Thursday, 27 September 2012

Top 5 Bad Boys of Shakespeare's Plays

Let's face it, we've always had a bit of a soft spot for the bad boy; the man who lives by his own rules, defies convention, but whose deeds are never quite so evil as to place him in the 'villain' category. From Heathcliff to Danny Zuko, guys want to be the bad boy and girls want to be with him.

So, is the same true of Shakespeare's bad boys? And who are those top five Shakespearean rule, and heart, breakers?

5. Romeo

Baz Luhrmann's modern take on 'bad boy'
Romeo | Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo
Hotheaded and impulsive (traits that will lead to his tragic fall), Romeo is the Elizabethan equivalent of any role played by James Dean. 

He is the super cool leader of the Verona pack and son of affluent parents. There's no getting around it, this guy's got everything. 

And, of course, he's got that extra special quality that makes him truly irresistible to young Juliet - wonderfully poetic dialogue. 

A Bad boy who can also express himself beautifully...the poor gal never stood a chance.


4. Bertram

What the heck does Helena see in Bertram?
All's Well That Ends Well is one of Shakespeare's problem plays, and for good reason. It is not difficult to see what Helena finds attractive about Bertram to begin with: he's rich, he's young, he's handsome, and, just like Romeo, he's the alpha male of his gang of friends. 

What's a bit harder to get your head around is why, after he treats her so appallingly, does a runner and tries to have an affair with a young woman he meets in Florence, she forgives him and happily takes him back. 

Unfortunately, Shakespeare doesn't explore Helena's psyche much more than to emphasise she's completely infatuated. Perhaps, like many women, she believes she can calm her bad boy's wilder ways - and you could say that, by the end of the play, she has. Let's hope for her sake she did, anyway!  


3. Petruchio

Behind every bad boy, there has to be a
wild woman | Richard Burton as Petruchio
Petruchio is a footloose and fancy-free bachelor, living the life many men would envy, until he decides it is time to marry. However, he doesn't want to marry for love. Oh no, he wants to find himself a Sugar Mama, and he doesn't care how ugly or ill-tempered she might be.

With this in mind, you might think he only wants Katharina for her father's money and, that's certainly his initial reason for calling on her. 

I have a feeling, however, that he's rather intrigued by the 'shrew' he encounters. All this talk of "come, sit on me!" and tongues in tails is incredibly saucy, and unnecessarily so. He's clearly flirting outrageously with her, which indicates he's attracted to her.

Moreover, I think that she's attracted to (or at the very least intrigued by) him, too. 

His status as a 'bad boy' ensures that he's willing to hurl back whatever she throws at him. And I suspect, Katharina has never met anyone quite like him. In spite of herself, Kate is interested in this man who plays by his own rules.


2. Prince Hal

Fun- lovin', hard-drinkin', prank-pullin', Hal is a real
Shakespearean bad boy |  Tom Hiddleston as Prince Hal
Before he becomes Henry V, Prince Hal is a hard drinking, irresponsible prankster, who is little more than an embarrassment to his father. 

Spending his days surrounded by questionable (to say the least) company, Hal is an Elizabethan playboy. Born into luxury, we can assume he never wanted for anything, nor has he had any responsibilities. 

Nevertheless, Shakespeare chooses to imply that Hal's wild salad days are always something of an act. "I know you all, and will awhile uphold/The unyoked humour of your idleness." 

It is, however, the battle for his father's kingdom against the rebel Hotspur that dramatically shifts his view, causes him to reassess his loyalties and, ultimately, leads him to shun his drinking partners.


1. Falstaff

Bad boys don't come much more lovable than
Falstaff | Roger Allam at The Globe
And speaking of Hal's questionable companions...Unlike the other bad boys in this list, Falstaff isn't a 'boy'. Far from it, he's an old man. However, that doesn't alter his claim to the 'bad boy' crown. 

In fact, so loved was this Shakespearean bad boy that Elizabeth I is said to have insisted that he make a reappearance - despite his off-stage death in Henry V - prompting Shakespeare to write The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Falstaff is, arguably, the epitome of a lovable rogue. On the surface, we shouldn't like him - he's a liar, a thief and a coward. However, his lies are almost childlike in their transparency and his schemes almost always fail, meaning that there remains an innocence about him. 

A lover of life, food, drink and women - in short, a pure pleasure seeker, Falstaff is incredibly likeable despite, or perhaps because of, his flaws.

For more on the greatest of Shakespeare's bad boys, take a look at 'There's Something About Falstaff'

Who's your favourite Shakespearean bad boy? And don't forget to check out the 'Top 5 Unruly Women of Shakespeare's Plays'

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