Exhilarating Early Moderns: William Shakespeare’s “Thor”
If you woke up this morning hoping to learn more about early modern literature, then you’re in luck.
This is the first in a series I will call “Exhilarating Early Moderns”, because “Terrible Tudors” has already been taken, and myself, I am partial to the Stewarts. And because describing an entire era as “Elizabethan” gives far too much credit to one girl.
In reality, all the Early Modern Era-shaping was done by Shakespeare and Co. – the quills that left us post-modern moderns an idea of life at the dawn of modernity.
So while we’re thinking about the literature of this particular era, and pondering the role of history in performance and parody, we would do well to begin with Kenneth Branagh.
Ken – revered for his role in the 2012 Olympics as Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but only slightly better known for his definitive work in Shakespearean film-making– must have had Bill Shakes in mind when he agreed to take on Thor back in 2011. But Ken would have been surprised to learn that Shakey once penned a Thor of his own, way back in 1597.
Discovered last week, now under intense academic scrutiny, experts are unsure whether to categorize William Shakespeare’s Thor, or Subtlety Lost, as a comedy or a tragedy.
Thor, or Subtlety Lost
ASGARD. The palace.
Flourish. Enter the court.
Odin: So have we herein barred your better wisdoms,
And named our first-born, Thor, the heir apparent.
Thus give I him this hammer, and the kingdom,
And prove myself a fair and loving parent.
Thor: Wherefore do you gift me with that which I am already possessed?
Odin: Tis a tool, my son, a tool.
Loki: Of which you, brother, are not accounted the sharpest.
Odin: Pray hold your peace, Loki.
Loki: Though this palace may pass for a toolshed –
Odin: The crowds which throng this golden hall –
Loki: (Aside) ‘Tis more like unto a prison.
Odin: – Do praise and laud you, son, withal.
Enter a guard.
Guard: There’s grievous news abroad
The Frozen Giants nigh to stole our wealth away.
Odin: Say you so? Come, let us to the Capitol!
Exunt all but Loki
Loki: But when I said that Asgard was a prison,
That were a term too lordly and too large;
It is instead a garden gone to seed,
This canker in the hedge of state its weed,
And its Thorny rose too glorified indeed.
ASGARD. A room of state.
Enter Thor, Loki, and three Clowns.
Thor: O, vengeance!
Loki: How now, what mutter you?
Thor: I’ll be revenged on you all!
I mean to say on all the beastly Giants.
Clown 1: By my faith, ‘tis a bad plan.
Clown 2: By my troth, ‘tis a foolish plan.
Clown 3: And by my two faiths and troths, ‘tis as foolish and as bad a plan as ever I have heard.
Thor: Only let you do as I do; that’s what I can; induced
As you have been; that’s for my country.
Come, let us away.
ASGARD. The Queen’s closet
Enter Loki, Frigga, and some Giants.
Loki: Now, mother, what’s the matter?
Frigga: These Frost Giants do much offend me!
Loki: This offence is too great for such little speech,
So now dead! Dead for a ducat!
Makes a pass through the arras.
Frigga: O, What a rash and bloody deed is this!
Loki: Mother, I swear that the Jotuns will pay,
And rather than the casket full of frost,
Which I had pledged them at some other time,
I’ll send a box of tennis balls.
Frigga: I think that would need a racquet.
Loki: Nay, that Thor brings with him.
Enter Thor and his Hammer.
Thor: If you would know your wronger, look on me.
Loki: Oh, but this body did contain a spirit
The ninth realm for it was too small a bound…
Falls into an infinity vortex.
ASGARD. The palace.
Enter Odin, Thor, and the court.
Odin: Though yet of Loki our dear brother’s death
The memory be green, yet furnish forth
The feasting tables, and we’ll have dancing afterward.
Strike up, pipers.
[On the last page, a brief and taunting post-script appears:]
Is’t a team?
Nay, we are but like unto fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume…