What Makes a Villain?

A few years ago, something brought Dante’s Inferno into my mind while I was working on lessons for Julius Caesar. What I had never fully realized before was that while Brutus is arguably the protagonist of Shakespeare’s play (despite the fact that he’s not the title character), up until that point he was primarily seen as a villain. In fact, Dante places him and co-conspirator Cassius in the very deepest pit of Hell along with Judas Iscariot!

Much of Shakespeare’s audience would have been familiar with that perspective on Brutus and Cassius, and titling the play The Tragedy of Julius Caesar plays up those expectations. Then Shakespeare takes that perspective and stands it on its head, making Brutus the tragic hero and showing the story from his point of view.

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