|Edmund Keen as Richard III|
Although, in actual fact, this recipe is universal, because the ingredients that go into a good Shakespearean "wrong 'un" are exactly the same ones that make any good literary, theatrical or film villain.
- First, you will need an ‘outsider’. A character can be made an outsider by a number of factors, including his, or her, appearance. For example, the deformed Richard III or Aaron in Titus Andronicus, who is made an outsider by the colour of his skin. Alternatively, a character’s status may push him, or her, to the fringes of polite society, as is the case for the illegitimate Edmund in King Lear.
It’s important to mention that, at this point, if the character is not correctly handled, he may not turn to villainy. There are cases, such as Othello, in which the outsider is, in fact, the hero.
- Next, the outsider must be ‘wronged’ or, at the very least, feel that he, or she, has been slighted in some way. For instance, in Othello, Iago is passed over for the lieutenancy and feels that the role of ensign is entirely beneath him. Another good example is the Queen of the Goths, Tamora, from Titus Andronicus, whose pleas to spare the lives of her sons fall on deaf ears.
- Stir in some fabulous dialogue. All great villains must have a set piece monologue or soliloquy (usually a soliloquy). The master of villainous soliloquies being Iago, of course, although Richard III runs him a close second.
|Edwin Booth as Iago|
- Then, add a dash of unpleasantness, purely for the sake of unpleasantness. The really great Shakespearean villains have a hint of unmotivated evil about them. This can be seen in Edmund’s seduction of both Regan and Goneril in King Lear. Another example of over-the-top malice is Don John’s plot to ruin Hero’s reputation in Much Ado About Nothing.
- Finally, it is essential that a great villain is not ‘over-eviled’. Possibly the best example of this is Aaron from Titus Andronicus, who seems thoroughly loathsome and beyond redemption...until he becomes a father and something almost tender emerges in him.
|Ira Aldrige as Aaron|
Shakespeare always manages to give his character’s flaws, desires and ambitions. In the case of the villains, these flaws, desires and ambitions are all too human, which means they are much more than just pantomime figures.
Their evil deeds are, usually, bred from a place of pain, frustration or, in most cases, bitter resentment. And that’s something that most of us can relate to.
Disclaimer: Results may vary depending on the quality of ingredients and equipment used. All aspects of this recipe will not always apply to every villain; there are those pesky exceptions that prove the rule. However, the above method can be applied to the vast majority of Shakespearean villains.