This is a great article about a teacher using a very ingenious way to get her kids to learn how to analyze and read into something using context clues, even when they don’t know what they are looking at. It’s a very clever and creative way to approach this skill set for use when analyzing Shakespeare’s…
REVEALING THE LOWEST OF THE LOW – THE MOST DEVIOUS SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAIN.
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 Rebecca Huntley on Twitter.
Follow Dr Huw Griffiths on Twitter.
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 played the title role in Bell Shakespeare’s 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.
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.
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 Crown2 – 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.
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…
The following posts are by a guest author, Andy McLean, and for Bell Shakespeare in Australia. But, they are so good, that I have to post and share their great work! TOP 10 SHAKESPEAREAN VILLAINS 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…
Part 5 of the 12 part series: Why Drama is so important in School. – EDUCATION One of the best byproducts of drama is in-depth education into a specific subject matter. There are two sides to this: On Stage Backstage ON STAGE Whatever you are performing, there is always a place and setting for it. Many…
Backyard Shakespeare. What is that, you may ask. Well, it’s a very ingenious and creative way to engage homeschooled kids with Shakespeare, education, language arts, drama, and most importantly, fun!
I recently had the privilege to teach a group of 7 kids Playing With Plays The Tempest for Kids and we had a BLAST! Best part, we did it in the backyard of a house of one of the homeschooling families. Their deck was a natural stage. So, a few costumes, a few scripts, a few rehearsals, and BAM! We’ve got a fun, melodramatic Shakespeare play performing in the backyard!
I’ve seen this done in the past with many of my plays, but this was the first time I got to do it. The best part, you can do a performance ANYWHERE! The parents bring a blanket or lawn chairs, and you have an instant theater!