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.
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.
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.
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).