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Top Three Shakespeare Villains

Monologues and Context

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During the summer, we explored some of Shakespeare's most heroic monologues from Henry V. Yet now it is time to turn our attention toward the immortal bard's darker nature: his knack for giving a sharp tongue to his villainous characters.

The following are some of the best villainous monologues from Shakespeare's tyrants, traitors, and antagonists.

#1) Iago's Speech from Othello:

In this scene Shakespeare's most diabolic (and in some ways most mysterious) character plots to overthrow Othello's sense of reason and trust, scheming to make it seems as though Othello's wife Desdemona has been unfaitful.

IAGO: And what's he then that says I play the villain?
When this advice is free I give and honest,
Probal to thinking and indeed the course
To win the Moor again? For 'tis most easy
The inclining Desdemona to subdue
In any honest suit: she's framed as fruitful
As the free elements. And then for her
To win the Moor-were't to renounce his baptism,
All seals and symbols of redeemed sin,
His soul is so enfetter'd to her love,
That she may make, unmake, do what she list,
Even as her appetite shall play the god
With his weak function. How am I then a villain
To counsel Cassio to this parallel course,
Directly to his good? Divinity of hell!
When devils will the blackest sins put on,
They do suggest at first with heavenly shows,
As I do now: for whiles this honest fool
Plies Desdemona to repair his fortunes
And she for him pleads strongly to the Moor,
I'll pour this pestilence into his ear,
That she repeals him for her body's lust;
And by how much she strives to do him good,
She shall undo her credit with the Moor.
So will I turn her virtue into pitch,
And out of her own goodness make the net
That shall enmesh them all.

#2) Edmond's Speech from King Lear

Ever feel like you are the black sheep of the family? Maybe you feel self-conscious because you are pretty darn sure that daddy likes the so-called "good brother" instead of you? Maybe matters have been made even worse simply because you were born out of wedlock (with someone besides your father's wife). Well, that's the situation the villainous "Edmund the Bastard" finds himself in during the tragedy of King Lear -- and he's about to make a grab for power that will send the kingdom into a bloody civil war.

EDMUND: Thou, Nature, art my goddess; to thy law
My services are bound. Wherefore should I
Stand in the plague of custom, and permit
The curiosity of nations to deprive me,
For that I am some twelve or fourteen moonshines
Lag of a brother? Why bastard? wherefore base?
When my dimensions are as well compact,
My mind as generous, and my shape as true,
As honest madam's issue? Why brand they us
With base? with baseness? bastardy? base, base?
Who, in the lusty stealth of nature, take
More composition and fierce quality
Than doth, within a dull, stale, tired bed,
Go to th' creating a whole tribe of fops
Got 'tween asleep and wake? Well then,
Legitimate Edgar, I must have your land.
Our father's love is to the bastard Edmund
As to th' legitimate. Fine word- 'legitimate'!
Well, my legitimate, if this letter speed,
And my invention thrive, Edmund the base
Shall top th' legitimate. I grow; I prosper.
Now, gods, stand up for bastards!

Gloucester's Speech from Richard III:

Before he can ascend to the throne and become king, the hunchbacked Richard, Duke of Gloucester, must do a lot of double-crossing (and killing) first. In one of his more Machiavellian moves, he attempts to win the hand of Lady Anne, who at first loathes the power-hungry creep, but eventually believes him sincere enough to marry. Unfortunately for her, she is completely wrong, as the following villainous monologue reveals:

RICHARD: Was ever woman in this humour woo'd?
Was ever woman in this humour won?
I'll have her; but I will not keep her long.
What! I, that kill'd her husband and his father,
To take her in her heart's extremest hate,
With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,
The bleeding witness of her hatred by;
Having God, her conscience, and these bars
against me,
And I nothing to back my suit at all,
But the plain devil and dissembling looks,
And yet to win her, all the world to nothing!
Ha!
Hath she forgot already that brave prince,
Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb'd in my angry mood at Tewksbury?
A sweeter and a lovelier gentleman,
Framed in the prodigality of nature,
Young, valiant, wise, and, no doubt, right royal,
The spacious world cannot again afford
And will she yet debase her eyes on me,
That cropp'd the golden prime of this sweet prince,
And made her widow to a woeful bed?
On me, whose all not equals Edward's moiety?
On me, that halt and am unshapen thus?
My dukedom to a beggarly denier,
I do mistake my person all this while:
Upon my life, she finds, although I cannot,
Myself to be a marvellous proper man.
I'll be at charges for a looking-glass,
And entertain some score or two of tailors,
To study fashions to adorn my body:
Since I am crept in favour with myself,
Will maintain it with some little cost.
But first I'll turn yon fellow in his grave;
And then return lamenting to my love.
Shine out, fair sun, till I have bought a glass,
That I may see my shadow as I pass.

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