Shakespeare created some of the most memorable evildoers in all of literature. Here are my picks for the most notorious:
Driven by an overpowering lust for evil rivaled only by Satan, Iago grabs the title as worst Shakespeare villain hands down. As the critic William Robertson Turnbull once pointed out, "Iago is an unbeliever in, and denier of, all things spiritual, who only acknowledges God, like Satan, to defy him" (Othello: A Critical Study 269). Please click here to read a full character analysis of Iago.
2. Richard III
The tyrannical, morally vacuous Richard III orders his own brother's execution and the murder of two innocent children because they are obstacles to his kingly ambition. Luckily, Richard's horrific acts come to an end when he is slain by Richmond at the battle of Bosworth Field.
In King Lear, a play rife with heinous evildoers, Cornwall towers over them all. Infinitely greedy and exceptionally cruel, Cornwall schemes with his wife, Regan, and sister-in-law, Goneril, to torture Lear and Gloucester. Cornwall delights in gouging out Gloucester's eyes, exclaiming "Out, vile jelly!/Where is thy lustre now?" (7.3.85).
4. Aaron the Moor
Among other vile crimes, Aaron the Moor, servant and lover to Tamora, masterminds the brutal rape of Titus Andronicus's daughter, Lavinia. When, at the end of the play, Titus's son Lucius decides that Aaron should be buried to the neck in sand and starved, Aaron, defiant to the end, tells Lucius that "If one good deed in all my life I did/I do repent it from my very soul" (5.3.188-9).
Resentful of his illegitimacy, the Earl of Gloucester's bastard son strives to destroy his brother and father to gain Gloucester's title and possessions. Successful in his evil plot to ruin Gloucester, he next plans to kill Cordelia and Lear so that he can rule Britain. Edmund's henchmen strangle Cordelia and Lear dies broken-hearted as a result of his daughter's murder. Please click here for a detailed look at Edmund.
Turnbull, William. Othello: A Critical Study. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1892.
How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Top Shakespeare Villains. Shakespeare Online. 20 Aug. 2000. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/shakespearevillains.html" >.