So, inspired by The Shakespeare Standard asking on Twitter last week which Shakespeare character we thought would win in a bar fight, I decided it could be entertaining to celebrate March Madness by pitting some of Shakespeare’s greatest combatants against each other, Mortal Kombat-style.
For the month of March, I’ll be posting links to polls here, on Twitter, and on Facebook, so that our readers, fans, and friends can vote on who they think could take whom in a no-holds-barred match. Whoever gets the most votes will move on to the next round.
Meet the competitors, listed here in alphabetical order (the first round of matches will be randomly generated, so the numbers here don’t represent any kind of seeding).
1. Aaron (Titus Andronicus)
Also Known As: the Moor
Preferred Weapon: scimitar, psychological warfare
Bio: A force of pure destruction and malevolence, Aaron keeps company with Tamora, Queen of the Goths, though no one knows just how he ended up in Scythia. His list of evil deeds is long, as he proudly boasts: “I curse the day… wherein I did not some notorious ill, as kill a man, or else devise his death, ravish a maid, or plot the way to do it, accuse some innocent and forswear myself, set deadly enmity between two friends, make poor men’s cattle break their necks.” There seems to be literally nothing he won’t stoop to perform.
2. Charles (As You Like It)
Also Known As: the Wrestler
Preferred Weapon: brute strength
Bio: Through his fame as a wrestler, Charles gained the patronage of Duke Frederick. Of his own skill, Charles says, “I wrestle for my credit; and he that escapes me without some broken limb shall acquit him well.” Charles is not without honor, as he attempts to dissuade young men to whom he might do considerable harm from fighting with him — but for those who insist on challenging them, he will leave them with “little hope of life” in them.
3. Claudius (Hamlet)
Also Known As: King of Denmark
Preferred Weapon: poison
Bio: Claudius prefers to do his killing subtly, through poisons, whether administered through the ear, through a pearl in a glass of wine, or on a blade. He’s also willing to hire out for his murders, going so far as to enlist the King of England in his schemes. Cunning and crafty, Claudius knows how to kill a man so secretively that “even his mother shall uncharge the practice and call it accident.”
4. Cleopatra (Antony and Cleopatra)
Also Known As: Egypt
Preferred Weapon: her own hands, the powers of Egypt, political acumen
Bio: The Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra is one of history’s most powerful, forceful, and fascinating women, who took as her consorts two of Rome’s greatest generals, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Though she largely wields power through other agents, and though in general she prefers langorous indulgence to the field of battle, when she gives vent to violent inclinations, hapless messengers best beware: “I’ll unhair thy head; Thou shalt be whipp’d with wire and stew’d in brine, smarting in lingering pickle.”
5. Coriolanus (Coriolanus)
Also Known As: Caius Martius, “thou Mars!”
Preferred Weapon: legions
Bio: Coriolanus begins his career as a celebrated hero-general of the Roman armies, but when politics of the great city turn against him, his quest turns to one of vengeance that puts all of Rome in fear. He allies with his former enemy, Aufidius of the Volscians, and a Roman senator thereafter says of him: “When he walks, he moves like an engine, and the ground shrinks before his treading: he is able to pierce a corslet with his ye; talks like a knell, and his hum is a battery… What he bids be done is finished with his bidding. He wants nothing of a god but eternity and a heaven to throne in.”
6. Doll Tearsheet (Henry IV, Part 2)
Also Known As: Mistress Dorothy
Preferred Weapon: knife
Bio: A wench of the Boar’s Head, Doll has been through more than her fair share of barfights and has had to chase off unwelcome customers. Scrappy and uncowed by the soldiers and mercenaries who frequent Mistress Quickly’s establishment (or by the local sheriff), Doll can curse with the best of them: “Away, you cut-purse rascal! you filthy bung, away! By wine, I’ll thrust my knife in your mouldy chaps, an you play saucy cuttle with me. Away, you bottle-ale rascal! you basket-hilt stale juggler, you!”
7. Domitius Enobarbus (Antony and Cleopatra)
Preferred Weapon: legions
Bio: Friend to and follower of Mark Antony, Enobarbus is a brilliant tactician and a famed general for, as he says, “It cannot be denied what I have done by land.” Knowing his, and Antony’s, strengths, he urges Antony not to meet Octavius’s forces on the water, where they will be at a disadvantage: “No disgrace shall fall you for refusing him at sea, being prepared for land.” He is also one of few men with the courage to stand up to Cleopatra, flatly telling her not to distract Antony when others would cower from her wrath.
8. Edmund (King Lear)
Also Known As: the Bastard
Preferred Weapon: sword and dagger, malicious letters, charisma
Bio: Embittered by his illegitimate inheritance, Edmund first contrives to dispossess his brother Edgar, then becomes embroiled in the plots surrounding King Lear’s throne, playing the sisters Goneril and Regan off of each other. He is, by his own admittance, “rough and lecherous,” and Edgar condemns him as “false to thy gods, thy brother, and thy father; conspirant ‘gainst this high illustrious prince; and from th’extremest upward of thy head to the descent and dust beneath thy foot, a most toad-spotted traitor.” Unscrupulous and unflinching, Edmund has no hesitation in provoking mayhem and disaster.
9. Goneril (King Lear)
Also Known As: Lear’s eldest daughter, the Duchess of Albany
Preferred Weapon: poison, minions
Bio: After taking over the rulership of half the kingdom following her father’s abdication and her sister Cordelia’s disgrace, Goneril turns her father out into a storm, ends up at war with France, falls in love with Edmund, orders the assassination of Gloucester, plots the murder of her own husband, and poisons her own sister. Aggressive and ruthless, called a tiger, a fiend, and a “gilded serpent” by her husband, Goneril’s fierce determination makes her a fearsome opponent.
10. Harry Percy (Henry IV, Part 1)
Also Known As: Hotspur
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Son to the Earl of Northumberland, Hotspur’s battle prowess is such that it makes King Henry IV wish that “it could be proved that some night-tripping fairy had exchanged in cradle-clothes our children where they lay.” He defeats many noble Scots in battle and takes them prisoner, then later thumbs his nose at the Welsh prince Glendower. Prince Hal, his opposite number, describes him as “He that kills me some six or seven dozen of Scots at a breakfast, washes his hands, and says to his wife, ‘Fie upon this quiet life! I want work.'” Hotspur is bellicose by nature, never at ease, ever-restless, and with the skill on the battlefield to support his warlike desires.
11. Henry V (Henry IV, Parts 1 and 2; Henry V)
Also Known As: Hal
Preferred Weapon: broadsword, inspirational speeches
Bio: The royal rebel, Henry begins as a dissolute prince whose “reformation, glitt’ring o’er” his faults turns him into one of England’s most celebrated monarchs. He becomes a valiant warrior in his own right, and also knows how to stir the hearts of other men, telling them to “imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood.” He leads his army to victory at the famous Battle of Agincourt, using tactical skill and sheer willpower to overcome formidable odds.
12. Hermia (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Also Known As: vixen, acorn, “minimus of hindering knot-grass”
Preferred Weapon: fingernails
Bio: A gentlewoman of Athens, Hermia isn’t afraid to get physical, especially if she thinks someone is stealing her man. Don’t let her diminutive stature fool you, for, as she says, “I am not yet so low but that my nails can reach into thine eyes.” Such is her power that it takes two full-grown men to restrain her from clawing Helena’s eyes out during their silvan catfight, for “though she be but little, she is fierce.”
13. Iago (Othello)
Also Known As: ancient Iago, honest Iago
Preferred Weapon: rumors, dagger
Bio: A force of malevolence, Iago indulges his jealousy to the point where nothing will do but the complete annihilation of those he sees at fault, with no care for any innocents swept up in his plots. Iago crafts his words to make Othello believe his wife has betrayed him and to spur Cassio into engaging in a drunken brawl. When his wife exposes his crimes, he murders her without a flinch. He then refuses to explain himself: “Demand me nothing: what you know, you know:
From this time forth I never will speak word.” Iago will bring down your world while smiling in your face.
14. Joan of Arc (Henry VI, Part 1)
Also Known As: Joan la Pucelle
Preferred Weapon: French army, demons
Bio: Born a simple peasant girl, Joan’s visions and apparent godliness earn her a position leading the French army. King Charles dubs her “an Amazon” who “fightest with the sword of Deborah,” while the English curse her as, “fell banning hag” and a witch who “by fear, not force… drives back our troops and conquers as she lists.” When the tide begins to turn in favor of the English, Joan shows herself willing to stoop to demon-summoning to achieve her ends. Whether a sinner or a saint, Joan routs the English army several times, proving her a dangerous opponent.
15. Katharina Minola (The Taming of the Shrew)
Also Known As: Kate, “plain Kate, bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst”
Preferred Weapon: household objects
Bio: Stuck at home with a bratty younger sister, Kate’s had a lot of time to build up a lot of rage. She’s not afraid to strike those who displease her, whether her sister or her suitor, and she once broke a lute over a man’s head. The hapless would-be music teacher suggests, “I think she’ll sooner prove a soldier. Iron may hold with her, but never lutes.”
16. Lady Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: Queen of Scotland
Preferred Weapon: cunning words, drug-laced possets
Bio: Married to a Scottish thane, Lady Macbeth has high ambitions. She engineers the assassination of King Duncan after inviting evil spirits to “fill me from the crown to the toe top-full of direst cruelty.” When Macbeth fails to leave the murder weapons, Lady Macbeth takes them back herself so that she can “smear the sleepy grooms with blood” to implicate them. Lady Macbeth suppresses compassion, gentleness, femininity, and weakness, all in the name of working her and her husband’s way to the crown.
17. Marcus Antonius (Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra)
Also Known As: Antony
Preferred Weapon: Roman army, Egyptian navy, rhetoric
Bio: Protege to murdered Caesar, Mark Antony describes himself as “a plain blunt man,” though Cassius calls him “a shrewd contriver.” Following Caesar’s death, Antony first stirs the common people against Brutus and Cassius and then defeats their powers at Philippi. Though he later worries that his love for Cleopatra may have unmanned him, with one of his officers stating that “those his goodly eyes, that o’er the files and musters of the war have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn,” Antony nonetheless takes on Octavius’s forces with the courage of a true Roman.
18. Macbeth (Macbeth)
Also Known As: the Thane of Glamis, the Thane of Cawdor, King of Scotland
Preferred Weapon: daggers, broadsword
Bio: Initially one of King Duncan’s trusted thanes and a hero of battle, Macbeth, consumed by a prophecy that he will be king, murders Duncan in his sleep. Macbeth then goes on to engage in wholesale slaughter of anyone and everyone that might be a threat to his reign, including his friend Banquo and the wife and children of the mistrusted Macduff. He thus earns a reputation as “bloody, luxurious, avaricious, false, deceitful, sudden, malicious, smacking of every sin that has a name.” Ambitious and bloodthirsty, Macbeth continues fighting even when the odds and fates turn against him.
19. Macduff (Macbeth)
Also Known As: the Thane of Fife
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Macduff puts on “industrious soldiership” after Macbeth slaughters his wife and children, leading armies alongside Prince Malcolm and Siward of England. He doesn’t waste words bantering, declaring “My voice is in my sword” when he challenges Macbeth. Haunted and determined, Macduff is a man who has nothing left to lose, and that makes him fearsomely dangerous.
20. Othello (Othello)
Also Known As: the Moor of Venice
Preferred Weapon: sword, pillow
Bio: An accomplished and capable general, Othello wins the trust of the Duke of Venice so wholly that the Duke sends him “against the general enemy Ottomans” to defend the island of Cyprus. Othello feels secure in the good opinion of the Duke and his advisers, stating, “I fetch my life and being from men of royal siege”. Othello’s weakness is in a jealous temper, which causes him to lash out violently.
21. Owen Glendower (Henry IV, Part 1)
Also Known As: Prince of Wales
Preferred Weapon: Welshmen (and women), spirits from the vasty deep
Bio: At his birth, “the front of heaven was full of fiery shapes, of burning cressets; and … the frame and huge foundation of the earth shaked like a coward.” He mounts a rebellion against the English domination of Wales, the last which Wales would ever wage. Wild, exotic, and declaring himself “not in the role of common men,” Glendower claims magical powers in addition to his prowess on the battlefield.
22. Prospero (The Tempest)
Also Known As: the former Duke of Milan
Preferred Weapon: magic (borrowed from books)
Bio: Exiled by his own brother, Prospero has had thirteen years on an island to hone his magical talents, and now he commands great and terrible elemental powers. With the help of the spirit Ariel, he can summon great storms, bewitch minds, and inflict pain; he also employs “elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves” and goblins to do lesser tasks for him. His tempest creates “wild waters” and a sky that “would pour down stinking pitch, but that the sea, mounting to the welkin’s cheek, dashes the fire out.”
23. Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Also Known As: Robin Goodfellow
Preferred Weapon: magic (his own)
Bio: The “merry wanderer of the night,” Puck uses his own fairy magic to wreak minor havoc in the world. He can alter his own size and voice, can “put a girdle round about the earth in forty minutes,” and transforms Nick Bottom into a monstrosity, a man with the head of an ass. Though Puck lives at Oberon’s command and mostly uses his power for pranks, he could prove a true terror if he ever used his magic for true malice.
24. Queen (Cymbeline)
Preferred Weapon: poison
Bio: Wife to King Cymbeline and stepmother to his daughter Imogen, the Queen wants the crown for herself and for her son. To get it, she plots to poison both Imogen, who she sees “as a scorpion to her sight,” and her husband, to whom she intends to minister “a mortal mineral, which, being took, should by the minute feed on life and lingering by inches waste” him. Venomous and vicious, this evil Queen will stop at nothing to achieve her goals.
25. Queen Margaret (Henry VI, Parts 1-3; Richard III)
Also Known As: Margaret of Anjou, “she-wolf of France,” “tiger’s heart wrapped in a woman’s hide”
Preferred Weapon: English armies, womanly wiles, curses
Bio: Married to King Henry VI, Queen Margaret quickly grows despairing of her husband’s weakness. When the Wars of the Roses start, Margaret takes over the governance of the war herself, leading the Lancastrian armies to victory. She taunts the fallen Duke of York with a handkerchief dipped in his own son’s blood and gives him a paper crown before helping Clifford stab him to death. When the Yorkists gain the throne, Margaret lingers on, cursing them, “Long mayst thou live to wail thy children’s loss; And see another, as I see thee now, deck’d in thy rights, as thou art stall’d in mine!” Margaret is a force of nature, fierce in defending her interests, brimming with bitterness, willing to throw off her woman’s role and assume power for herself.
26. Regan (King Lear)
Also Known As: Duchess of Cornwall
Preferred Weapon: dagger, armies
Bio: Like her sister Goneril, Regan takes over half the kingdom when her father abdicates, and she also takes up with the bastard Edmund — though unlike Goneril, she waits until her husband is dead to do this. When it comes to bloody business, Regan has no compunctions about getting her own hands dirty, assisting directly in the murder of a servant. She is also responsible for blinding Gloucester and turning him out into the storm. When Regan does an evil deed, she sees no reason to do it halfway, declaring, “All vengeance comes too short which can pursue th’ offender.”
27. Richard III (Henry VI, Parts 2 and 3; Richard III)
Also Known As: “misshapen Dick,” “Thou elvish-mark’d, abortive, rooting hog!”
Preferred Weapon: sword, daggers, barrels of wine
Bio: Born misshapen and deformed, Richard declares that “since I cannot prove a lover… I am determined to prove a villain.” He shows himself vicious and brutal in war, cunning and malicious in peace, stirring up rumors so that his enemies turn on each other, and not hesitating to betray those who have supported him in the past. He hires murderers to kill his brother Clarence, usurps the throne of his nephew, young King Edward V, then has Edward and his brother killed, and poisons his wife so he can marry another. In his own words: “Why, I can smile, and murder whiles I smile, and cry ‘Content’ to that which grieves my heart, and wet my cheeks with artificial tears, and frame my face to all occasions…. I can add colours to the chameleon, change shapes with Proteus for advantages, and set the murderous Machiavel to school. Can I do this, and cannot get a crown? Tut, were it farther off, I’ll pluck it down.”
28. Sebastian (Twelfth Night)
Also Known As: Roderigo
Preferred Weapon: rapier
Bio: Son to Sebastian of Messaline and twin brother to Viola, Sebastian survives a shipwreck and washes up in Illyria. When he makes for the Count Orsino’s court, Toby Belch mistakes him for his sister, disguised as Cesario, and challenges him to a duel, which Sebastian soundly wins. Though he apologizes to Olivia for wounding him — “I am sorry, madam, I have hurt your kinsman: But, had it been the brother of my blood, I must have done no less with wit and safety” — he proves himself a skilled duelist, or, as Andrew Aguecheek puts it, “the very devil incardinate.”
Also Known As: “An older and a better soldier none that Christendom gives out”
Preferred Weapon: broadsword
Bio: Reported to be the finest military leader England has to offer, Siward marches on Macbeth in command of ten thousand men. He values the arts of war above all else, and when he hears of his own son’s death in battle, is concerned only that his son died like a man, having fought well: “Had I as many sons as I have hairs, I would not wish them to a fairer death.” A career soldier and one who doesn’t flinch from death or injury, Siward will be an intimidating foe in any battle.
Also Known As: Queen of the Goths, Empress of Rome
Preferred Weapon: her sons
Bio: To avenge herself on Titus Andronicus and make him know “what ’tis to let a queen kneel in the streets and beg for grace in vain,” Tamora helps to orchestrate the rape and mutilation of his daughter and the deaths of his sons. She callously ignores Lavinia’s begging, instructing her sons, “Away with her, and use her as you will, the worse to her, the better loved of me.” When she gives birth to a mixed-race child with Aaron, she orders the babe killed rather than have it expose her infidelity. Pitiless and merciless, Tamora gives no quarter because she never received any.
31. Titus Andronicus
Preferred Weapon: the Roman gladius, kitchen utensils, baked goods
Bio: Titus initially wins victory over the Goths, losing 21 sons in the bargain. He stabs another son for the crime of defiance. He cuts off his own hand because he thinks it will save two other sons from execution. He slays Tamora’s two sons and bakes them into a pie, saying, “I will grind your bones to dust and with your blood and it I’ll make a paste, and of the paste a coffin I will rear and make two pasties of your shameful heads, and bid that strumpet, your unhallow’d dam, like to the earth swallow her own increase”. He then holds a dinner party where he feeds Tamora her own sons, kills his own daughter, and stabs Tamora to death. His ruthlessness pretty much knows no bounds, making Titus a tough competitor to beat.
32. Tybalt Capulet
Also Known As: King of Cats
Preferred Weapon: rapier and dagger (trained in the Spanish style)
Bio: Choleric and hot-tempered, Tybalt defies the Prince and his uncle Capulet to pursue his feud with the Montagues. Mercutio describes him thus: “He fights as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and the third in your bosom.” Tybalt defeats Mercutio in a duel, provoked by Mercutio’s taunting and Romeo’s apparent cowardice. Tybalt hates peace as he hates hell, and he fights with nigh-unparalleled skill.
Does magic count more than might? Should competitors’ armies count in their favor? Should a character’s eventual downfall be taken into account? You decide! And argue about it — comment here or and our voting posts throughout the month to try to sway the opinions of the masses.
Tomorrow, I’ll post polls for the first four matches — so be ready to decide who you think should get the KO!