I’ve been thinking a lot about villains. We have a love affair with hating them. We want them to be horrible in a tragically beautiful way. We want dynamic villains with almost as much backstory as our heroes. We want to relate and care. We want to understand.
And then we want them to lose.
I love villains like every good fan. Villains give us a reason to tell all of our favorite stories again, to look at the events from a different perspective. Maleficent is the newest version our empathy-building obsession with the ‘bad guys,’ but the obsession began in our earliest cultures. Think of Medea after Jason left her and their two children to marry the princess of Corinth, or the confused motivations of King Creon in Antigone.
Many of us have new villains with whom we empathize, modern villains to add to our love/hate list. My favorite, however, is a classic.
1. My favorite villain is the duke in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”.
2. The duke is a villain for the murder of his most recent wife, a deadly secret he reveals through hints as he speaks to the emissary of his next potential bride. “I gave commands,” the duke tells his audience, “and all smiles stopped together.” He is a villain because he is conceited and jealous and ultimately obsessive.
3. What I love about the duke is the degree of sophistication in his issues. He believes he is fully justified in his actions and he will do it again if he feels he has reason.
4. What I hate about the duke is his utter narcissism. He believes that his actions are sanctioned by his social position–his “nine-hundred-years-old name.” He is also unaccountable for the part his own insecurities about his lack of “skill in speech
5. I empathize most with the duke falling in love with the traits that later frustrate him. His young wife smiled and danced and was beautiful, but she smiled too easily, danced with others, and drew too many other eyes. She had a heart “too soon made glad.”
I tag YOU. Mention your favorite villain in the comments, then write your own blog post about villains and answer the following five questions:
1. What character is your favorite villain?
2. What makes him/her a villain?
3. What do you hate about him/her?
4. What do you love about him/her?
5. With what aspect of this character do you empathize most?
Let’s play Villain Tag!