The Evil Masterminds of William Shakespeare: Richard III & Iago

There seems to be a growing trend in this course and in the texts we’ve been reading (at least as of late): evil masterminds. Richard III and Iago both are genius in their plots to achieve power and revenge, respectively. Richard III from the very beginning of the play expresses how he desires the throne and will do anything to achieve it but he then tells us his step-by-step plan and then he executes it nearly without fail. First, he makes it so that Clarence, his own brother, be sent away to the prison (though Clarence doesn’t know it was Richard who has done so). He sees Clarence being taken away to the prison and promises his brother that he’ll do everything in his power to free him. Once Clarence is off stage, Richard gleefully exclaims, “Go tread the path that thou shalt ne’er return. Simple plain Clarence, I do love thee so that I will shortly send thy soul to heaven, If heaven will take the present at our hands.” He outright celebrates his brother’s downfall. His next plan of action is to marry Lady Anne, despite being the one responsible for her father-in-law Henry IV’s death as well as her husband, the former king’s son by the house of York. Lady Anne genuinely hates the house of York and it seems impossible for Richard III to woo her. However, being the cunning mastermind he is, he is able to do so with his romantic words and even gives her the option to kill him to prove himself in a way to her. However, he knows in his heart that she doesn’t have to gall to actually kill him and of course, she drops the sword and yields herself to him. And then after she leaves, he once again gloats of just how brilliant he is. Gah! You have to admire him. I know I do. How a person with merely his cunning can get what he wants is astonishing.


His way with words and cunning is on par with that of Iago. Iago worked his magic on the people around him differently than Richard III. Iago did his evil planning as it came to him. He had the intention of getting back at Othello for whatever it was that Othello did to him (besides Cassio getting a promotion over Iago, it was never fully clear just why Iago hates Othello as much as he does). While Richard III has a calculated step-by-step plan to get what he wants and to destroy everyone around him, Iago improvised as he went along and seized the opportunities that came into his lap. However, with everything that happened with the handkerchief, he still had to be the one whispering in everyone’s ears planting seeds of doubt in all. He’s the one whispering in Othello’s ear Desdemona’s flirtation with Cassio, he’s the one telling Desdemona to try to win Cassio’s favor in Othello, etc.


Honestly, as evil as Richard III and Iago are, I’m sort of envious of their master of wit and evil genius. Doesn’t everyone want to be the evil villain at some point in their life? … No? That’s just me? Well I have a deep respect for people who – though are evil in their intent – pull through and are victorious in their goals. To be so calculated and cunning are traits to be admired and are the reasons why I’m naturally rooting for the ‘bad guys’ in different forms of literature and entertainment.  


3 thoughts on “The Evil Masterminds of William Shakespeare: Richard III & Iago

  1. Elizabeth Browne

    Wow! Your comparison of Iago and Richard III is on key. I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. I like that you mentioned their uses of language as a persuasion for the audience in a way. I think that their uses of language actually make them as villainous as they seem. Their actions wouldn’t sound as extreme if they didn’t have those tangy, cunning words to match them. Great comparison and great quotes to show their real personalities, as well!

  2. coleenhiggins

    The mastery of language that these characters exhibit is what makes them so dangerous. It makes them appear trustworthy and benevolent in their persuasions. How many times have we heard Iago referred to as “honest Iago”? There is something to be said about a character who is so skilled in the art of deception that no one ever suspects them. I am interested to see when Richard will be unveiled as the villain of the play, or if he will continue his endeavors until it is too late for anyone to fully comprehend the magnitude of his atrocities, as is often the case with tragedies.

  3. jameskwapisz

    I, too, am attracted to characters of such magnitude of cunning. When you say you’re naturally rooting for the bad guys in literature and entertainment, I was caused to think of none other than the infamous Walter White from Breaking Bad. Every move of his is so calculated, and when you find out that he had intended for the situation to go just as he had planned there is an eeriness about it. In the beginning of the show Walt seems like the man because of his wit, but as the series goes on, it seems that his intelligence gets the better of him. Let’s see what happens to Richard..


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