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The Greatest Shakespearean Villains, Ranked

Updated June 14, 2019 3.7k votes 739 voters 29.1k views32 items

This is a list about the best Shakespeare villains; it answers the question, “Who are the bad guys in William Shakespeare’s plays?” Every play has a hero and a villain: who, in your book is the top villain of all-times in one of Shakespeare’s plays?While most villains are purely evil, the interesting thing about Shakespeare is that his villains are not always overtly evil. Some of them seem to only be facing a moral dilemma of sorts; they’re not the typical in-your-face evil plotters like other stories usually have. As a result, a lot of Shakespearean villains play very subtle roles.

In addition to characters that are dubbed a villain but don’t play the typically evil roles that we think of when we hear that term, Shakespeare’s best plays also included some of the most notoriously evil characters in history, including: Richard III, Iago, Cornwall and Aaron the Moor. He was also notorious for making the audience fine sympathy for the bad guys (like Julius Caesar). The up-and-down emotions he caused the audience to feel are what made him famous. Shakespeare was also known for making his villainous characters seem incredibly real, struggling with common problems we each face like jealousy, heartbreak, greed and bitterness. He seemed to thrive on showing his audience the ironies of being judgmental since we are each the same in the end.
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