I’m sick of “Shakespeare’s Best Villains” lists. It’s time for “Shakespeare’s Worst Characters”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love the works of William Shakespeare and have dedicated a large part of my life to them. But also I bet I could make a couple of his plays MUCH better by simply removing a few of the worst characters from them. Let’s begin:
#10. Duke Vincentio, Measure for Measure
The Duke’s actually a really interesting character with a lot of potential…. but! Only one of the productions of Measure for Measure I’ve seen (Young Vic 2015) has successfully portrayed him as what essentially I think he is: just kind of a weird guy who makes a bunch of bad choices and doesn’t understand most people. Most productions just make him a hero (or more rarely, a villain) instead, which is unconvincing.
I don’t know, maybe I’ve just seen the wrong productions of Measure. Or maybe I’ve misinterpreted his character, but I doubt it because I’m the smartest person in the world and never wrong.
Anyway if you can’t do him right, you can’t have him.
Instead, you should do my Vincentio-free version of the play, which is a wacky heist in which Isabella teams up with Lucio, Mistress Overdone, Pompey, and the Provost, to break her brother and Julietta out of prison. Spoilers: they’re caught and tried for their crimes, but in the trial Isabella argues so effectively that Escalus agrees to overturn the city’s unjust laws and pardon them all.
#9. Fabian, Twelfth Night
Here we begin the “the removal of these characters has no effect on the plot of the play” section.
So, Fabian. Also known as “wait, where’s Feste?”
Both Feste and Maria are much more interesting additions to the Toby/Andrew dynamic. So why does Fabian show up part way through the play with no explanation and play repetitive second-fiddle to the other comic characters? Why does he get to be in the letter scene, and the duel scene? Why does he narc on everyone to Olivia with no explanation at the end of the play? Is everyone just supposed to pretend he’s as interesting as his scene partners? We just don’t know.
The only way to save this character is an idea I came up with just now, which is to give him a random bizarre prop whenever he shows up and never have anyone react to it. Even that’s a lazy joke though. Just cut him out and put Feste in.
#8. Lepidus, Julius Caesar / Antony and Cleopatra
Everyone always talks about Shakespeare’s historical inaccuracies but really he was a coward who wouldn’t go far enough.
These new versions of JC and A&C are remarkably similar but you need to help your actors get over how silly the word “duumvirate” is.
#7. Christopher Sly, The Taming of the Shrew
I was in a production of Animal Farm in high school that had a framing device added by our director in which the narrator (played by me) was a grandmother telling the story to her spunky granddaughter who was about to go off to college, but then my character died part of the way through the show and the rest of the play was the granddaughter was telling the story to HER daughter and then at the end when all the Animal Farm stuff was done the great-granddaughter got tucked into bed but there was a lighting effect to make it look like she was in a room with prison bars and there was a distant siren sound cue, which our director never quite explained but i can only assume was meant to imply that they now lived in a fascist state, possibly controlled by animals, which I guess my character had foretold somehow in her un-grandmotherly terrifying story.
Anyway that’s what the Christopher Sly framing device reminds me of. I can only wish I had the power to go back in time and change my high school production of Animal Farm, but you DO have the power to never do a production of Taming of the Shrew which keeps the Christopher Sly prologue.
And thus ends the “the removal of these characters has no effect on the plot of the play” section.
#6. Egeon, Comedy of Errors
He’s the reason that both sets of Dromios and Antipholuses have the same names, which I suppose is… necessary? when trying to make the plot work, but is possibly the most annoying thing Shakespeare has ever done
I want a version of the play where they have different names and the whole thing gets resolved immediately. Or I guess the Antipholuses don’t even exist because their dad doesn’t? Okay okay here we go: Adriana, Luciana, and Nell live happily together in Ephesus. The Dromios stay in Syracuse and aren’t slaves and never get beaten. They’re adopted by the Abbess treated like her own sons. The end.
Oh shit are those dog dolls in that photo supposed to represent the Dromios? That’s, uh. That’s fucked up.
#5. The three unnamed Sicilian gentlemen, The Winter’s Tale
Have you ever wished you could go see a Shakespeare play that includes a vaguely R&J-style star-crossed lovers subplot but it doesn’t end in tragedy and instead there’s a touching scene in which secret identities are revealed and you get to see both families’ surprise and happiness?
Well then you should see my version of the Winter’s Tale, in which that scene is actually in the play, instead of three characters you’ve never seen before just showing up and tell you what happened. C’mon Will, this ain’t a Greek tragedy.
#4. Richard II, Richard II
Jk jk can you imagine
Fun fact: I looked at a few lists of “Shakespeare’s Best Villains” while I was working on this and one of them had Richard on it. What a world we live in. Anyway,
Actually #4. Petruchio, The Taming of the Shrew
I saw a production of Taming once that tried to remedy the final scene by making Kate’s speech at the end be insincere, and having her and Petruchio split the bet money after everyone else left. In the moment I thought this was a great solution and excellent staging, but thinking about it now…. what does that really mean? That Kate’s willing to perpetuate an oppressive patriarchal structure just to make a few bucks? Interesting characterization, I guess, but it doesn’t take away the fact that the two of them still ended up together as a happy couple because of Petruchio’s “taming”.
I guess you could play the scenes where he starves and gaslights Kate as serious and a problem, which I guess technically better, but even more depressing.
So yeah, there’s only one way to solve this. Sorry Bianca, I guess you’ll never get to marry now.
#3. Proteus, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
One Gentleman of Verona, Act V Scene IV:
Nay, if the gentle spirit of moving words
Can no way change you to a milder form,
I’ll woo you like a soldier, at arms’ end,
And love you ‘gainst the nature of love,–force ye.
I’ll force thee yield to my desire.
Oh excuse me, I just exclaimed aloud because I’m so glad I’m peacefully in love with Valentine and no one’s going to try and force me into a non-consensual sexual relationship. Especially since I have a feeling that person would suffer precisely no repercussions for their actions from anyone in the play, including my ostensible love interest!
You know what, actually,
2. Also Valentine, The Two Gentlemen of Verona
Zero Gentlemen of Verona, Act V Scene IV:
My shame and guilt confounds me.
Forgive me, Valentine: if hearty sorrow
Be a sufficient ransom for offence,
I tender ‘t here; I do as truly suffer
As e’er I did commit. VALENTINE
Then I am paid;
And once again I do receive thee honest.
Who by repentance is not satisfied
Is nor of heaven nor earth, for these are pleased.
By penitence the Eternal’s wrath’s appeased:
And, that my love may appear plain and free,
All that was mine in Silvia I give thee.
Wow I’m also glad I’m not in a relationship with a man who tolerates sexual abuse in his friends and would offer me as a prize to them after a mere apology. Also don’t try to get clever with me, I’m not married to Thurio in this version either, because guess what, I’m capable of solving my own problems.
#1. All the characters in Henry VIII