Mirror, mirror on the wall…who’s the fiercest she-villain of them all?
The go-to answer is usually Lady Macbeth, and not without reason. She’s ambitious, and her words leave such an emasculating sting on Macbeth that he is driven to kill King Duncan. While he wants to reap the benefits of being king, it is Lady Macbeth who shows him that, to make a royal omelet, one must first crack a few crowns.
Lady Macbeth is most notable for her lack of stain-remover and for the heartlessness of the following rant:
When you durst do it, then you were a man;
And, to be more than what you were, you would
Be so much more the man. Nor time nor place
Did then adhere, and yet you would make both:
They have made themselves, and that their fitness now
Does unmake you. I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.
Lady Macbeth’s baby is one of those great Shakespearean mysteries. We know that Macbeth has no sons, and thus the crown will pass to Banquo’s, but what of that baby? Was it Macbeth’s, or Lady M’s by another man? Has she already dashed that baby’s head into the concrete? We never really know, but her threat to “dash” the baby’s brains out has made her an eternally compelling she-villain.
But now I’d like to make the case for Tamora, Queen of the Goths, the underrated she-villain of Titus Andronicus. Mother to four sons over the course of the play, she is the true embodiment of “Hell hath no fury like a Mama Bear scorned.”
Tamora’s first words are some of her most compelling, as she begs Titus to spare the life of her firstborn:
Stay, Roman brethren! Gracious conqueror,
Victorious Titus, rue the tears I shed,
A mother’s tears in passion for her son:
And if thy sons were ever dear to thee,
O, think my son to be as dear to me!
Sufficeth not that we are brought to Rome,
To beautify thy triumphs and return,
Captive to thee and to thy Roman yoke,
But must my sons be slaughter’d in the streets,
For valiant doings in their country’s cause?
O, if to fight for king and commonweal
Were piety in thine, it is in these.
Andronicus, stain not thy tomb with blood:
Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility’s true badge:
Thrice noble Titus, spare my first-born son.