Remorseless, treacherous, lecherous, kindless villain.

What do you do when you realise that you are the villain of the piece? It’s often said that the worst (or best) villains firmly believe themselves to be the greatest heroes. It’s an absolute truth that nothing empowers us to acts of pure evil better than a complete conviction in our own rightness. Perhaps this is why villains are so much more interesting than heroes, because heroes are just villains who haven’t been caught out yet. Shakespeare understood this. Hamlet, Macbeth, Lear, Shylock. The line between heroism and villainy in Shakespeare is so narrow that with the slightest slip can laeve you standing on the wrong side.

Life, I think, is more like Shakespeare than we care to admit.

(I gave the speech from Hamlet that provides the title of this post for my LAMDA Gold Medal Acting exam some years ago. The best thing about Shakespeare is how little I understood him at sixteen, and how little I understand him at thirty two but in a completely different way)

My personal favourite literary villain is Mordred, of the Arthurian saga. The illegitimate son of Arthur and his half sister Morgause. He is an absolute archetype of villainy – a bastard son driven to the worst of crimes by the terrible pride and arrogance bred in him by his mother. But it would take so little to cast Mordred as a heroic figure, a mothers son fighting against the implicit evil of men as personified by his brutal father. I might write that story one day, if I can bring myself to confront that character for long enough to finish it.

And in other news…

Thrin wants to know what is wrong with literally worshipping pagan gods?

The Alt.Fiction festival gets with the Twitter thing. Go follow them.

Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.


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