The Villains of Shakespeare

Shakespeare folio

April marks not only National Poetry Month, but also the anniversary of the birth and death of one of the world’s greatest poets: William Shakespeare. To celebrate the Bard, we’ll take a look at some of his greatest “bad guys.” Some of them, like Iago in Othello, are obvious -- but others, like Claudius in Hamlet, Lady Macbeth, Tamora in Titus Andronicus, Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, and Don John in Much Ado About Nothing are often too complex to be easily labelled as “villains.”

We’ll explore through sight and sound some of the great poetry of these troubled men and women and discuss whether there really are any “pure villains” in Shakespeare’s plays, for what makes his characters so endlessly interesting is that they are motivated by the things that motivate all human beings. Like us, they react to their circumstances and to people in different ways.

Yes, some of Shakespeare’s characters behave in cruel and unpleasant ways. Some of them kill, deceive, and otherwise take advantage of their fellow men and women, but they are all “only human” -- meaning that beneath their cruelty lie reasons that might partially exonerate them in our eyes.

Made possible by The National Endowment for the Humanities Fund of The Library Foundation.

Target audience:

Adults, 50+, Teens

Event type:

Lectures & author talks