Sunday, July 16, 2006

2 Henry VI - Favorite Line


An anecdote: Gil and I saw Baz Luhrmann's film William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet in Denver soon after it came out in 1996. We were in an audience of about 20, and were both the only males and the only people over 18. Despite the assumptions one can form from the audience in attendance, Luhrmann's film is thoughtful and complex, not merely the "MTV Shakespeare" it was dismissed as. Luhrmann layers the film with modern cultural references (like the use of Hispanic religious iconography), powerful and persistent visual imagery (water, for example, represents not only love's ability to purify the families' enmity but the lovers themselves), and sly references to the Shakespeare oeuvre.

One of these latter has mystified me for the last decade; in one scene the camera catches a billboard, hanging like the eyes of T. J. Eckleberg over Luhrmann's Miami-esque Verona Beach, for Thunder bullets. (The characters carry guns made by the "Sword" company, so that the audience won't laugh when they say things like "Put up your sword.") The ad says: "Shoot Forth Thunder." Clever. But I could never figure out where the phrase came from or if it was, indeed, even from Shakespeare.

So imagine my surprise when, after 2 Henry VI's Lieutenant dresses down Suffolk for all the evil he has perpetrated on England, Suffolk responds with: "O, that I were a god to shoot forth thunder / Upon these paltry, servile, abject drudges" (4.1.104-105). Gil can have his "Edward the Third, my lords, had seven sons..." and the t-shirt/coffee mug manfacturers can have their "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers" (a line my lawyer friends will be pleased to know is spoken by a Dick), but I will emblazon my future 2 Henry VI marketing tie-ins with "O, that I were a god to shoot forth thunder."

That said, Suffolk's demise may be fitting in that he gropes for the wrong analogy. If it's Zeus he'd emulate, he really wants a lightning bolt. He can, and does, thunder all he wants, comparing himself to Tully, Caesar and Pompey after the Lieutenant complains "let him talk no more." It doesn't stop the axe.


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