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"I am determined to prove a villain"
Richard III, Shakespeare, and the Creation of Villains

Teachers' Rating:
  2 ratings

Unknown artist after Nathaniel Dance. David Garrick as Richard III. Oil on canvas, after 1772.

February 2010
Kristin Pollack teaches at Smyrna High School in Smyrna, Tennessee

Plays/Scenes Covered

Richard III, 1.1



What's On for Today and Why

In preparation for an assessment in which students will place Richard's villainy in historical/cultural context, students will create a list of historical and fictional figures and identify the qualities and behaviors that make them villains. Students will learn how an audience's attitude towards "evil" figures can be more complex than a first reading suggests and gain an appreciation for the complicated nature of Shakespeare's characters.

This lesson will take approximately 80 minutes.

What You Need

List of villain figures

Copies of Richard's first soliloquy (1.1.1-51)
   Available in Folger print edition and Folger Digital Texts
Excerpts of chapters 15 and 18 from Machiavelli's The Prince

The historical, political, and diplomatic writings of Niccolo Machiavelli / translated from the Italian by Christian E. Detmold.Boston : Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1891, c1882.

The Prince extract 1
The Prince extract 2
The Prince extract 3
The Prince extract 4
What To Do

1. Write the names of three or four familiar historical or fictional villains on the board. Some suggestions: Voldemort, Mussolini, Darth Vader, Stalin. Have students brainstorm several other well-known villain figures.


2. Ask students what makes the names on the list stand out as villains. What characteristics do they have in common?


3. Have students readRichard's first soliloquy (1.1.1-51) round robin style arranged in a circle. Direct students to underline words and images that have negative connotations and create a group list on the board. Discuss the bearing these words and images have on the passage and what sort of impression it sets up of Richard as a character.


4. Hand out copies of the excerpts from Machiavelli's The Prince and have students read in order to understand the political idealogies and circumstances of Shakespeare's era. Discuss Richard III in light of The Prince's basic assumption that any action taken to secure and maintain political power is justified.

How Did It Go?
Were students able to come up with some "standard" villain qualities using familiar examples? Were they able to see how Richard III fit some of these qualities and what is involved in the creation of a villain character? Do they have an understanding of the ways in which Shakespeare sets up characterizations and how he shapes his audience's attitude towards the characters he creates? Do they see how the political ideologies of the period may have influenced the way its literature was written and received?

If you used this lesson, we would like to hear how it went and about any adaptations you made to suit the needs of YOUR students.

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  Common Core State Standards

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