Shakespeare’s Rogues Gallery

The best part about being an avid reader of comic books to me was never the heroes; although some heroes are quite wonderful for not only their devotion to justice but also the underhanded ways in which many of them devote themselves to justice. The best part was always the villains, the bad guys, the ones who for whatever purpose, rhyme, reason, or explanation desire to purge the world of light and envelop it in darkness. Shakespeare, to me, was really a 16th/17th century version of a pulp writer, the ones who creates our favorite heroes and villains of the 20th century. Some of the same archetypes made their way from he pages of Shakespeare to the panels of comic book infamy. None stand out quite like the villains.

Of course, in Othello, we have Iago, everyone’s favorite sadistic rogue, that is a master of malicious manipulation. In Julius Caesar, there is Cassius, the cool and collected usurper of Caesar’s power as well as King Lear’s “base” offspring, Edmund. But no other villain, save possibly Iago, comes close to the kind of lechery brought upon by Shakespeare greatest villain, Richard Glouscester of the house of York.

This man (?) is what many would define as “pure evil”. And he exhibits this evil in so many sadistic and frightening ways. First of all, he manipulates literally everyone he comes in contact with for his own personal gain and to topple the establishment of his family’s infrastructure from the inside. He has his brother taken prisoner and eventually murdered at his own command, manipulates and seduces the widow of a man he brutally massacred on the battlefield and revels in the death of his other brother the king. The best example of his evil is in Act I.II, his initial confrontation with Lady Anne over the body of her fallen husband. From early in the scene, Lady Anne’s hatred for Richard is apparent but he never wavers from his underlying malice. He begins to praise her amid her anger. In reaction to her rendering him Henry’s “accursed effect” he responds: “Your beauty was the cause of that effect–Your beauty did haunt me in my sleep to undertake the death of all the world so I might live one hour in your sweet bosom (I.II, 121-124).” With this line he does what all good psychopaths are apt to do. He begins to tug upon her emotions, taking them and twisting them to his own favor. He was not in the wrong. A psychopath never is. It is the other person who is misinterpreting the situation. And in this case it is Anne. Richard’s love for her was so great that he could not help himself but slay the man who stood in the way of said love. He says this after he already tries to lie about the killing of Henry. He announces to her initially that it is Edward that kills Henry. But of course, when she sees through his lie, he uses another tactic: sympathy. All of this is in the realm of emotional manipulation. And by the end of the scene he entreats her to grant him another meeting with her to let him further explain his actions and “intentions”: “…repair to Crosby house, where…I will with all expedient duty see you…grant me this boon (203-206).” She then replies with a “With all my heart”. He successfully swayed her toward his side by getting her to entertain the notion. Richard III is like the Joker of the Shakespearean cannon. He is the ultimate villain who innately understands how to manipulate to get what he wants. He doesn’t just manipulate, he destroys people from the inside out, often without them even knowing. And then he basks in his glories.

4 thoughts on “Shakespeare’s Rogues Gallery

  1. Scott! Your post made me want to read (or create?) a Richard III comic book!!!!! I think that the most terrifying thing about Richard is his willingness to kill anyone who stands in his way of the crown. Being deformed, Richard felt like an outsider his whole life. His mother and father more than likely never treated him as much of a son considering they had 3 others that would be king before Richard would. On top of that, he never gets any glory for being a war hero. In this way, modern audiences can definitely sympathize with Richard, but not in any major way because of the damage Richard ends up doing. This is why I think Richard would make an AWESOME comic book villain! This is also sort of a cool Manga animation that is played in the Tower of London. I always thing about it when I read Richard III. It’s pretty terrifying!!!

  2. Scott,
    I’m going to jump in and agree with you and Dana, a comic book version of Richard III as a villain would be a lot of fun to read. Richard certainly capable of being as prolific of a villain as the Joke is in relation to Batman. Realistically, Richard already is in relation to Shakespeare’s work, seeing that translated into another media would work.

    Richard as a psychopathic character is another point worth commenting on, I think. His lack of morality, his distaste for considering the common good, and his understanding of those characteristics within him is what makes him potentially terrifying. He’s kind of a funny character to read in moments, for example, like when he manages to convince Lady Ann into marrying him. As soon as she leaves, he talks about how ridiculous it is that he was even able to woo her at all. He recognizes the evil, the devils, whatever it is that makes him a villain within himself, and he has no show of fear for it. It’s his sociopathic tendencies that drive him, and for that reason, even as it might seem funny to read his in text recognition of this, he’s altogether, genuinely more terrifying.

  3. I’m going to get my bias out of the way and say I’m commenting because of the idea of comics, but yes Scott, I easily agree that Richard is right at home with any diabolical comic book villain, with comparisons to the Clown Prince of Crime being very very appropriate. I just love that unlike Iago, who I think loses is way somewhat at the play moves along and why he’s working to tarnish Othello’s name, Richard never loses sight of what he wants. Everyone that Richard interacts with is merely a means to an end, the end being the crown and the title of king. Richard, also unlike Iago, does very little to hind the fact that he is a terrible evil person and will only occasionally use lines that can be interpreted as sympathetic only to sway whom he speaks to, as well as the audience to his side. As such, his attitude makes him that much more fun to read. And for those who care, there IS a Richard III comic book character in a little comic called Kill Shakespeare and he’s just as much of a delightfully evil magnificent bastard.

  4. It always amazes me the parallels that can be drawn between works that are centuries apart. Though, to be honest, I think I see Richard more as the Riddler. He revels in knowing that he is smarter than everyone else in the room, and has them tripping over their own ideas, as his start to get stuck in their head. As he tears down each subsequent member of his family, he gains a bit more power, until he’s the one at the top. He also has some emotional vulnerability, and starts experiencing paranoia when he gets to his place at the top. He’s clearly affected by the order he gives to kill his nephews, and is genuinely frightened when the ghosts come to him in his sleep.

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