Who calls me ‘villain’? from Hamlet

207

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red fox here in Alabama.

As many writers and teachers of writers have emphatically stated: The plot of the novel hinges upon conflict. The protagonist desires “something,” and our hero’s attempt to acquire that “something” is made difficult by the antagonist: a man, a woman, the government, a dragon, a storm, the police, the military, the mafia, booze, sex, Republicans…the list goes on and on.

So we have the necessity of opposition that often takes shape as: villain. I pose the question: How villainous must our villain be? I’m currently working on a novel…into the second year…. but never mind that. I am trying my best to create the “flawed antagonist.” But isn’t that redundant? Well maybe not.

Bad people usually, not always, see themselves as “good people.” This statement introduces a host of questions. Who is bad? Who is good? Can a bad person do a truly good thing? Or can a genuinely bad person be genuinely good? We’ve now entered the realm of philosophy. What is good? What is bad? Who defines? Is Ignorance evil or bliss?

I don’t believe we as writers need to sit down and write treatise after treatise on the nature of good and evil, but I do believe that we must seriously think about the nature of the “bad” guy. It’s something like Michelangelo studying the muscles of human cadavers in order to draw perfectly the muscles of living persons. What indeed is going on in the mind of the villain?

We speak of the hero being flawed. For instance, the hero is quick to anger. Or she drinks too much. Or he cheats and lies. All of these flaws are representations of bad behavior, a la evil.

So then what about the antagonist? In other words, can the antagonist be a flawed villain? I don’t mean a villain who doesn’t drink or cheat or lie, or has a bum knee, but rather a villain who is intrinsically good.

I like the idea. What do you think?

19 thoughts on “Who calls me ‘villain’? from Hamlet

  1. Sha'Tara

    Not sure I follow but, can’t a protagonist be the bad guy, or villain, and the antagonist, the hero who saves the day in the end? As for evil, that should be a given for anyone: whatever causes pain, or loss to another for one’s personal profit, satisfaction or pleasure is evil. If people made the effort to truly understand and face evil, rather than wallow in political correctness, or false philosophy (that which denies reality) they’d soon come to realize how evil their world truly is… they might even be shocked into a new realization.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you for your thoughtful response. You make a very good point, as you always do! The idea I’m trying to get at is: the writer should be careful not to treat the antagonist as a two dimensional character. And issues of evil can become quite ambiguous. One question would be: Who is “another?” Humans? Animals? Fish? Insects? Plants? What life form desires its own destruction?

      Of course, I’m being a bit far-fetched I know, BUT my point is that where do we draw the line. As writers, we can point out to our readers that the line is not so easily discerned.

      If two little children are in a life-threatening situation. A man is about to kill them because of the color of their skin. He is evil. Another man shows up and kills the bad guy. Is he evil as well? He felt a great sense of satisfaction that the other man is dead and the children are safe. Later we find out the children had taunted the killer, reviled him, called him names, threw things at him, and he was driven to an extreme. Are the children evil? Their parents? Their community? Their culture? How far out do the circles go? Are we in fact confusing evil with some other diabolically tainted need: survival or identity, i.e. racial, ethnic, religious. OR should one simply bow to the sword, as Starhawk suggests in her novel THE FIFTH SACRED THING.

      I sorry to go on and on, but I should also say, I’m speaking as a writer, a writer of fiction who hopefully speaks to other writers to study very very closely the nature of what we consider to be “good” and what we consider to be “evil.” And see how far one can push the boundaries and thus understanding.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. robynelliot

    Ah, the complexity of the human psyche. Which, of course, makes rich pickings for writers, as well as challenges. How far do we go? Do we create characters who are ‘bad’ but have shadows of humanity within them, and vice versa, and leave the reader to work it out. Everything is subjective in life, no less the concept of what is good and what is bad in terms of human behaviours and attitudes. One extreme example is Ted Bundy; generally speaking, very, very bad, specifically speaking, very, very evil, in relation to the nature of his crimes – he also did things in his life that generally would be considered good, eg saving a drowning child, being nice to his mother and siblings, so even in this kind of example, there is substance and shadow…although, in my opinion, a hell of a lot of shadow. It follows, then, to ask the question; if a man like Bundy is considered bad, evil, does executing him constitute a good act by good people? And on and on and on!! I think it is exciting as a writer to create characters of psychological complexity and contradiction and pushing our creative boundaries. Just to clarify, however, my latter comments do not refer to individuals like Bundy, although I would not judge any writer who wanted to explore that line. Good topic, Paul. Nice and light!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Thank you so much. I couldn’t agree more. Bundy is an excellent example of what I’m trying to work through. Osama Bin Laden is another example. We, the US government/military trained him, armed him, supported him. Then when he turned on us, we reviled him, hunted him, and in time killed him.
      Mary Shelley had it right all along!

      Thanks for reading and sharing!

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
  3. sepultura13

    I think about this quite a bit – and you’re spot on! “Good” and “evil” are variables, which many people seem inclined to change on a whim. Your example about Osama bin Laden is a prime one.

    A short, personal story: I had a friend who was a co-worker. Her boyfriend was a co-worker of my then-husband. Her guy told mine, previous to them “hooking up,” that he had briefly dated another woman in town who was generously referred to as the “town pump,” and got a nasty “social disease” from her. When my friend told me who she was dating, I came right out and asked, “Have you slept with him yet? If so, did you use a condom? If not, you might want to get yourself tested.”

    She got tested and didn’t like the results…but, instead of dumping the scumbag who was careless with her health, she blamed me for being the bearer of bad news and ended our friendship. So, even though I did what I thought was the right thing to do, I was the “villain” in her eyes…

    Would I change a thing that I did? Nope. Do I expect my friends to be just as honest as I am? You bet. The truth might hurt, but it’s far easier to deal with than an ugly lie that festers.
    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Amazing story. Thanks for sharing. I’ve had an experience similar to that one as well when I got between a married couple going through the beginning stages of a divorce. And you are so right: the truth hurts, but it’s always the best thing and most times a “true” friend will come back to you once they realize your honest intention, but unfortunately not always, such is human nature. sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  4. sara

    I wonder…if anyone can be truly bad! Or, they are so few, like sociopaths and psychopaths, that you are only likely to meet one or two of them in your life. I think we are so much more complex than that! My experience of people is that they are working with what they have been given, which sometimes isn’t much, alongside trauma, bad choices and mental illness, but does that make them a bad person? It can certainly make them to difficult to be around, for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      You are exactly right. It’s an idea I’ve been wrestling with for some time now. One thought is that no one is truly good or truly bad. I told a friend the other day, “Hitler wasn’t evil when he was born.” And my friend was shocked. He is convinced that Hitler was the born devil. Part of the problem is the Christian notion of inherited evil…we are born fallen souls. I don’t believe that for a second. I do believe as you say, people work with what they have been given. And some are given great DNA and nurturing environment and others…well, no. Of course it does make life uncomfortable for us a people but it also gives us writers something to writer about!
      Thank you so much Sara for reading and sharing your thoughts! It is really nice to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. Deb

    Ah Paul you just gave me a fantastic idea in your last comment here…what if there was an evil gene! What if you are born with this evil gene but there is a cure for it…what would the cure be? Would it be medicine, holistic healing, acupuncture, being baptized….oooh..this could go in many directions. My initial answer to your question is that I don’t believe God would create anyone evil…that somehow Satan seeped into their soul sometime in their life, somehow. Without evil you can’t have good, right? So maybe I am wrong and that some are born evil in order to have the good…no I still believe we are all born good and then it changes after that. Love this question and the responses have been so insightful and thought-provoking!!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. paulabroome427 Post author

      Why thank you! And hey, that is an interesting idea. Of course the evil government/military would try to get hold of the cure. Whoa! Okay, I think you need to start the plot! 🙂
      Thank you, as always, for reading and sharing.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  6. Mary Job

    I love the idea. Yorubas have a proverb here that goes thus, ti ibi, ti ire, lada ile-aye. Which basically means in evil and in good was the world created. It’s a favourite proverb of mine, why? Even the best of the best of persons have one flawed behavior. As humans, we can never be perfect, that’s a fact, our flaws and perfection together make us who we are. Is there any one person who has never reacted first before thinking? As nice as one thinks he/she is, is there any one moment such person was guilty of prejudice, lying, swearing? In my opinion, I think we often tend to take in what we have heard about another person hook, line, and sinker even when we have not met that person. Take Osama & Gadaffi for instance, the media says they were villains, whereas some accounts of their lives seems to portray them as good people who wanted a common good or believed and fought for a purpose. I remember watching series of interview of Osama and asking myself how could someone that speaks intelligently like this be evil? When a criminal is caught, all the bad they have ever done is listed, nothing good is said about them, the perception of a villain has been formed for us by what we see and hear already, why form ours you may ask? To answer that, I did like each person to answer the question I asked earlier – have you ever been guilty of any wrongdoing, in thought, actions, ignorance or under pressure? On the other hand, the perception of the concept of good and evil has also been shaped for us by religious bodies who gave us moral laws or codes to live by, such that even when we think we are in the right, the moral laws says we are wrong and bad and should ask for forgiveness. I personally believe and would recommend natural laws, the laws of nature have countless practical experiences we can learn from, what is it they say about planting a tree or more when you cut one down. That’s an example. Let me end with another instance, person a & b watches the news, they are both good people who help others when they can and seem to be friendly. The truth however is that, only person a & b know what is eating and weighing them up/down inside, stress, living, work, love, etc. Like I said they both watch the news everyday, and almost everyday there is a story about a serial killer on rampage, the reaction that emanates from both individuals cannot be the same, imagine if they both set their sights on the serial killer, the emotion that comes out could either be to exact revenge or to hold the leash on such thoughts. I talk too much…sorry. The point I want to make while not supporting any wrongdoing (I seriously believe two wrongs don’t make a right) is that our capabilities to withstand bad emotions are different, while person a may be able to resist evil thoughts, person b may not be able to. Should we then judge person b to be a villain or could he/she be a flawed villain? Or what do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Paul Post author

      I agree with everything you say. I have come to believe that evil is not born I the blood, as it were. It is something “out there.” We humans have all the resources to live comfortably, sharing with each other and using our minds to understand who we are and how to alleviate the natural woes that fall upon us–instead of creating our own woes, e.g., war and suffering. I have never and no one else has either, seen an EVIL BABY. Human babies are all innocent, period. They respond happily to love and nurturing. They respond in tears to pain and hunger. If a pill were developed that when taken caused every human being to respond lovingly to every child out there, you would see an end to war and suffering in a matter of seconds. Thank you Mary for a great response and I apologize for my lateness! :-/

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
      1. Mary Job

        Oh please its okay. I know I haven’t seen any evil baby, true to that 😂. I wish that pill will exist too, I heard empathy is now being taught as a subject for primary schools in New Zealand I think, not quite sure of the particular European country but I think its New Zealand. Empathy is seriously lacking and that’s bad enough, then we have people taking advantage of folks with empathy, lack of what they have, I don’t know and wonder.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Paul Post author

        Oh thank you Mary! 🙂
        I’ve also heard that empathy is being taught in schools. I have reservations about it being a “subject” being taught, but hey, at least folks are trying to improve.
        Thanks for sharing.

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s