What Makes a Good Friend?

The character traits that make up a good friend are honesty and loyalty. They should not be afraid to speak up and tell you when you have a bad idea, are being rude, or have food in your teeth. Shakespeare’s King Lear demonstrates the importance of a loyal and honest friend through Kent’s actions. In the beginning of Act 1, Kent tells King Lear to “see better” and realize how foolish he is being by disowning Cordelia (I.i.180). Even though Kent steps out of line and goes against what King Lear wishes, he acts with King Lear’s best intentions in mind.

Kent remains loyal to King Lear even after he is banished. He returns in disguise to continue to care for and protect King Lear from himself and others. “Now, banished Kent, / If thou canst serve where thou dost stand / condemned, / So may it come thy master, whom thou lov’st, / Shall find thee full of labors” (I.iv.4-8). In these lines, Kent displays his loyalty to King Lear as he risks his life to continue serving the King. He did not give up when King Lear banished him, he returned to continue supporting King Lear and to make King Lear realize his mistakes.

Although loyalty is one of the qualities that makes up a good friend, it needs to be paired with honesty. Because, without honesty, loyalty can easily turn into blindly following and serving someone. Goneril’s servant, Oswald, demonstrates this lacking quality as he blindly follows Goneril’s instructions. Kent points out Oswald’s lack of honesty as he says, “Knowing naught, like dogs, but following” (II.ii.84). Kent accuses Oswald of being a bad servant because he does not stand up to Goneril’s evil actions and tell her that she is making mistakes, unlike Kent who tells King Lear when he has made mistakes. Not even half way through the play, Shakespeare has delivered a message about the importance of honesty and loyalty in friends.

Edmund and Edgar, Loki and Thor

“Well then, / Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land. / Our father’s love is to the bastard Edmund / As to th’ legitimate… Edmund the base / Shall top the legitimate. I grow, I prosper”(I.ii.17-22).

“To prove to Father that I am a worthy son! When he wakes, I will have saved his life, I will have destroyed that race of monsters, and I will be true heir to the throne!”(Branagh, 1:35:48-1:35:59).

In Thor (2011), Thor is set to take the throne in Asgard in place of his father. However, when Thor is accused of inciting conflict with the Frost Giants, he is banished to Earth, and his brother Loki becomes the crown prince in his place. As the movie continues, it becomes clear that Loki sabotaged his brother in hopes of becoming their father’s true heir. It is also revealed that Loki is not actually an Asgardian, and is instead an abandoned Frost Giant whom Odin adopted. When Loki discovers this, he recalls all of the times that it has been obvious that his father loved Thor more than him. His feelings of jealousy and greed result in him actively working to dethrone his brother and steal his place.

This directly parallels the relationship between Edmund and Edgar in King Lear. Edmund, like Loki, is the bastard child and was always inherently loved less by his father. And, like Loki, Edmund conspires against his brother in hopes of regaining what he feels his brother has stolen from him. As Loki claims his brother’s throne, Edmund claims his brother’s land.

Edgar, like Thor, must quickly adopt a new role in order to stay alive. Thor must adapt to life on Earth, a harsh change from his life as royalty on Asgard. Edgar must assimilate to life as a beggar, or a “Poor Tom” – a severe downgrade from his previous role as nobility in England. And in their respective stories, Edgar and Thor represent goodness, righteousness, and strong core values, contrasted sharply with their brothers who represent greed, resentment, and more.

Personally, I doubt these similarities were unintentional. Kenneth Branagh, director of Thor, is a dedicated fan of Shakespeare – he has even directed and starred in some of his own adaptations of Shakespeare’s famous works. Tom Hiddleston, the actor who portrayed Loki, also has strong roots in Shakespearean theater. With this in mind, it is fascinating to see how two characters in a Marvel superhero movie can so directly parallel these two Shakespearean characters.