A Comparison of Evil in Richard III, Titus, and Romeo and Juliet

A Comparison of Evil in Richard III, Titus, and Romeo and Juliet

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Evil Within and Evil External in Richard III, Titus, and Romeo and Juliet    


 Shakespeare's villains seem to fall into one of two categories: those who are villainous of heart (inherently and genuinely evil or Machiavellian) and those who are circumstantially turned antagonists. Richard III's carefully plotted plans to usurp the throne contrast heavily against Aaron's (of Titus Andronicus) rambling which contrasts with Aaron's lack of action. The motivations of these two characters are different however. Richard seizes the opportunity to take over the throne by Machiavellian means when presented with the opportunity. Aaron represents the evil presumed of a "godless moor," his character being a symbol as much as his skin colour particularly to an audience familiar with the conquests.

 

Tamora is truly more evil than Aaron. She is the one who commands her sons to rape and cut up Lavinia leaving her dishonoured, with two bloody stumps for hands and no tongue with which to tell the tale. Aaron suggests that he tutored the sons in their behaviour (Act V Scene I Lines 99-111):

Indeed I was their tutor to instruct them.

That coddling spirit had they from their mother,

As sure as a card as ever won the set;

That bloody mind I think they learn'd of me,

As true a dog as ever fought at head.

Well, let my deeds be witness of my worth:

I train'd thy brethren to that guileful hole,

Where the dead corpse of Bassianus lay;

I wrote the letter that thy father found,

And hid the gold that within that letter mentioned,

Confederate with the queen and two sons;

The audience never witnesses Aaron's supposed teachings however, nor is it likely that if he were to continue living as before that he would commit the acts he pledges himself to as he is to be hanged (Act V Scene I Lines 125-144). Aaron talks of evil and trickery, while Tamora lives its epitome, marrying herself into the queen-ship of the conquering tribe. When presented with his child Aaron does care for it, and only agrees to speak upon the condition that it shall be saved. This insight into his character makes him seem almost a worthier person than Titus who murders his own sons. The villain shows more care for his kin than the hero does for his. This serves to make Aaron a more realistic villain by making him more human.

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Titus by stark contrast, appears almost too devoted to his system of values to consider the reality of his situation.

 

It is through Tamora's ascent to the throne that the action of the play is driven. However, her affair with Aaron symbolically suggests that she is not loyal to her own cause; the affair threatens her life and therefore her position plotting revenge against Titus for her first son's death. If the emperor were to discover her treachery she would undoubtedly be executed, much as Aaron is sentenced to die. She is one of the few women characters in Shakespeare who is allowed to play a pivotal forefront role openly; most are relegated to behind (or perhaps, more accurately, below) the action, though their observations and interactions may be no less striking than those of their male counterparts.

 

Romeo and Juliet deals not so much with an evil character, but with hatred itself personified by and realized through those family members who continue the feud. The original source of the feud is never revealed, which is why the hate itself takes on such a strong role. It is truly as blind as Romeo's love for Juliet.

Tybalt exemplifies the hotheadedness which leads to the slaying of Mercutio. It is through him that the hate is the most evidently channelled. He is distressed by Romeo's mere presence at the Capulets' party, while no other members of his family show such signs. Tybalt functions as the spark which ignites the hatred in an open way. Without him, the story is merely that of two families who forever hold grudges; he is a catalyst to the plot. Tybalt is less an evil villain than he is an ignorant and short-sighted participant, entrapped by his own hatred.

 

References to God and natural order, particularly defiance of the two, are interwoven character themes in several plays. Claudius from Hamlet can be seen as a villain in a biblical sense: "Claudius is thus not only Cain but Adam. Claudius's sin has, for Hamlet at least, turned Denmark into a fallen Eden; thorns and thistles dominate the landscape."(2) The other difficulty Hamlet Prince of Denmark presents, is Hamlet's objection to the "incest" of Claudius marrying Hamlet's mother. This is a play upon the audience's presumption that because Hamlet is of high blood he will be 'rightfully' disturbed by such a matter; it is an outgrowth of the Darwinian(3) idea of inborn traits that allowed superiority.

 

Richard III is an atheist, which violates the natural order (assumed by Elizabethan audiences to be at work within the world) in the strongest way possible. His open hubris foreshadows his own undoing (Act I Scene III Lines 227-237)):

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 extremist hate,

With curses in her mouth, tears in her eyes,

The bleeding witness of my hatred by,

Having God, her conscience, and these bars against me,

And I no friends to back my suit [at all]

But the plain devil and dissembling looks?

In this boastful passage, Richard suggests that he has beaten not only Lady Anne but God as well. It is these hubristically shaped attitudes along with Richard's Machiavellian ability to plot that allow him to ascend to the throne; they are the same ones that are his undoing.

 
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