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Why Marvel's Agents of SHIELD is like Shakespeare


Shakespeare totally would have had a Captain America trading card collection...

Why 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD' (2013) is like Shakespeare

There may be some similarities between the current TV show Marvel's Agents of SHIELD and the work of William Shakespeare. Before you all riot, hear me out. And also catch up on the recent episodes and Captain America: The Winter Soldier if you haven't already. To say that lots of very dramatic things happen is an understatement. For one thing, there's political intrigue aplenty, reminiscent of Shakespeare's historical dramas.

[The following contains spoilers for Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and Marvel's Agents of SHIELD up to Season 1 Episode 17, 'Turn, Turn, Turn', the first post-movie episode.]

First off, while some may have dismissed the early episodes of the show as insufficiently Whedonesque and insufficiently superheroic, given the expectations set up by the confluence of Joss Whedon and Marvel, the last few episodes have been increasingly serialised (really, since S1 E10, 'The Bridge', and to some extent even earlier, if you look for it).

Ian De Caestecker as Fitz from 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD' (2013)Thus, the show is turning into the sort of edge-of-your-seat storytelling that Joss Whedon and Marvel are known for, exploring the drama of human life in a heightened, fantastical context, driven by vivid and often loveable characters. This is the same kind of thing that Shakespeare did so well.

"I can just imagine a tearful, rage-filled Fitz shouting at Ward, “You, or I, or both, must die!”"

More specifically, the ending of 'Turn, Turn, Turn', with Agent Ward turning evil (or showing that he was HYDRA all along), but with hints that he might one day be redeemed due to his love for Skye, sets up some interesting possibilities.

For one thing, it calls to mind Spike's arc from Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though that's a little more complex.

It also means that with SkyWard / SkyDRA we have a story where a HYDRA mole (who was previously) within SHIELD is (arguably) in love with a Rising Tide hackivist turned SHIELD Agent who's also an 0-8-4 [object of unknown origin, which in this case is a person] who's half blue-alien (possibly Kree), with unspecified but seemingly very significant abilities.

This is probably Joss Whedon's way of adapting Romeo and Juliet by stealth. (After all, he has experience with stealth Shakespeare adaptations, having filmed Much Ado About Nothing in 12 days in secret while on vacation from making The Avengers. He's the Melinda May of writer-directors; stealthy like a ninja and awesome like a ninja.)

Chloe Bennet as Skye and Brett Dalton as Ward in 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD' (2013) - Joss Whedon's take on Romeo and Juliet?

I can just imagine a tearful, rage-filled Fitz shouting at Ward, “You, or I, or both, must die!”

Other Shakespeare parallels that are evident so far include the character of Mike Peterson / Deathlok, who's essentially a tragic hero of Shakespearean proportions. J. August Richards is fantastic in the role, really selling Mike's dignity and inner conflict.

Also, Agent Garrett (Bill Paxton) shows hints of a Shakesperean level of complexity, though exactly where they're going with the character remains to be seen. It's arguable that he's a pragmatist who's got in too deep, and wants out. This is hinted at by various lines of dialogue in Episodes 16 and 17, such as “Be careful what you get used to” (with the implication being that it could be used to manipulate you).

There's Garrett's conversation with Skye, where he tells her that the Supervising Officer relationship goes both ways, and that Ward's changed, implying that Skye has affected her SO, Ward, presumably for good, and perhaps that this change in Ward makes his SO, Garrett, see a ray of light for his own redemption.

There's also the fact that Garrett says that HYDRA being called “Out of the shadows, into the light” is “Not a minor Bill Paxton as John Garrett from 'Marvel's Agents of SHIELD' (2013)inconvenience”. This could imply that Garrett actually enjoyed “waving the flag for SHIELD”, and wants to go back to being un-compromised by HYDRA; though perhaps it's just that he enjoyed being the mysterious 'The Clairvoyant' and calling the shots, but now he's being hung out to dry by a Bigger Bad (“top brass...oh, yes, tippity-top”--possibly Robert Redford's Alexander Pierce). (He can't have been talking about Cobie Smulders' Maria Hill, can he? But she's Robin from How I Met Your Mother! She can't be evil! I'm sure Shakespeare would have said the same thing.)

In any case, if Garrett wants to be redeemed (or if he's simply thinking of himself as a pragmatist who wants to forge his own path instead of being beholden to HYDRA), the last scene of 'Turn, Turn, Turn', with Garrett telling a story in jokey, Bill Paxton-esque style (incidentally, the same one that Coulson called him out for changing, with Garrett responding that it makes it a better story—implying that Garrett might want to try and change his own story) while Ward sits and ponders and stares, perhaps conflictedly or perhaps psychopathically, implies that even if they head in the same direction, it could be on different paths. If that's the case, it'll be very interesting to watch that play out.

A couple more observations:

Interestingly, Clark Gregg played Leonato, and Amy Acker played Beatrice, in Joss Whedon's adaption of Much Ado About Nothing.

Few shows do dark as well as Joss Whedon, with a few exceptions such as Kurt Sutter's (Hamlet-inspired) Sons of Anarchy, which is truly Shakespearean drama in its own right.


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