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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.

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7. “Tis a vile thing to die”: Teaching Villainy in the Public School Classroom (Charmaine Cordero)


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7.  “Tis a vile thing to die”: Teaching Villainy in the Public School Classroom


The study of evil and villainy in the public high school classroom has become more problematic in the wake of the increase in violence, particularly gun violence, in our schools. It is one thing to discuss these topics as fiction, as some remote concept that students may encounter someday if unlucky. It is quite another to delve into why people commit evil acts, and the effects of these acts, when a student has to complete active shooter drills or have backpacks checked. Teachers no longer have the luxury of considering evil and villainy only as philosophical themes. They are everyday presences. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs1 states that people cannot meet higher order fulfillments, such as learning, if basic needs such as safety are not first met.

Teachers must resolve this basic need for safety if students are to progress in their education. This is exactly why Shakespeare is needed in the curriculum. Shakespeare is one of the first writers to ask why evil happens, and how it succeeds. He traces commonplace emotions, such as anger, jealousy, and ambition as they are turned into violence. Shakespeare gives us a primer of darkness to work from, so that we can take action today. This primer gives teachers and students some small sense of security from which to proceed in their discussion of evil.

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