I Have a New Favorite Villain

Several times, I have seen people ask book bloggers who their favorite villain from literature is. I never really understood the question. “Favorite villain? Who has a favorite villain? Isn’t the hero the only one we’re supposed to care about?” Granted, some villains are rather intriguing and some are so despicable that you enjoy their comeuppance more than the hero’s triumph, but I never thought I could truly likeΒ a villain.

Apparently, I was wrong.

"Shylock and Jessica" by Maurycy Gottlieb. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
“Shylock and Jessica” by Maurycy Gottlieb. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Shylock, from The Merchant of Venice, has grown on me fast. He is the best villain ever, and my new favorite villain, because he is at the same time terrifying and sympathetic. He is terrifying because at heart, he really is a twisted little thing, but he is so beat down and his oppressors are so unjust that you feel for him as well. He makes you want to root from him and Antonio, hoping there is some way they can both get what they want (a way in which Shylock gets to keep his money and be treated like any other person and Antonio gets to keep his money and his life. Clearly, I’m not saying I want Shylock to get a pound of Antonio’s flesh. That would just be nasty). Not to mention, Shylock is by far the most complex character in the play, which makes him all the more interesting.

Another good thing about Shylock is that he gives Shakespeare nerds like myself plenty to talk about. Traditionally, it’s been assumed that, because Shylock is a Jew who conforms to Jewish stereotypes, he is meant as a sort of straw man which Shakespeare can use to attack all Jews. But many people believe that The Merchant of Venice is not meant to be anti-Semitic at all but rather to argue against anti-Semitism. They can’t agree as to whether Shylock was meant to be a sympathetic character or not. So far, I know how I think Shylock should be viewed, but I still haven’t figured out how Shakespeare might have wanted Shylock to be viewed. It’s an incredibly geeky way to spend one’s time, analyzing the play like this, but it’s rather fun for me. Like a puzzle.

Lastly, Shylock is my favorite villain because he can be turned into this:

This film (but not the voice-over) comes from Orson Welles’s 1969 adaptation of The Merchant of Venice, a film that (sadly) has since been lost. Welles cast himself as Shylock, and as you can see, he would have been the best Shylock ever.

So, there are my reasons for liking Shakespeare’s so-called “cutthroat dog.” Agree? Disagree? Do you have a favorite villain too? I’d love to hear from you about this or anything else bookish. You know where to find me.

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22 thoughts on “I Have a New Favorite Villain

        1. Oh.
          I ought to know that. I have that book but I’ve never gotten around to reading it. πŸ™‚ I’ve heard that it was incredibly unnerving (one reviewer described it as “scary as all hell”), so I didn’t think the villain would be even remotely likeable. Now I’m intrigued.

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  1. I definitely need to read some Shakespeare. I know the general stories from my literature classes, but I’m ashamed to say I’ve never read a full Shakespeare play. I was seriously creeped out by the terms of the agreement in the Merchant of Venice, but it sounds like an intriguing work. Please do another post when you finish, with your final verdict! I’m really enjoying your blog, and as a way of showing it, I nominated you for an award on mine, here: http://anothernoteblog.com/2014/11/11/an-award-winning-post/
    Please, don’t feel obligated to accept in any way. I just wanted to pass it along as a way of expressing how cool I think your blog is.
    I’m looking forward to reading more of your posts! πŸ™‚

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    1. Well first of all, aw shucks! I didn’t think anybody really liked my blog that much. πŸ™‚

      Second, I would highly recommend Shakespeare’s plays. This is only the second one I’ve read (the first being Hamlet), but what I’ve read from Shakespeare I’ve enjoyed immensely (his propensity for bloodshed notwithstanding). His works are just so much richer and more lavish than more recent works. There’s more to them, if that makes any sense.

      Third, thank you very, very much for the award. πŸ™‚

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      1. I’m so happy that the award made you happy, too! That was my hope πŸ™‚ I meant every word of it, and I’ll continue checking into your blog for updates. πŸ™‚
        I love your commentary on Shakespeare! That absolutely makes sense, and it inspires me even more to read his work. I’ll have to let you know which play I choose first!

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  2. Oh! The Merchant of Venice!
    When I was a kid,my mother used to briefly tell me the story.Haha,I never imagined that Shylock could be that old! I haven’t yet read the story,and I don’t know if I ever will.
    I really love Hamlet,but hated Winter’s Tale.I think I will like Shakespeare’s tragedies more,so in that respect,I don’t know if I should pick The Merchant of Venice.

    Speaking about Shakespeare’s plays,you can grab secondhand copies of them in Folio edition for a relatively low price.I bought Folio copies Hamlet and Macbeth,both of which published around 1950,for something like Β£20.I’m planning to buy Romeo and Juliet,Othello,and Julius Caesar in the future.You should check them out if you like them that much! πŸ™‚

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    1. I’ve heard the story before too. When I was younger, my grandmother gave me a book of Shakespeare retellings and I read The Merchant of Venice from that. I remember being thoroughly creeped out by it, but I went ahead and read it anyway.

      I loved Hamlet too. If it hadn’t been assigned to me in school, I probably would have never read it because it just seemed like far too much work with little in return. But as it turns out, not only was it easier to understand than I was expecting, but I also enjoyed it much more than I thought I would!

      Thanks for mentioning the folios. I already have all of Shakespeare’s plays in one book, but the folios might be good to have if I’m going somewhere and don’t want to bring that whole huge book with me.

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  3. I completely ADORE villains. I don’t understand when people don’t like them…I always think the perfect villains are ones that are equally awful but interesting and engaging and still have thoughts/emotions/intentions. When they’re relatable, that’s when it’s most chilling and scary I think. Someone who is just normal enough to think, “Oh that could be me” and then they do something totally FREAKY. *gulps* Aaaanyway. I have millions of favourite villains, but at the moment, I particularly have a soft spot for Sebastian in The Mortal Instruments.
    Thanks for stopping by @ Notebook Sisters!

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    1. That’s exactly why I like Shylock: he’s terribly twisted, but at the same time, he’s interesting and complex and, to be fair, he does have good reason to see himself as the victim in the situation (he doesn’t have good reason to react the way he does, but still). But just when you start to feel bad for him, he does/says something incredibly sick. Then you don’t know what to do with him. I think that’s great.

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