WE ASKED AN EXPERT PANEL TO NAME THE TEN SHAKESPEAREAN FATHERS LEAST LIKELY TO RECEIVE A CARD ON FATHER’S DAY. TODAY WE BEGIN THE COUNTDOWN WITH NUMBERS TEN, NINE, EIGHT, SEVEN AND SIX.
Compiled by Andy McLean
10. POLONIUS (Hamlet)
Social researcher Dr Rebecca Huntley picked the misguided Polonius as her favourite infamous father from Shakespeare. The close tabs Polonius keeps on daughter Ophelia is something Huntley still sees in her social research to this day: “I recall one father who used to pay his youngest son a dollar to burst into his sister’s room when she was in there with her boyfriend, another who used to hide behind the bins at the fast food restaurant where his daughter worked to see if any of the customers were chatting her up.”
In his defence, Polonius probably means well, says Huntley: “He is genuine in his desire to protect Ophelia; he is trying to keep her safe from Hamlet at his worst. But Polonius makes some pretty terrible decisions and he can’t help but interfere in ways that aren’t at all helpful to anyone.”
9. EGEUS (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Next on our list of peevish patriarchs is Egeus, who is so adamant about marrying his daughter Hermia off to Demetrius (against her wishes), that he takes his case to the highest authority in the land. The Duke of Athens bows to pressure and rules that Hermia must wed Demetrius or risk being executed or forced to live in a convent.
Egeus doesn’t give a hoot that his daughter loves Lysander, a young nobleman of equal social and economic standing to Demetrius. His fatherly stubbornness sets in motion a chain of events that places his daughter and her friends in great peril. On the upside, hapless Egeus gets his comeuppance when Hermia marries her true love. Let’s hope Egeus eventually warms to his new son-in-law…
INFAMOUS FATHER ON STAGE
Bell Shakespeare is currently touring The Merchant Of Venice nationally, featuring the infamous father Shylock. View all our forthcoming productions here.
8. CORIOLANUS (Coriolanus)
After more than 400 years, the jury is still out on whether Coriolanus is a brutish aggressor or a misunderstood war hero but, either way, his parenting skills are undeniably shonky.
Shakespeare academic Dr Huw Griffiths picked Coriolanus as his favourite infamous father: “He’s obviously a terrible influence on his son, who is described as ‘mammocking’ (tearing apart) butterflies for his own amusement, trying to imitate his dad’s militaristic attitude. And he’s also something of an absent father: short of words, long on silences, and more committed to his work than to the family.”
Yet there is something undeniably appealing about Coriolanus too, according to Griffiths. “What people sometimes miss with Coriolanus is that he is also really sexy. Admittedly, it’s his mother who tells us this, describing him as a young man, ‘when youth with comeliness plucked all gaze his way’. During the play, Coriolanus abandons his country and his family to take up arms with his former enemy, Aufidius, a man who welcomes him claiming that his ‘rapt heart’ dances more for Coriolanus than it does for his wife. So, if I am allowed to rewrite, ‘infamous father’ as ‘hot gay daddy’, then I would choose Coriolanus.”
7. LEONTES (The Winter’s Tale)
Bell Shakespeare’s Associate Director James Evans picked Leontes as the dodgiest dad in Shakespeare. And he makes a pretty compelling case for it too: “Through his jealousy and single-minded obsession, Leontes destroys and loses his entire family. He sends out his daughter to be killed. He imprisons his wife. His son Mamillius dies.”
That’s quite a track record, even by Shakespearean standards. Fortunately, Leontes gets a second chance at the end of the play: “After sixteen years of misery and dwelling on his mistakes, Leontes discovers that his wife and daughter are actually still alive, and they are reunited,” says Evans. Still, one can imagine a few awkward moments around the dinner table on Father’s Day.
COMING TO A STAGE NEAR YOU…
Some of theatre’s most infamous characters are coming to life in Bell Shakespeare’s current and future productions. Shylock is stalking across Australia right now, in The Merchant Of Venice. Octavius Caesar will be waging war in Antony And Cleopatra in 2018. Moliere’s Alceste will be breaking hearts (including his own) in The Misanthrope in 2018. And other infamous villains are also waiting in the wings, for a yet-be-announced 2018 production. Sign up to the Bell Shakespeare newsletter for updates.
6. CLAUDIUS (Hamlet)
When asked to pick her favourite infamous father in Shakespeare, actor Kate Mulvany chose a stepfather: “I’ve always had a soft spot for Claudius – the stepfather from hell,” she says.
Mulvany loves Claudius because, even though he’s a villain, he has a conscience: “He pleads with God to wash clean his murderous hands – a divine bargain that reveals his innermost guilt and fear. And I do believe he loves Gertrude deeply (‘my Queen’, as he refers to her in his prayer). I feel a little too sorry for Claudius when he’s watching the Murder of Gonzago and begs for light. There’s something about it that makes me feel for him, the murderous bugger.”