TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBER 1

REVEALING THE LOWEST OF THE LOW – THE MOST DEVIOUS SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAIN.

Compiled by Andy McLean

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

Read about villains 7 (Henry V), 6 (Richard III), and 5 (Macbeth).

Read about villains 4 (Tybalt), 3 (Lady Macbeth), and 2 (Aaron the Moor).

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

1. IAGO (Othello)
When we asked our global panel of experts to name the Shakespeare villain they most love to hate, there was one character who kept turning up like a bad penny: Iago.

This is a character who is single-mindedly evil. From the opening scene of Othello to the last, Iago does nothing but plot, connive and scheme to bring down Othello and all those who love him. In fact, Iago is so utterly evil that, for centuries, audiences have puzzled over what could possibly have driven him to such depths of depravity.  As Shakespeare enthusiast Lis from the Hollow Crown Fans website, says: “You can’t figure out what drives his actions psychologically. They are out of proportion with simply being passed over for a promotion.”

Social researcher and writer Dr Rebecca Huntley also names Iago as public enemy number one: “You really can’t go past Iago. He’s an evil genius and extremely good at identifying people’s weaknesses and turning them against each other. He’d be an excellent office psychopath.”

That’s a view shared by Dr Huw Griffiths from the University of Sydney: “There is something incredibly stylish about this man, an outsider to Venice, who causes absolute havoc and appalling violence through an almost compulsive need to implant fantasies into other people’s brains, using his highly persuasive speech. But when asked for an explanation, he simply says, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. / From this time forth I never will speak word.” I love the irony of the situation: a man who has done nothing but talk, now that he is asked to tell the truth, is insisting on silence. He’s pleading the fifth and, as I said: stylish. This silence must, in part, be about the extent to which his malevolence is ultimately inexplicable. But it is also a further extension of his villainy. He continues to stick two fingers up to the system right to the end.”

Follow Hollow Crown Fans on Twitter and Facebook.

Follow Rebecca Huntley on Twitter.

Follow Dr Huw Griffiths on Twitter.

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring number one villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

Advertisements

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBERS 4, 3 AND 2

OUR COUNTDOWN OF THE MOST DESPICABLE VILLAINS IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS IS GETTING TO THE SHARP, POINTY END.

HERE, WE REVEAL NUMBERS FOUR, THREE AND TWO.

Compiled by Andy McLean.

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

Read about villains 7 (Henry V), 6 (Richard III), and 5 (Macbeth).

4. TYBALT (Romeo And Juliet)
Compared to some of the other villains on our list, Tybalt might not be considered the worst of the worst. He’s certainly a hateful little punk but he only leaves one dead body in his wake. So why does he rank so highly?

Because it’s Tybalt’s hot-headed violence that turns Romeo And Juliet from a romantic comedy into possibly the most heartbreaking tragedy in literary history. For most of the first two Acts, the play is really a story of puppy love, parties and wisecracks.

That all changes when Tybalt slays Mercutio (one of the most outrageously funny characters in the Shakespeare canon). From that moment, events spin dangerously out of control. Having seen Tybalt murder his best mate, Romeo turns from a lover into a fighter and kills Tybalt. And then everyone’s fate is sealed. (Way to go, Tybalt.)

3. LADY MACBETH (Macbeth)
While her husband provides the brawn, it is Lady Macbeth who is the brains behind the Macbeths’ bloody ascent to the Scottish throne. Actor and playwright Kate Mulvany played Lady Macbeth in Bell Shakespeare’s 2012 production and she’s lost none of her affection for the character since.

“Lady Macbeth’s villainy is strangely inspiring!” says Mulvany. “She is ambitious, funny, driven, sexy and smart. She’s not a villain for the sake of being a villain. She chooses villainy as a recovery from her own grief – the loss of her child. There is a deeper, darker psychology to her, which makes her choices all the more fascinating.”

Mulvany also admires Lady Macbeth’s powers of persuasion. “What a way with words! She can seduce the darkest spirits of hell in just a few words – ‘Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here…’ Whoa. Her vernacular is delicious – not just for the actor, but for the audience. And no matter how despicable she is, you can’t help but secretly, naughtily, be cheering for her on the inside.”

Kate Mulvany will play the title role in Bell Shakespeare’s new production of Richard 3 in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne from February to May 2017.

Follow Kate Mulvany on Twitter.

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

2. AARON THE MOOR (Titus Andronicus)
For pure bloodthirstiness, it’s hard to go past Aaron the Moor in Titus Andronicus. Aaron is the lover of Tamora, queen of the Goths. He encourages Tamora’s sons to commit rape, mutilation and murder, then he frames Titus’s sons for the crimes. Plus, he arranges their deaths and, just for good measure, forces Titus to amputate his own hand.

Finally, when Aaron’s wickedness is exposed and he’s apprehended, he shows no trace of remorse. Robert O’Brien, emeritus professor of English literature at California State University, Chico, nominates Aaron the Moor as his favourite villain in Shakespeare, for the character’s “thrillingly defiant speech” at the beginning of Act 5:
I have done a thousand dreadful things
As willingly as one would kill a fly,
And nothing grieves me heartily indeed
But that I cannot do ten thousand more.

Follow Robert O’Brien on Twitter and Facebook.

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring the arch villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

WHO WILL BE THE NUMBER ONE VILLAIN?
Stay tuned on social media in the next few days, when we’ll reveal Shakespeare’s number one villain. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

 

 

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS: NUMBERS 7, 6 AND 5

WE’RE ON A QUEST TO DISCOVER THE ULTIMATE SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS. THE MOST DOWNRIGHT DEVIOUS, NEFARIOUS NASTIES IN ALL OF SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS.

HERE, WE REVEAL NUMBERS SEVEN, SIX AND FIVE.

Compiled by Andy McLean.

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

7. PRINCE HAL aka HENRY V (Henry IV, Henry V)
Yes, yes we know. Prince Hal is a hero. One of Shakespeare’s most inspiring, in fact. A gallant fighter, and a brilliant orator. A man who conquers every battlefield he steps onto.

So why is he on our list of villains?

Well for starters: He’s disloyal. Before he becomes king, Hal is happy to party with Falstaff and Bardolph in the den of inequity that is the Boar’s Head Tavern. But the moment he becomes king, Hal publicly turns his back on Falstaff. Later still, he shows no hesitation in sentencing Bardolph to be hanged for theft.

So far, so bad. But that’s nothing compared to what else Hal is capable of. As John Bell points out in On Shakespeare, as soon as Hal is crowned Henry V, he embarks upon a patriotic war that “will deflect rebellion, unite the country and make the new king a national hero.” The inevitable casualties are but a trifling detail.

“The new king bullies and blackmails the Church into sanctioning his cause,” says Bell. Then Henry V undertakes a war of invasion, executes anyone who stands in his way and, during the Battle of Agincourt, commands his soldiers to commit the ultimate war crime: slaughtering thousands of prisoners.

If you’re still in any doubt about Henry V’s villainous credentials, just read the bloodthirsty threat he issues to the besieged inhabitants of Harfleur.

6. RICHARD III (Richard III)
When it came to history, Shakespeare never let the facts get in the way of a good story. There are those who believe King Richard III was, in real life, a good and progressive monarch but there’s no trace of those qualities in the character that Shakespeare creates. In the play, Richard III cons his way to the English crown, and clings to it, thanks to a relentless campaign of conniving, executions and warmongering.

“Shakespeare’s portrayal of Richard III is still controversial today, with armies of ‘Ricardians’ angrily protesting that it’s Tudor propaganda,” says Pat Reid, editor of Shakespeare Magazine. “Personally, I wonder if Shakespeare makes Richard so monumentally grotesque as a way of hinting that it shouldn’t be taken too seriously.”

Reid nominates the famously hunchbacked villain as his favourite: “He’s so gleefully malevolent that he almost becomes a kind of devil in human form, but he’s also laugh-out-loud funny.”

Reid adds: “He resembles a modern-day serial killer in that we know he’s going to keep on killing until he’s stopped. The whole issue of Richard’s physical deformity adds another dimension. I thought Benedict Cumberbatch played Richard superbly in The Hollow Crown 2 – he’s an arch-manipulator, but at times he seems horror-stricken to be possessed by forces beyond his control.”

Bell Shakespeare’s new production of Richard 3 will hit stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne from February to May 2017.

Read Shakespeare Magazine and follow on Twitter and  Facebook.

5. MACBETH (Macbeth)
Shakespeare obviously had a bit of a thing for villainous kings – and Macbeth is possibly the most treacherous of all. With his mind poisoned by prophecies from three witches, Macbeth murders the King of Scotland in his sleep and takes the crown for himself. But once on the throne, paranoia overcomes him. He spends his brief reign ordering the deaths of any potential enemies (and even his best friend Banquo) before the whole thing comes crashing down in a bloody battle at Dunsinane Castle.

Macbeth is a villain so heinous and despicable that actors are actually afraid to say his name out loud. “The curse of Macbeth” is infamous in theatre circles where (according to legend) if you speak his name, disaster will befall whatever play you’re working on.

Sounds like a tall story, right?

Maybe. But the last time Bell Shakespeare staged Macbeth at the Sydney Opera House,  in 2012, half the cast were struck down with food poisoning – and opening night had to be postponed. Now, we’re not saying there’s any truth in the superstition but, then again, we’re still not saying “Macbeth” out loud either…

Read about villains 10 (Regan), 9 (Goneril), and 8 (Claudius).

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring the arch villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

COMING SOON
Stay tuned on social media for updates as we continue our countdown of Shakespeare’s Top Ten Villains. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS

WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THEIR FAVOURITE VILLAINS IN SHAKESPEARE’S PLAYS.

TODAY WE BEGIN THE COUNTDOWN OF CRIMINALS WITH NUMBERS TEN, NINE AND EIGHT.

Compiled by Andy McLean.

10. REGAN (King Lear)
9. GONERIL (King Lear)
Author Jane Caro picked King Lear’s elder daughters for our gallery of rogues, though she does have some sympathy for their plight: “They are two unloved daughters, sidelined for the youngest, who grow up and escape from their tyrannical, narcissistic father only to have him drag them back when he decides he needs a bit of help. He created their resentment and sense of being unlovable and eventually it destroys all of them – even that mealy-mouthed little suck-up Cordelia.”

Caro’s conclusion? “If you are a Donald Trump of a father then you reap what you sow.”

In ranking our list of villains, we found it a lot harder to choose between daughters than King Lear does. But Goneril narrowly trumps her younger sister, because she’s more imaginative when it comes to torture. When Regan commands that poor Gloucester be hanged, Goneril goes one better: “Pluck out his eyes”.

Follow Jane Caro on Twitter.

JOIN THE DEBATE
Who is your favourite Shakespeare villain? Do you agree or disagree with our experts? Share your views on Twitter and Facebook.

8. CLAUDIUS (Hamlet)
It’s no wonder Hamlet’s uncle was a popular choice as Shakespeare’s greatest villain. “Claudius is premeditated in killing Hamlet’s father, not very remorseful when Polonius dies, and premeditated again when trying to kill Hamlet,” says Brendan P Kelso, author of the [link] Shakespeare For Kids book series. “Then, in the end, everyone dies because of Claudius’s actions. If that’s not a stone cold villain, I don’t know what is!”

Dr Will Sharpe, teaching fellow at the University of Birmingham, describes Claudius as the quintessential ‘grey’ figure of evil in Shakespeare: “He’s unique in that we don’t get to know unambiguously that he’s the villain of the piece until over halfway through the play, and even then it’s through a prayer scene in which he’s searching his conscience.”

In nominating Claudius for our list, Dr Sharpe points out: “Shakespeare offers several suggestions that Claudius may actually be a better statesman than Hamlet’s father, or Hamlet himself – it’s easy to lose sight of the play’s political dimensions when focusing too closely on the revenge plot. Claudius may actually have done Denmark a favour in removing its war-hungry leader. Added to which, young Hamlet, the revenge ‘hero’, ends up murdering Polonius, becoming, in effect, no better than the murderer he stalks.

“Claudius is anything but the moustache-twirling malefactor we can all agree on hating. He shows such empathy and understanding during Ophelia’s descent into madness that we almost forget he’s ultimately responsible for it all. We do learn to hate Claudius by the end, but the journey there, as with everything in the play, is complicated in the best of ways!”

Follow Shakespeare For Kidson Twitter  and Facebook.

Follow Dr Will Sharpe on Twitter.

VILLAINS ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently staging Othello – featuring the arch villain Iago – at the Sydney Opera House until 4 December. And soon after that, Richard 3 will be stalking across stages in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne (February to May 2017).

 COMING SOON
Stay tuned on social media for updates as we continue our countdown of Shakespeare’s Top Ten Villains. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

BLACK POWER, WHITE NOISE

HOW OTHELLO STILL STRIKES A CHORD IN MODERN-DAY AUSTRALIA.

BY ANDY MCLEAN

Othello is set thousands of kilometres away, and hundreds of years ago, but it still feels close to home. Uncomfortably so. Contemporary Australia is still grappling with racial injustice, still suffering moral panic over immigration, and still waging war on foreign soil. When we see Othello on stage, we are forced us to look at ourselves. And what we see is the legacy of imperialism, the loss of cultural and religious identity, and the sometimes fragile nature of racial assimilation.

A recent study on social cohesion, Australia Today 2016, found that while Australia appears to be a broadly tolerant nation, pockets of prejudice still linger beneath the surface. The Scanlon report surveyed more than 10,000 Australian born and immigrant respondents. It found incidence of discrimination were not uncommon, particularly towards people of colour. Participants in focus groups described unwitting discrimination from children shocked at their skin colour, employment discrimination and general “distancing” by people on the street as well as police harassment.

From what we see of Venice in the play, Othello the black ‘Moor’ experiences discrimination on a daily basis. “One of the reasons Othello feels so contemporary is how casual the racism is,” says Peter Evans, who is directing the play for Bell Shakespeare in 2016. “For example, when Brabantio discovers his daughter Desdemona is secretly involved with Othello, he flies off the handle. He makes several racist comments, but it feels like everyone excuses it because he’s angry over his daughter.”

KNOW YOUR PLACE
Othello is a military hero in Venice, who has risen from his immigrant, non-Christian roots, to become a General in the army. But as a Moor, he still isn’t fully accepted by the white population in Venice. “It’s fascinating because you actually see that Othello has to bite his tongue three or four times a day,” says Evans. “And you can’t help but think about Australian sport and the way that some people laud Indigenous players for their skills but don’t want the players to ‘get above their station’. Adam Goodes was certainly on the receiving end of that.”

Professor Andrew Markus from Monash University who oversees the Scanlon research estimates that the levels of culturally intolerant people in Australia is probably around 20% of the population. Quoting some of the research findings, The Guardian reported: “…when asked what they least liked about Australia, the first choice of 18% of third generation respondents was racism and discrimination. Another 19% of third generation Australians said too much immigration. There is Australia’s race debate.”

This underlying climate of discrimination also permeates Venice in Othello, says Evans: “Shakespeare doesn’t shine a light on the racism; it’s just there. It’s just another thing that’s woven through the play. It’s not a play about race, and yet race is absolutely integral to everything in the play.”

BLACK IS THE COLOUR
Samoan-born Ray Chong Nee is playing the title role in the 2016 Bell Shakespeare production of Othello. He says the play has a complicated history for black actors: “It is only fairly recently, like in the past 50 years, that black men have regularly been able to play the role. Up until then it was white actors, sometimes wearing blackface make-up. Now the role has been claimed by black people. The issues that Shakespeare throws up in this play are still quite current. For example, I see a lot of Sudanese people in Melbourne going through a lot of issues with race.”

The Scanlon report certainly bears this out. When asked if they had experienced discrimination in the past 12 months, 77% of South Sudanese immigrants said yes. Similarly, 75% of Zimbabweans, 67% of Kenyans and 60% of Ethiopians.

In 16th Century England, Moorish refugees had arrived in London to escape persecution in Spain. Shakespeare would have witnessed discrimination towards these immigrants. Anxiety among the locals ran so high that, in 1596, Queen Elizabeth I passed an edict banishing “blackamoors brought into this realme, of which kinde of people there are already to manie”.

IRRESISTIBLE
White women were romantically involved with black men in Shakespeare’s time. Journalist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says these unions caused consternation in many quarters: “Shakespeare dramatises and unsettles that moral panic. He made Othello an awesome figure; a black conqueror at a time when blackness was associated with death and evil.”

The relationship between Desdemona and Othello is initially an equal one, says Alibhai-Brown. “This is not a King Kong figure grabbing the young white girl, but an irresistible drawing together in unity.” Ray Chong Nee points out that Othello has partly won Desdemona’s heart with his exotic tales of far off places: “His words are so poetic and beautiful. Nobody else in the play uses the same sort of pentameter or imagery.”

Othello’s command of the local dialect is just one sign of his willingness to assimilate into Venetian society. Since he arrived in chains, he has also been baptised and bravely fought in war. But he is still kept at arms-length, something that Aibhai-Brown (a Ugandan-born Muslim living in the UK) can still relate to today: “Othello’s tragedy is that cultural surrender is not enough for most Venetians. They cannot ever truly embrace him. Desdemona represents the impossibility of colour-blind love and its utter fragility. My children, born here, think their colour doesn’t matter. I hope they are strong enough to bear the pain when they realise it does, always will.”

Indeed, as Ray Chong Nee succinctly puts it: “Until the divide between black and white is non-existent then this play still has relevance. It’s still incredibly powerful.”

The 2016 Bell Shakespeare production of Othello is being performed in Canberra and Sydney – and is touring nationally – until 4 December 2016. See details here.

Andy McLean is a Sydney-based copywriter who grew up in Stratford-upon-Avon. He frequently tweets and shares Shakespeare minutia from @1andymclean