basic dilemma to his two sons.

ODIN: Only one of you can ascend to the throne. But both of you were born to be kings!

Now here's a piece of dialogue from Henry, where Hal says pretty much the same thing.

PRINCE HENRY:
Two stars keep not their motion in one sphere;
Nor can one England brook a double reign,
Of Harry Percy and the Prince of Wales. (Act V, Scene 4, lines 64-66)

The more you look, the more those parallels come forward, giving Thor a literary heft that other superhero moves lack. (Unless we can prove that Iron Man is actually a reimagined Great Gatsby…)

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