Don John

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Don John- The Villian- Analysis + notes

Don John is Don Pedro's illegitimate brother. In Shakespeare's time, such people were seen as outsiders, even evil. Don John is no exception. He is largely silent and relies on his servant, Borachio, for ideas. When Don John speaks, he often talks about himself. And he spends his time plotting against Don Pedro and Don Pedro's friends. Don John is unpleasant and cunning. He knows how to spread rumours and destroy friendships. 

The most obvious character who is jealous is Don John. He resents Don Pedro and will do anything to get his own back after he lost the war. Other characters are jealous, too. Benedick does not like Hero, and does not want Claudio to marry, while Claudio is ready to believe Don John's rumours. Beatrice is an exception: she does not worry about her status or doubt her friends at all.

I have to admit that Don John is one of my favourite of Shakespeare’s villains, not as evil as Iago, or as charismatic as Richard III, he is a villain on a very human scale. Often played as a lonely outcast, in many productions, I actually find myself feeling sympathy for him.

Don John is the illegitimate brother of Don Pedro the prince of Arragon. He is when we first meet him, “out of measure sad” and when told to cheer up he says “I cannot hide what I am”. In his refusal to put on a charming face he is a real contrast to a villain like Iago who very deliberately pretends to what he is not. Don John claims that he would not want to put on polite airs and graces just to win favour. He claims it is better suited to his nature to be disdained by all than to pretend to be charming and steal undeserved love. It is this element of  humbleness about him that makes me sympathetic to him. After all, although a dark and villainous character he is following Polonius’s advice in Hamlet “To thine owns self-be true.”

Soon we get to know the cause of Don John’s bitterness. He resents the fact that he is restrained by his status as the illegitimate brother. He has decided not to “sing in his cage” in fact, he says if he was allowed freedom of speech and action he would not sing but ‘bite’. And bite he does. His teeth getting into a man, his brothers ‘right hand’, one Claudio who Don John feels has all the glory and favour that might be his if things were only different.  He concocts a plot to make Claudio think that his betrothed wife Hero has betrayed him, causing Claudio to humiliatingly jilt her at the altar and almost destroying the happiness of everyone. Of course, as this is a comedy his villainy is discovered, Claudio repents, Hero (astoundingly) accepts his apology and everyone lives happily ever after – apart from Don John who attempts to flee…


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