Monday, September 23, 2013

The Most Evil Character in Fiction




I saw OTHELLO for the second time this year last Friday. It is hard to imagine a more evil character than Iago, and we have very little idea of why he does what he does--although scholars have posited many reasons.

At the end of the play, when he has been responsible for great unhappiness and several deaths, and he is to be taken away to be tortured, he says only

"Demand me nothing. What you know, you know. From this time forth I never will speak a word."

In this way, Iago even triumphs at the end of the play, by giving no one the satisfaction of his motive.

Who rivals Iago for pure villainy? 


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19 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - Iago really is awfully evil! I don't think anybody really tops him.

sandra seamans said...

I have one for Thursday, Patti. As for evil, I think Glen Davis in Larry Brown's novel "Father and Son" is right up there.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The father in Brewster i(Slouka) up there too.

Damien Seaman said...

Picking up on the Shakespeare link, how about Aaron the Moor from Titus Andronicus? I just saw a production of this in Stratford-upon-Avon over the weekend, and Aaron seems like a model for Iago - only more bloodthirsty.

Also kind of ironic that it swaps the Iago-Othello model: In this one the Moor is bad (although very few are really good in this play).

Aaron's actions result in probably half a dozen deaths in the play. And although he explains his motives, he remains utterly unrepentant even to the end.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I have never read or seen Andronicus but now I must read it. Thanks!

Charles Gramlich said...

lots of evil characters have been modeled on him at least.

Roger Dodger said...

how about Moby Dick?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Mindless evil but still evil.

Anonymous said...

How about Humbert Humbert? The way he rationalizes and justifies the worst impulses of a human being seems to me more purely evil than a character who declaims his evil nature from the beginning. What's interesting about Iago, though, is that if he didn't kill his wife in a rather offhand way at the end of the play, he'd be guilty of nothing more than telling some lies and knowing what buttons to push--the "perfect" psychological villain.

Deb

George said...

Hannibal Lecter ranks right up there. Tom Ripley. I'm with Deb on LOTITA'S Humbert Humbert.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Humbert Humbert is a good choice. He is all sexual appetite--a narcissist.

My problem with Hannibal Lecter is like all serial killers, they are dull-they are murdering just to murder not for any interesting reason. And not to topple a kingdom or to seize power. Nor out of jealousy or revenge.

Now Ripley is a much more interesting choice.

RkR said...

The fist answer that came to mind was the Joker, in the Batman series. No conscience, will do anything to amuse himself including mass murder.

In books, Sauron from the Lord of the Rings, and Quilp from The Old Curiosity Shop.

Anonymous said...

God in Paradise Lost. William Empson in Milton's God makes a good case.
Maximilian Aue (?sp?) in Les Bienveillantes)
Is Moby Dick evil? He objects to being harpooned, but that's a very sensible response. If anything, it's Ahab who is evil.

pattinase (abbott) said...

The Joker is a great example.
I think the Old Testament God is quite a dicey character in general. Why does Job suffer as he does. What about Lot's wife. How about what he puts most of the cast through?
Interesting question about Moby Dick? Maybe neither are evil because their actions are confined to struggle to survive.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And, of course, RICHARD III would be right up there. And Satan in numerous stories.

John said...

I think Jacobean tragedy moreso than Elizabethan tragedy is rife with pure evil and villainy of the grandest order.

Bosola in The Duchess of Malfi, Soranzo and Vasques in 'Tis Pity She's a Whore, nearly everyone in The White Devil, etc. etc. No one produces these plays (let alone reads them) anymore. I think what with the horrific violence and gore and larger than life characters with passions and emotions that surpass those in grand opera the plays would be a huge sensation with young audiences raised on Tarantino and his ilk, all of whom owe a lot to Jacobean tragedy.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't think I have seen these, John. Yes, certain plays don't get performed much anymore.

Kelly Robinson said...

Someone beat me to Aaron in Titus Andronicus. He may be worse than Iago, and I particularly enjoy that at the end of his life, he's asked if he has any regrets, and he essentially says that he wishes he'd done even more evil while he had the chance.

Titus Andronicus is also responsible for my favorite stage direction in Shakespeare. I know a lot of people are fond of Winter's Tale's "EXIT, PURSUED BY A BEAR," but I much prefer "ENTER MESSENGER, WITH TWO HEADS AND A HAND."

Jerry House said...

Count Fosco.