Wicked Shakespeare

If you’ve not yet read it, seen it, or heard people talk about it, Wicked is what happens when somebody takes a well-known story (The Wizard of Oz) with a nasty villain (The Wicked Witch of the West), and retells the story from the villain’s point of view.  In the process the villain ends up the sympathetic character.  She wasn’t born wicked, she was just born different. It’s what the rest of the world does to her that makes her the way she ends up. Which Shakespeare play would be most ripe for this treatment?  Which villain could you make the star of his (or her) own show, and in the process make her (or him) come out looking like the sympathetic character? 

14 thoughts on “Wicked Shakespeare

  1. I guess Richard III comes to mind first, though it would be hard for me to sympathize with him. An Iago-centric script would probably be an intriguing exercise, as he is really the only interesting character in that play to me.

  2. I sort of feel like R3 and Iago are almost too easy for this — they get so much time to talk to the audience as-is, they sort of have their chance to make their cases.

    Now, I love a good villainess. I'd love to see the flip side on Goneril and Regan — who I've always thought weren't being all that unreasonable with dear old dad anyway. Tamora could also be profitable — you could go into so much backstory (like Wicked does), setting up her life in Scythia, the challenges of being a woman leading a nation, and so forth. What got her involved with Aaron? Who fathered her other sons? There'd be a lot to work with there. Hmmm… project idea… 😉

  3. I feel like it's rare for a Shakespeare play to have a one-dimensional villain, like the Witch in the original Wizard of Oz. Some of the truly despicable characters we've listed (Iago, Richard III) get a lot of character development in their plays, and present their own (often inadequate and self-serving) justifications of their behavior to the audience. Goneril and Reagan are shortchanged in this regard, mostly because that role is filled by Edmund. We're able to appreciate both why they act the way they do and how they're all deluding themselves somewhat (Richard claims he wants to "prove a villain" because he can't "prove a lover", but in the very next scene he successfully woos a wife under the most adverse of conditions.)

    The villains are less developed in the comedies, so maybe we're due for a Don John-centered look at Much Ado. Or As You Like It from Duke Frederick's perspective.

    What I'd most want to see though, even if the character is hardly a villain per se, is a story about Doctor Pinch, from Comedy of Errors. Now that would be awesome.

  4. Seems to me that many of Shakespeare's plays are written primarily from the villain's perspective, including the aforementioned Richard III, and Othello (which really is Iago's play) as well as Mackers.

    Some of the others, like Titus Andronicus (really, aren't most of the characters cruel and corrupt?) or Corilanus, the protagonists have just enough moral ambiguity that they don't really fit the role of hero to our modern sensibility (more anti-hero.)

    What's far more unusual is for Shakespeare to have one of his comedies play out primarily from the villain's perspective.

  5. Is Iago a good choice, though, really? Part of the goal is to end up making the villain a sympathetic character. Is Iago really just misunderstood and treated horribly by those around him, or is he really and truly messed up to begin with?

    R3 maybe, he's got the whole deformity thing going for him as a reason why people look down on him at first site. But what would Iago's excuse be?

    Ooo, I just thought of another post topic. 🙂

  6. Isn't this also part of a uniquely modern perspective that either a character must be virtuous or that their vices must be forgivable or pitiful for them to be sympathetic to the audience? (It's also a sort of patting ourselves on the back, since by implication it's a statement that we in the audience are virtuous.)

    We sympathize with these lead villains in part because we too have a darkside.

  7. Yes, I still feel both of my choices are good onces, because when they would be turned on their ear, that is when you would find sympathy for them.

    Of course Iago isn't sympathetic as is. But I thought you were asking what plays would make for an interesting story if we were to see the inside of the villain, and hence sympathize with same.

    To that end, the fact that they have soliloquies is not the issue at all. They are designed to be the villain, monologue or no. We see what they do as a result of their villainy, but we do not see them BECOME the villains in the way described. Iago becoming "Iago" is certainly a more in depth story then one passed up promotion.

    I;d like to add Edmund the bastard to the list.

  8. We also very rarely see Shakespeare's heroes become heroes. The tight confines of a play frequently don't allow for that. Shakes shows us an episode from his heroes' lives not the journey that turned them into heroes. i.e.: Benedick and company are already established as heroes at the beginning of "Much Ado about Nothing"– if anything, they are retiring from their careers in heroism.

  9. Ty's suggestion of Edmund is an interesting one, given that he's one of the few villains that has an attempt at redemption in the end. What would his early life have been like? He's got a dad who introduces him as the bastard. That can't be good for the self-esteem.

  10. "Bastard" still had a different connotation than it does now. It was primarily a statement of the parents marital status and expected share of the inheritance.

    If bastards acted like bastards it was generally understood that was because they had been denied the privileges of their "legitimate" brothers and sisters.

    Remember that the most famous bastard of the era was Good Queen Bess herself!

  11. Ian: One reason I like the histories is that, due because there are cycles, we can see characters become heroes and become villains (though often which role they fill is subject to debate.) To whit, Margaret appears in all four plays of the first tetralogy and her story arch (from naive girl to scheming queen to war machine to broken old woman) is pretty epic. Richard has a comparable arch from Henry VI Part 2 to Richard III. He starts out as his father's most loyal warrior in Part 2. Part 3 shows his grief and rage at the death of his father and brother, his disappointment with his remaining brothers' incompetence, and his eventual decision to claim the crown for himself. There are other examples too: Henry VI going from boy-king to prophet-martyr, Hal from wayward-son to conquering king. For the multi-play characters, we get a great sense of the journey that makes them who they are.

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