Top 10 Greatest Shakespeare Villains

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The Bard, William Shakespeare, created a lot of fascinating characters, and some of the most fascinating are the villains. They encompass the worst of human characteristics, but their motives are often very real and surprisingly easy to relate to: jealousy, heartbreak, bitterness…all of the ugly things that bring out the worst in all of us. Remember that in some cases not to judge too hastily, for “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven. Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.” In other cases, however, you’ll shudder to think that even a character of the imagination can be capable of such horrors. Read on, if you dare.

10. Shylock

The hate-filled moneylender from Merchant of Venice is the first on our list, but he we deem him the least evil of our evildoers. Shylock was wary of Christians. As a Jew in the town of Venice that was understandable. The town was rife with Anti-Semitism. He didn’t make himself any friends by claiming, “I will buy with you, sell with you, talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with you, drink with you, nor pray with you.” Thanks, Dude. I love you too. Whether Shylock was Shakespeare’s outcry against Anti-Semitism or just a true example of the mindset of the times is unclear. What is clear is that Shylock, Jew or Gentile, wasn’t exactly a cuddly guy. He loaned money to Antonio and was very keen to collect his “pound of flesh”. The “pound of flesh” is what puts Shylock on our list. Unpleasant, and creepy.

9. Don John

Contrary to what you might think, Don John didn’t make the list only because he was portrayed poorly by our friend Keanu (1993’s Much Ado About Nothing). Don John himself was crazy jealous of his half-brother Don Pedro. In fact, Don Pedro and his men are celebrating the victory of winning a war with…Don John! Don Pedro, even though he has been warring (WARRING!) with his half-brother, has invited his half-brother and his buddies to come party and revel. Um. Bad idea, dude. Because as Don John says himself, “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace, in this, though I cannot be said to be a flattering honest man, it must not be denied but I am a plain-dealing villain. If I had my mouth, I would bite; if I had my liberty, I would do my liking: in the meantime let me be that I am and seek not to alter me.” Plain-dealing villain that he is, he ranks number 9 on our list for sowing dischord for poor old Claudio and Hero, making it so it was the END of the play before they got together. Bad Don John!

8. Edmund

OK now we’re getting into the badder guys. When you dive into the tragedies, the bad guys are bad and the endings are sad. Edmund not only made up lies about his half-brother (getting him exiled and making him pretend he’s crazy), he was completely uncaring when his dad got his eyes gouged out, and he was fooling around with Goneril and Regan at the same time. And they were married! And sisters! Granted Goneril and Regan themselves were pretty bad gals, but Edmund ranks number 8 for his lack of family concern and his betrayal of his half-brother. The only reason Edmund ranks higher than Don John is that nobody died because of Don John’s antics (at least not his antics after the war).

7. Richard II

Richard II. First, he ordered Mowbray to kill his uncle. Then he persecuted Mowbray for killing his uncle. Mowbray gets banished forever, and Bolingbroke (from whom Richard was trying to hide the information that he’d had Mowbray kill his uncle) gets banished for 6 years. Harsh. He was a crazy king with a tendency to compare himself (favorably) with Jesus. He taxed the commoners and fined the nobles for the crimes of their ancestors.

6. Lady MacBeth

Let’s hear it for the girl? She decides her husband isn’t ambitious enough, so she hatches a wacky scheme for him to kill the heir apparent to secure the throne for the MacBeths. Mr. MacBeth has second thoughts, so she taunts him and questions his manhood so he goes and stabs Duncan to death. He freaks out completely and returns to her, leaving his whole mess behind him. Sighing with a “when you want a job done right you have to do it yourself” kind of attitude she visits the scene of the crime and plants bloody daggers on Duncan’s servants. They should be good to go, right? Wrong. Old MacBeth goes on a murder spree, killing the guards that Lady MacBeth framed for Duncan’s murder, Banquo, everyone in Macduff’s castle (including his children) and probably the family dog. Might make you wonder why we didn’t pick MacBeth for a worst villain. Maybe it’s because behind every great man there is a woman pulling his strings? Or because if she hadn’t planned the first murder he wouldn’t have committed the others? At least she showed some contrition…”out damn spot”.

5. Claudius

Hamlet’s uncle. And stepdad. See, he killed Hamlet’s father (the King of Denmark) and made nice with the queen so he could be king. Then he hired Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to kill Hamlet, and when that didn’t work he tattled on Hamlet to Laertes, whose father Hamlet killed by accident. They cook up a scheme to duel, and Claudius is going to poison Hamlet, either with the cup, or with Laertes’ sword which is also poisoned. Too bad for him his wifey-poo took a sip of the cup, so she died. Hamlet dies, Laertes died. Claudius died. So he dies guilty of: regicide, adultery, incest (in a way), attempted murder, involuntary manslaughter, and murder.

4. Richard III

Poor Richard III. He’s ugly, hunchbacked, and mean. To get back at the world he bribes a soothsayer to say his brother is an assassin, which gets his brother locked up in the Tower of London. He woos and cajoles Anne Neville into marrying him, even though he killed her husband and his father. He basically kills anybody who objects to him, and then he had his two nephews beheaded for good measure. You know you’re in for some evil deeds when a guy proclaims, “I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.” Yeah, Dude. No kidding.

3. Iago

Many people will say that Iago belongs at the top of the list. When you read the top two you will understand why Iago is #3. Iago is a villain, for sure. He is jealous, evil-hearted and malicious. He gets joy out of the pain of others. He is jealous of Cassio, so he convinces Othello that his (Othello’s) wife is sleeping with Cassio. Othello then kills Desdemona and himself. Iago inadvertently stabs his own wife after she turns him over. He’s not sorry at all. At the end of the play, as they lead him off to what would seem to be his destruction, he states, “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.” He’s hard core.

2. Tamora

Tamora, Queen of the Goths, rode into Rome at the side of Titus Andronicus. Titus ticked her off pretty bad right off the bat, so Tamora asked her lover, Aaron the Moor, to think of some ill stuff to do to Titus. You’ll get a listing of the crimes in the number one slot, but remember as you read it that Tamora was Aaron the Moor’s partner in crime, the Bonnie to his Clyde, and you’ll see that one of the most obscure plays contains the biggest villainy ever.

1. Aaron the Moor

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Tamora was so mad at Titus because he sacrificed one of her sons. Yeah, we’d be mad too. But the revenge that Aaron the Moor cooked up was so harsh that he ranks number one in our Top Ten Shakespearian Villain list. Check it out. He convinces Tamora’s remaining sons to rape and mutilate Titus’s daughter Lavinia. They cut out her tongue and cut off her hands so that she can’t identify them. Titus’s other two sons were imprisoned, so Aaron told Tamora to tell Titus that if he would cut off his own hand she would set his sons free. So Titus chops of his hand, and then promptly receives his sons back – minus their bodies. See? We told you it was awful. Aaron got his come uppance, however. He was buried chest-deep and left to die of thirst and starvation. And you wondered why they didn’t teach that play in high school?


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15 Comments

  1. I agree with everything except Don John. "I'm so evil I'm going to break up the wedding! BWahahahahaha!" I always envision him in a black hat and cape twirling a handlebar mustache ala Snidely Whiplash.

    And how in the world do you have a lesson in Titus at the top of the list, and leave out the cannibalism? Titus may not have been the villain, but he's the one who cooked Tamora's kids and fed them to her.

    http://www.shakespearegeek.com

  2. he was the result in the death of many characters in the play and all this for a silly reason , and i think that the life of people is very important but Iago equilateral the matter of life with human and ins ant people life he become like animals and don't think how his evil grow like a plant and it's end by killing his wife by his hand ………….. he is a very trouble man

  3. Honestly I believe Iago should be in the number one spot. He is ridiculously manipulative, and knows exactly how to play his pal Othello, and everyone around him. All while seeming trustworthy and sincere, with everyone's best interests at heart.

    While yes, Aaron the Moor was harsh and kind of evil, he didnt pass for innocent the whole time. No one knew Iago was behind everything till his wife got kind of smart.

    Iago is hands-down the best.

  4. Keith Watabayashi on

    Richard III should be number 1. He even says "Since I cannot play a lover…I am determined to play a villain."

    Unlike Tamara and Aaron he doesn't kill his wartime enemies, he kills his OWN FAMILY, including his brother and two small nephews. Granted the things Aaron talks about while he is captured are horrible, do we really believe him, or is he just making one last great stand against the world he despises so much? Richard III is evil to the bone, admits as much, then revels in it. Aaron and Tamara plot to destroy their WARTIME enemy, which is cold-blooded murder but not as evil as killing your own blood during peace time.

    I agree with all ten people on this list but I would rank the child killers and family murderersd higher; Richard II, Edmound, Claudius, and Richard III.

  5. To be honest guys, i think this is aload of crap and the only reason i used this is for my english homework to not get a detention, LOL.

    Forget shakespear, now its modern day not crappy shakespear!

  6. English homework on

    Hello Everyone in bexleyheath school. I know someone is probally going to read this. 🙂

    I just thaught i would post an comment to say 'HELLO' xD

  7. Richard the Second isn’t really a villain. He’s a tragic hero. If you don’t get that from the fact that Shakespeare named some versions as the “tragedy” of Richard II, I can’t imagine not getting that from the play itself. Yes, he’s arrogant, but he’s been brought up in a situation where everyone else thinks for him and tells him how great he is. Then comes a point where he’s just a confused young man (Richard was in his twenties) trying to make decisions for himself for the first time in his life. He makes mistakes because those gross errors in judgement are the same errors most of us have enough expirience with decision-making to prevent.
    Also, Don John is really lame. I love Much Ado, but come on. “I hate my brother so much I’m going to play pranks on his new friend.” Really? He just sort of walks around being all Angsty-Mc-Angstypants. Macbeth is a much better villain. Just saying.

    • Robinanna neibauer on

      What about Shylock?! I never thought of him as a villain. He’s just a victim who has had enough. Then he’s forced to convert in the end. It’s not like he had a chance in court either, He’s a Jew. Do you really think he’s going to win?!

  8. my teacher said that maybe king alonso from the tempest was the most evil character becuase his has no consious for sending his brother and niece to live in the sea or an desolute island so he can be king. Thats pretty evil but he never actually drowned them and they did live and if you think about it Alonso never actually killed someone during the play so maybe his actions arent really that evil. I agree with the list espcailly the first one, becuase he is purely evil not Alonso from the tempest

  9. Don John may not be the most despicable villain ever, but he fascinates me because he is a villain who KNOWS that he’s the villain in his story. Most literary bad guys at least see themselves as the protagonists of their own warped perspective, but Don John in under no such illusion. and if played correctly, he can be a really great antagonist – see David Tennant and Catherine Tate’s version of the play.

  10. The worse thing about Aaron is what he says at the end- “I have done a thousand dreadful things..and nothing grieves me heartily indeed but that I cannot do ten thousand more”- he is the complete opposite of remorseful- he repents any good deeds.

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