For every Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello, you have a pantheon of underrated Shakespearean characters who are overshadowed by sword-wielding, melodramatic heroes and heroines. Often times, they get the best lines and even the better end of the mortality stick. So let’s take some time to forget about those blowhards like Macbeth and King Lear and focus on the best supporting characters.
Calpurnia // Julius Caesar
Congratulations to good ol’ Calpy for not joining the great tradition of Shakespearean wives who commit suicide out of grief/the patriarchy/the crazies. She was surprisingly well-adjusted for someone who took advice from toothless soothsayers and had oddly prophetic dreams. She also gets the privilege to literally live out the lyrics to this amazing song.
Prince Fortinbras // Hamlet
It’s always somewhat of a cop out when a brand new character shows up at the end of the story and fixes everything, but in the case of Prince Fortinbras, it’s a bit more forgivable. He was just minding his business in Norway and all of a sudden had to take over a castle filled with corpses. What else could he do but save the day?
Malvolio // Twelfth Night
Being the butt of every joke is tough, especially in a Shakespearean comedy where most of those jokes just happen to be fart-related. Then again, hoighty-toighty Malvolio, who is practically desperate for a woman, is an easy target to the wide cast of jokers. Still, he is the dry, put-upon Louis C.K. to Feste the Clown’s loud, bawdy Pauly Shore.
Earl of Gloucester // King Lear
Wallace Stevens wrote that “death is the mother of beauty.” Thus, having your eyes gouged out by the Duke of Cornwall not only makes you a beautiful character, but hands down, earns you the award for best Shakespearean death. When the Bard wants to hand you a metaphor, you know he likes to go the literal route.
Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Mote, and Mustardseed // A Midsummer’s Night Dream
It’s bad enough that this group of indistinct fairies is named after rejected Essie nail colors, but on top of that, they must cater to the every wish of a half-man, half-donkey. They don’t get much in the way of dialog, but it’s nice to know Shakespeare was one of the forefathers of creative celebrity baby names.
Clown // Othello
Shakespearean clowns are usually insufferable creatures whose idea of a joke is usually an indecipherable play on words that only your sophomore AP English teacher understood. Othello’s Clown doesn’t exactly break this trend, but in a play so bleak, he’s a welcome addition as someone who doesn’t murder, betray, or smother anyone with a pillow.
Jacques // As You Like It
Raise your hand if you’ve ever actually LOL-ed while reading a Shakespearean comedy. Yeah, didn’t think so. That’s why Jacques represents us, the reader: an overly judgmental observer who is so unable to engage in life that he runs off and joins a monastery. Replace “monastery” with “Tumblr” and this shit just got too real.
Tranio // The Taming of the Shrew
If you’re a fan of hapless sidekicks, Tranio is your man. In the 1999 film version, at least he got a love interest, but he gets no such luck in the play. Instead, he guides Lucentio as Lucentio guides Petruchio, which essentially makes him the sidekick to a sidekick. He still manages to steal a few scenes here and there and doesn’t even have to cross dress to do so!
Octavia // Antony and Cleopatra
Compared to Cleo, Octavia is a mouse of a woman. People make fun of her “low brow” and “round face,” and her husband is forced to marry her out of loyalty, thus making her the Lavinia Swire to Cleo’s Mary Crawley. She was merely a pawn in the play, but on HBO’s Rome, she is re-incarnated into an incestuous, blackmailing lesbian rebel. Justice: served.
Dogberry // Much Ado About Nothing
Dogberry was the sixteenth century Tobias Fünke. But rather than having “blue” himself, he muddles through early modern English. We all knew Shakespeare loved wordplay, but poor Dogberry is one malaprop away from being mentally subnormal. Best of all? He’s a police officer, thus making him an unofficial member of the Hot Cops.Credit: Wikipedia Commons. Flickr user hoosadork. Used with a Creative Commons license.