The Unholy Trinity of Villainy

Photo by Gabriel on Unsplash

“And thus I clothe my naked villany With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ, And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”- King Richard III (I, iii, 336–338)

With characters like Edmund from King Lear, Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus, and Don Jon from Much Ado About Nothing, William Shakespeare’s villains are some of his most memorable characters. Arguably the likes of Hamlet, Shylock, and Richard II could also fall in the rank of villain, depending on how you read the play, however, when the Bard needed a big bad he knew how to deliver.

Richard III

“Was ever woman in this humour woo’d? Was ever woman in this humour won? I’ll have her; — but I will not keep her long.” — Richard III

In one of his earliest attempts at drama Shakespeare lays the foundation for all his villians to come with Richard III. From the opening line we are alerted to the hunchback’s intent and are forced to witness how his deceits play out. He delights in his deciets and is unabashed in his quest for power.

“I am determined to prove a villain and hate the idle pleasures of these days.” — Richard III

Like Iago, Richard is likeable despite all his flaws. He is endearing, charming, eloquent, logical, and sympathetic at times, thus making him all the more enraging. Through it all, we watch as he locks his brother in the Tower, seduces the widow of a man he murdered, and beheads his nephews in order to sustain his reign. By the end of the play, a long one at that coming in just behind Hamlet, everyone, including the audience, has turned on Richard and we long to see his death.

“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!” — Richard III


“Stars, hide your fires! Let not light see my black and deep desires.” — Macbeth

We all read Macbeth in high school. Odds are an English teacher tried to connect it’s darker themes of witchcraft and the occult to your youthful, black heart. When it comes to modern themes of horror this play has it all: war, violence, blood, magic, witches, a Satan and Seyton, good and evil, innocence, sleep walking, ghosts, madness, and the worst case of OCD ever seen on stage.


“I am not what I am.” — Iago

Were the play not about the Moor of Venice, it would be called Iago. Othello’’s lieutenant orchestrates the most horrendous act of treachery in the English language. A master manipulator, Iago twists the entire cast around his finger and turns the audience into his cohorts.

How Now Am I the Villain?

Often, the thing that Shakespeare gives us that was so different from the likes of Marlowe or any of his other contemporaries was sympathy. Macbeth suffers. He feels guilty and battles his conscious, and while Richard and Iago seemingly lack empathy, they do make us complicit in their villainy.



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Brock Vickers

Brock Vickers

I am an actor and writer who loves creating content and telling stories.