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9 of the most badass Shakespeare characters

By / 11.26.12
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Badass Shakespeare Characters

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Believe it or not, not every Shakespearean character is a lovelorn fool like poor Romeo or an Emo sad-sack who listens to Morrissey all day and cuts himself at night like Hamlet. No, when The Bard felt like it he could write some truly badass characters, and it is to these ass-kickers that this list is devoted. Some male, some female, they are the baddest of the bad, the rawest of the raw, war criminals, murderers, thieves, cannibals… you name it and they did it. And so come, friends, countrymen, lend me your ears and, uh, harketh, as I present to you the nine most badass Shakespeare characters of them all.

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

Richard III

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The Play: Richard III

Poor Richard III has a reputation for being a bit of a shithead and it’s well-earned no doubt, especially since he heartlessly and brutally had his young child nephews murdered just so he could fulfill his lust for the crown. But a hunchbacked coward he most certainly was not. Okay, maybe he was a hunchback but would a coward choose to charge an entire honor guard all by himself just so he could duel one on one with the man trying to take his throne even though he was almost certain to die? No. But that’s what ol’ Dick III did when he charged to his death on the field of battle even though his manservant begged him to flee. Richard went out like a boss, like a genuine badass, and no matter how much of a dick he was in life, you cannot deny that simple truth.

Photo credit: Stifts- och landsbiblioteket i Skara, Flickr

Romeo and Juliet

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The Play: Romeo and Juliet

No one in the Shakespearean oeuvre is more stylish than Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend. He was quick with both his tongue and a sword, spitting a steady stream of shit-talk and filthy jokes (calling Tybalt “King of Cats” was a play on the Italian word cazzo, which means penis so “King of Cats” = “King of Penis.”) and ready to defend his boy Romeo, even if it endangered his life. He was willing to throw down whenever and wherever and was one of the original ride or die bros in the literary world. For this, there can be no doubt that he deserves a place on this list.

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

Romeo

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The Play: Romeo and Juliet

If Mercutio is on this list then Tybalt has to be too, and it is only fair and right that Tybalt be ranked one spot ahead of him since Tybalt, you know, killed Mercutio. Look, calling someone the King of Penis has its consequences. Tybalt was a notorious asshole, a hot-headed jerk who probably deserved all the guff Mercutio threw at him and more, but he was also a jerk who was handy with a sword. He could have been a passive aggressive ass or tried to get his daddy to take care of Mercutio or something but no, Tybalt settled that shit like a man, and one sword thrust later, I’m guessing Mercutio had just a tad more respect for him. Of course, Tybalt was then killed by that sissy Romeo but we’ll just overlook that little inconvenience.

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

Macbeth

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The Play: Macbeth

Look, Macbeth gets a lot of guff for allowing himself to be led around by the shorthairs by his wife, but at the end of the day Macbeth was a hard dude who settled things like a goddamn boss. Instead of slinking around and backing his way into the throne or having one of his boys work over the king, Macbeth handled his own business, killing the king himself and stealing his throne face to face. I mean, this was no duplicitous courtesan, hanging around in fancy tights and playing the lute. No, Macbeth was a general, an army man who understood only one principle: kill or be killed and damn it, he got to killing. Sure, in the end, it didn’t work out so well for him but for a while there Macbeth was the law of the land, and you don’t get to be The Law without having at least a little badass in you.

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Lady Macbeth

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The Play: Macbeth

Sure, Macbeth was a natural born badass but he was nothing compared to his wife, the Machiavellian Lady Macbeth, who refused to just lie down and accept her lot in life. Society calls a woman like her a bitch but in reality she was just a strong woman who knew what she wanted and did what she had to in order to get it. She was married to a general, a war hero, but there was no doubt about who wore the pants in that relationship. She said jump and Macbeth said how high. He was just the dumb brute who acted as the figurehead for her ambition. She was the one who engineered a coup. She was the one who wasn’t afraid to reach for that brass ring, shatter the glass ceiling of the patriarchy, and go after what she wanted. Sure, in the end the whole thing blew up in her face but there can be no denying that Lady Macbeth was a strong woman, a woman who knew what she wanted, and although you may call her a bitch, I call her a badass.

Photo credit: Sheep purple, Flickr

Henry V

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The Play(s): Henry IV and Henry V

Prince Hal had a well-earned reputation as a callow and rakish youth, palling around and whoring with his good friend Falstaff but make no mistake, ol’ Hank was a certified badass. Even during his degenerate youth, Hal wasn’t afraid to mix it up. If he saw something he wanted, he took it, even going so far as to literally rob people on the side of the road even though he was a prince. Finally, after the effete French pissed him off enough by mocking him with tennis balls, Prince Hal grew into Henry V, and ran wild on everyone like a medieval Stone Cold Steve Austin. He whipped his men into a frenzy with a bloodthirsty speech and then made the French pay for their tennis-ball related slights by beating down their whole country. Make no mistake, Henry V was an absolute badass and he would be number one on this list if the following play had never existed…

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William Shakespeare

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The Play: Titus Andronicus

Let me just start off by quoting the critic S. Clark Hulse, who said of Titus Andronicus: “It (the play) has 14 killings, nine of them on stage, six severed members, one rape (or two or three depending on how you count), one live burial, one case of insanity, and one case of cannibalism--an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.” Indeed. Titus Andronicus was raw as hell and by far the most badass thing Shakespeare has ever written so it makes sense that the top three characters on this list all come from that gnarly play.


We’ll start with Tamora, the Queen of the Goths, who really got the ball rolling after vowing revenge on the Roman general, the titular Titus Andronicus, for taking her and her family prisoner and for killing her son. Her actions directly resulted in everything that was mentioned in that earlier quote. She sent her sons to murder the sons of Titus and to rape and mutilate his daughter. She repeatedly ordered her man-servant, Aaron (we’ll get to him), to commit act after act of just unconscionable evil, finally driving poor Titus completely insane. She then dressed up as a goddamn ghost and taunted him even further, refusing to leave well enough alone and sending them all hurtling over the edge into a chasm of hatred and grim death. Tamora wasn’t just a badass, she was a goddamn psychopath.

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

William Shakespeare

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The Play: Titus Andronicus

For as badass as Tamora was – she was responsible for the death and mutilation of virtually Titus’ entire family – Titus got the last laugh. Check this: after Tamora had his kids either killed, raped or mutilated, Titus did the only reasonable thing and had her kids all killed and then baked into a pie which he then forced her to eat. Of course, this only came after Titus killed his own daughter because she “shamed” the family by being raped. He then kills Tamora – of course. Yeah, I know, Shakespeare was kind of a fucked up dude. Of course, Titus then ends up being killed himself because, well, some things you just can’t do and killing rape victims and fostering cannibalism are among them. Still, let’s not forget that the whole thing started because Titus was a badass war hero who conquered the Gauls, enslaved them, and led them back to Rome in chains. Sure, in hindsight he probably would’ve just left them at the border, but hindsight’s 20/20, you know?

Photo credit: ell brown, Flickr

William Shakespeare

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The Play: Titus Andronicus

How in the hell can anyone be any more beastly than the last two? Well, you haven’t met Aaron the Moor yet. This dude is a goddamn piece of work. Both the man-servant and lover of Tamora, Aaron is directly responsible for the absolutely heinous chain of events that drive the play. Sure, Tamora told him to make that shit happen but Aaron goes above and beyond the call of duty and really runs wild. Check out Aaron’s hit-list:


- Aaron goes along with a plan to get Tamora hitched to the Emperor, which will let them run wild, which Aaron doesn’t mind even though he’s banging her. Aaron doesn’t get too attached to his tricks I guess.


- During a royal hunt, Aaron persuades Tamora’s sons to kill Bassianus, the brother of the Emperor and the lover of Lavinia, Titus’ daughter, so they can then rape her.


- After raping her, Aaron has them throw Bassianus’ body into a pit and then the gang mutilates Lavinia, cutting out her tongue and cutting off her hands so she can’t identify them. Goddamn!


- Aaron then forges a letter which frames Titus’ sons for Bassianus’ death which leads to the Emperor condemning them to death.


- He then visits Titus and lies to him, telling him that the Emperor will spare his boys and have them returned if Titus cuts off his own hand and send it to the emperor. Titus does and Aaron responds a while later by “returning” Titus’ sons, or at least what’s left of them, sending him their severed heads along with his hand.


- He then accidentally knocks up Tamora (should’ve worn that lamb-skin, bro) who gives birth to his baby. Knowing that the Emperor will be pissed when he finds out his new baby is half black, Aaron kills the midwife and hauls ass out of town with his kid. He’s caught by Titus’ one remaining son (whoops!) who threatens to hang the baby. So Aaron does what he has to do and sells everyone out.


- Naturally, Aaron still has to face some punishment and so he’s buried alive – only chest-deep though – and left to die of thirst and starvation. When he’s finally asked if he has anything to say for himself after his reign of terror, Aaron does the badass thing and tells them that the only thing he regrets is that he didn’t get the chance to do more evil with his life.


Well goddamn! Aaron makes everyone else on this list look like Sunday school teachers. Sure, he might have been one of the evilest dudes who ever lived but he was also raw as all hell and pretty undeniably a badass. I mean, the dude basically laughed at everyone when they told him he was going to be buried alive and told them his only regret was that he wasn’t a bigger dick than he already was. He was damn near a Bond villain. He talked the vile talk and he more than walked the vile walk, and for that there can be no doubt that he belongs at the top of this list and also that Shakespeare was a goddamn freak.

Photo credit: hashmil, Flickr

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TAGSAaron the MoorArbitrary RankingsfeaturedHenry VLady MacbethListsMacbethMercutioPrince HalQueen of the GothsRichard IIIRomeo and JulietShakespeare charactersTitus AndronicusTybalt
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