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Playing Shakespeare's Villains

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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.

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6. Behind Closed Doors: Sex, Lies and Servants (Edit Villllareal)

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6.  Behind Closed Doors: Sex, Lies and Servants

EDIT VILLAREAL

When thinking about villains and villainy in Shakespeare’s plays, the great tragedies of Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth immediately come to mind. The sheer number of deaths in these plays can be exhilarating, stupefying and sobering. A close look at these tragedies reveals that the conduct of families is a crucial theme in the plays. In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s father is the play’s main villain, demanding that his daughter acquiesce to a marriage she does not want. Desdemona, not much older than Juliet, has eloped with the older Othello, angering her father in that play. Lear has two redoubtable daughters, Goneril and Regan, who conspire against him. The Macbeths are the poster couple for dysfunctional marriages.

In the families with children, we find a recurring trope of arrogant fathers dominating their vulnerable, young daughters. The father-daughter conflicts inevitably involve the family household, specifically servants or characters with lesser social status than the imperious fathers. Indeed, another familiar trope found in Shakespeare’s dramatic strategy is the overt, covert, or accidental involvement of household servants in the villainous acts initiated by their masters. The villainy of an arrogant father in turn creates further villainy. In short, the world of the household reflects the world of the play, and, for Shakespeare’s audiences, their own world thrown out of balance, out of propriety.

This essay proposes...

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