Show Less
Restricted access

Playing Shakespeare's Villains


Edited By Louis Fantasia

The essays in Playing Shakespeare’s Villains trouble our assumptions of what—and who—constitutes "villainy" in Shakespeare’s works, through probing and provocative analyses of the murky moral logics at play in the Bard’s oeuvre. Shakespeare spreads before us a panoply of evil, villainy, and amorality—of characters doing bad things for good reasons, bad things for bad reasons, and bad things for no reason at all. How does Shakespeare handle culpability and consequence? How much does he justify his villains’ actions? How much do we enjoy watching people get away with murder and mayhem? What are we to make of the moral universe that Shakesperare presents: a universe in which some villains are punished and others seem to be rewarded; where mischief can quickly turn violent; and where an entire world can be brought down by someone’s willful insistence on having one’s way? Questions like these animate the discussions in this lively volume, the second in the Playing Shakespeare’s Characters series.

Show Summary Details
Restricted access

4. Damned, Smiling Villains: The Pleasure of Not Caring (Brian Lohmann)


← 46 | 47 →

4.  Damned, Smiling Villains: The Pleasure of Not Caring


When you meet Shakespeare’s villains, what is it that makes your blood run cold? Is it that Richard of Gloucester has locked his nephews in the Tower of London to be murdered? That he has his brother drowned in a cask of wine? Or is it that he is unaffected by their deaths? Is it that Iago overthrows Othello’s “noble mind,” warping it until his general murders Desdemona? Or is it that Iago appears to coldly take it all in stride? Is it that Lady Macbeth’s ambition feasts on King Duncan’s life? Or is it that she first feeds her ambition with the sacrifice of her own womanhood, including her maternal instincts?

We will examine these three Shakespearean villains and ask what they uncouple in their psyches in order to do the things they do. We will see if those whom Shakespeare relegates to the lower circles of Hell are those without a trickle of compassion, those who appear incapable of empathy. This lack of empathy has been included in the modern definition of the sociopath.1

We shudder at the contemporary monsters who commit atrocities, and then we shrug them off. Judges look for remorse before passing sentences because they want the convicted criminal to take on the emotional weight of their victims’ experience, something that stretches past an intellectual understanding of the consequences of...

You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.

This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.

Do you have any questions? Contact us.

Or login to access all content.