Reading these two together is a weird experience, because they both include a great literary villain. Moving from book to play and back again is like being caught in a call and response of evil. And that got me started thinking about evil characters in literature. I love making lists, but I can't come up with others who measure up to these two.
I have seen at least one production of Richard III, the 1995 film with Ian McKellan. I can't remember if I've ever read the play before, though. As a history major concentrating on British history, I read about the Wars of the Roses, and about Richard's reign, both in historical works and in novels. Just the other day I was looking through Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, because I remembered a reference to the Paston Letters. Of course I ended up reading through my favorite parts, marveling again at the passion Tey brought to her defense of Richard. I remember Dorothy Dunnett taking a more measured view of him, when he appears as a character late in the House of Niccolo series. But the pure evil of Shakespeare's Richard came as a bit of a shock. When I read his aside on Clarence in Act 1, I felt a chill:
Exit ClarenceAnd then he goes from there to court the Lady Anne, over the body of her father-in-law Henry VI, whom Richard cheerfully admits to having killed, as well as her husband Edward. All for love of her, he says. When she accepts his ring, I want to Cher-smack her.
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.
Dorothy Dunnett's villain is a woman, like Richard based on a historical person: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, the niece of Henry VIII and eventually the mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots. When we meet her in The Game of Kings, she and Lymond already have a history together, which is only gradually revealed. Their relationship plays out across the six novels, to the very end of the series. "From her jealous concupiscence at twenty-seven for a boy eleven years younger had come all of the ills that dogged him." And it's not just Lymond who suffers. In this first book alone she is responsible for the death of three innocents, and the toll will continue to mount. (Two people that I talking into reading The Game of Kings have never forgiven me [me?] for one of those deaths, and have refused to read any further in the series.) Margaret Lennox is such fun to loathe, and I always enjoy the last glimpse of her in the final pages of Checkmate.
So those two are my list of not just villains, but literary evils. I haven't been able to think of any others to add to the list - and I'm not counting serial killers or psychopaths, because I don't read about them by choice. I was considering Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park, who I do believe is evil, but she doesn't have as much scope for her talents (appropriating cream cheeses and green baize rather than crowns, and really with only Fanny to torment). Also smaller in scope is Charlotte Mullen, of E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross's The Real Charlotte, but then she is truly an evil woman, unredeemed even by her love of her cats. Maybe I will complicate my list with a second rank, the lesser of two evils. In the meantime, I will be keeping my eye out for other villains, and welcome any nominations.