AskDefine | Define villain

Dictionary Definition

villain

Noun

1 a wicked or evil person; someone who does evil deliberately [syn: scoundrel]
2 the principle bad character in a film or work of fiction [syn: baddie]

User Contributed Dictionary

English

Etymology

Probably villein from villain (modern: vilain), in turn from Late villanus, meaning serf or peasant, someone who is bound to the soil of a villa, which is to say, worked on the equivalent of a plantation in late Antiquity, in Italy or Gaul.

Pronunciation

Noun

  1. A vile, wicked person.
  2. A man extremely depraved, or capable or guilty of great crimes.
  3. A deliberate scoundrel.
  4. The bad person in a stage or screen play.
  5. The lowest level of medieval serfdom.

Translations

Synonyms

Related terms

Finnish

Alternative forms

Noun

villain

Extensive Definition

A villain is an "evil" character in a story, whether an historical narrative or, especially, a work of fiction. The villain usually is the bad guy, the character who fights against the hero. A female villain is sometimes called a villainess. Random House Unabridged Dictionary defines villain as "a cruelly malicious person who is involved in or devoted to wickedness or crime; scoundrel; or a character in a play, novel, or the like, who constitutes an important evil agency in the plot."

Word origin

Vladimir Propp, in his analysis of the Russian fairy tales, concluded that a fairy tale had only eight dramatis personae, of which one was the villain, and his analysis has been widely applied to non-Russian tales. The actions that fell into a villain's sphere were:
  • a story-initiating villainy, where the villain caused harm to the hero or his family,
  • a conflict between the hero and the villain, either a fight or other competition
  • pursuing the hero after he has succeeding in winning the fight or obtaining something from the villain.
None of these acts must necessarily occur in a fairy tale, but when they occurred, the character that performed them was the villain. The villain therefore could appear twice: once in the opening of the story, and a second time as the person sought out by the hero.
When a character performed only these acts, the character was a pure villain. Various villains also perform other functions in a fairy tale; a witch who fought the hero and ran away, which let the hero follow her, was also performing the task of "guidance" and thus acting as a helper.
The functions could also be spread out among several characters. If a dragon acted as the villain but was killed by the hero, another character -- such as the dragon's sisters -- might take on the role of the villain and pursue the hero.
Two other characters could appear in roles that are villainous in the more general sense. One is the false hero; this character is always villainous, presenting a false claim to be the hero that must be rebutted for the happy ending. Among these characters are Cinderella's stepsisters, chopping off parts of their feet to fit on the shoe. Another character, the dispatcher, sends a hero on his quest. This may be an innocent request, to fulfill a legitimate need, but the dispatcher may also, villainously, lie to send a character on a quest in hopes of being rid of him.

The villainous foil

In fiction, villains commonly function in the dual role of adversary & foil to the story's heroes. In their role as adversary, the villain serves as an obstacle the hero must struggle to overcome. In their role as foil, the villain exemplifies characteristics that are diametrically opposed to those of the hero, creating a contrast distinguishing heroic traits from villainous ones.
Others point out that many acts of villains have a hint of wish-fulfillment fantasy, which makes some people identify with them as characters more strongly than with the heroes. Because of this, a convincing villain must be given a characterization that makes his or her motive for doing wrong convincing, as well as being a worthy adversary to the hero. As put by film critic Roger Ebert: "Each film is only as good as its villain. Since the heroes and the gimmicks tend to repeat from film to film, only a great villain can transform a good try into a triumph."

The Evil Genius villain

The Evil Genius is an archetype or even a caricature that is a recurring staple in certain genres of fiction, particularly comic books, spy fiction, video games, action films and cartoons. The evil genius serves as a common adversary and foil of the hero.
As the term suggests, evil geniuses are characters of great intelligence who choose to use their knowledge for antisocial ends. Their schemes often hinge on mundane details that heroes can exploit, foiling their plots at the climax of the story.

Origins

Evil geniuses have commonly had difficult childhoods. Normally, this is used to compare them to superheroes. It implies that the villain and hero have followed similar paths, only to deviate at key points. Evil geniuses often come from poor or impoverished backgrounds but have fought their way to the top and put on an aura of sophistication so that no one will suspect their humble beginnings.

Characteristics

The evil genius is different from the mad scientist, in that the mad scientist tends to be amoral, rather than evil. An Evil Genius is generally a clever schemer, while the Mad Scientist typically pursues scientific knowledge with no regard for the consequences. A mad scientist might create an army of zombies, just to see if it is possible, but an evil genius would have a diabolical use for this army, and a plan to escape the town without being killed (a reason for which mad scientists are often found in the employ or working in concert with an evil genius, and as such will be killed or left for dead by the evil genius).
Hubris is a common characteristic among evil geniuses, so much so that they often boast of their grand designs to their adversary, or otherwise compromise their plots in a moment of overconfidence.

Other types of villain

Note that, as mentioned above, a villain's disposition towards evil distinguishes them from an antagonist. For example, Javert in Les Miserables is an antagonist: he opposes the hero, but does so by such means and under such pretexts as not to become entirely odious to the reader. Note also that a villain may repent, be redeemed, or become in league with the hero. Sometimes, a villain may even appear as the protagonist of a story, while the hero who opposes them may be the antagonist.
  • Anti-villain – Basically the opposite of an anti-hero. While the anti-hero often fights on the protagonist's team, but with selfish motives, the anti-villain plays a villain's game, but for what's at least in his eyes a noble cause. They may be personally more noble or heroic than an anti-hero but the means to achieve their ends are often considered immoral, unjust, even evil. Sometimes they may simply be a villain with gentlemanly qualities or a code of honor or some sense of justice. Often also considered "grey" characters due to their moral ambiguity. Examples of popular anti-villains include Magneto, Benjamin Linus, the Jigsaw Killer, Francis Hummel, Kane from Command & Conquer and The Operative from the film Serenity.
  • Archenemy – The principal enemy of the hero. The reason why the particular villain stands out more than the rest varies; they may be the hero's strongest enemy, have strong connections with their hero's past, pose the greatest threat , or may be the most recurring villain. Examples of Archenemy: The Joker, Agent Smith, Agamemnon, Ghostface, & Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII
  • Dark Lord – a villain of near-omnipotence in his realm, who seeks to utterly dominate the world; he is often depicted as a diabolical force, and may, indeed, be more a force than a personality, and often personifies evil itself. The effects of his rule often assert malign effects on the land as well as his subjects. Besides his usual magical abilities, he often controls great armies. Most Dark Lords are male, except in parody. Example of popular Dark Lords: Sauron, Lord Voldemort, Emperor Palpatine, Lord Cutler Beckett, Darkseid , The Vizier from Prince of Persia Trilogy , and Ganon from the Legend of Zelda.
  • Evil twin – a character which is identical or almost identical to the hero, but is evil instead of good. Examples of Evil Twin: Venom, Wario & Liquid Snake.
  • Femme fatale – a beautiful, seductive but ultimately villainous woman who uses the malign power of her sexuality in order to ensnare the hapless hero into danger. Examples of femme fatale: Delilah, Catwoman & Brides of Dracula.
  • Mad scientist – a scientist-villain or villain-scientist. Can easily be confused with Evil Genius. Examples of Mad scientists: Dr. Victor Frankenstein, Doctor Octopus & Professor Hojo.
  • Supervillain – a villain who displays special powers, skills or equipment powerful enough to be a typically serious challenge to a superhero. Example of supervillain: Green Goblin, Mr. Freeze.
  • Tragic villain – a character who, although acting for primarily "evil" or selfish goals, is either not in full control of their actions or emotions and the reader can sympathize for due to them not being evil by choice, but rather by them being a victim of circumstance. These villains can face a crisis of conscience in which they submit to doing evil. These villains often have confused morals believing that they are doing moral when in fact they are doing evil. Examples of these include Norman Bates in the movie Psycho, Jericho (comics) in the comic book series The New Teen Titans, Travis Bickle in the movie Taxi Driver who attempts to murder a presidential candidate but is unable to and then goes and violently murders a pimp and other criminals in the belief that he is saving a young prostitute, and Anakin Skywalker in the movie Star Wars when he turns to the Dark Side of the Force when he is told that the powers of the dark side will save his wife from impending death. Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and At World's End due to a relationship turned bad by his lover Calypso. And Big Boss from the Metal Gear Solid series.
  • Trickster – often more of an annoying nuisance than a fearsome or dangerous enemy, a trickster may take many forms, from a con man to a mischievous imp. Adventures with trickster type villains tend to be light and comedy oriented and the hero typically finds a way to defeat them non-violently. Sometimes there may be a lesson learned from the trickster, even if unintentional. Best example of such character is Mister Mxyzptlk, who torments the heroes of the DC Comics Universe, especially Superman. Other examples of Trickster: The Trickster from Supernatural, Naraku.
  • Lackey, henchman, minion, or toadie – a minor villain who takes orders. Examples include Oddjob, Tiny Tiger, and Crabbe and Goyle.
  • Secondary Villain – Often not very evil or competent. They are usually not as smart as they think they are and often are not ruthless enough to harm or murder or at least their schemes always fall short of harming anyone. They are typically motivated by greed or vanity and are often not taken very seriously as a threat. They are not always criminals and sometimes may be guilty of nothing more than trying to win by cheating. They may serve as placeholders until the true villain appears. They may also reform and join the hero as comic relief characters. Sometimes, they join with the hero when they need saving from their own out of control devices. They are often cowardly when the tables are turned against them and may try to talk their way out of trouble. Because they are physically non-threatening, they are perceived as more of a nuisance than villainous. Unlike other villains, they are almost never killed, but they often get left in undignified positions adding to their comic, bumbling nature. Examples include the Team Rocket (Jessie and James) in Pokemon, Harry Mudd and most of the Ferengi villains from Star Trek or the Meddling Monk from Doctor Who. Funky Flashman from DC comics is another example as is the team of Dick Dastardly and Muttley. Such characters are popular villains in children's adventure stories where children frequently, often to the point of implausibility, outsmart adults.

References

Further reading

villain in Catalan: Dolent (ficció)
villain in Czech: Padouch
villain in German: Bösewicht
villain in Spanish: Villano
villain in French: Rôle du méchant
villain in Galician: Vilán
villain in Italian: Cattivo
villain in Latvian: Ļaundaris
villain in Dutch: Booswicht
villain in Japanese: 悪役
villain in Polish: Złoczyńca
villain in Portuguese: Vilão
villain in Albanian: Maskarai
villain in Simple English: Villain
villain in Finnish: Konna
villain in Swedish: Skurk
villain in Chinese: 惡役

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Roscius, SOB, actor, actress, antagonist, antihero, bad guy, bad person, barnstormer, bastard, bit, bit part, blackguard, blighter, bounder, cad, caitiff, cast, character, character actor, character man, character woman, child actor, criminal, crook, cue, cur, deceiver, delinquent, devil, diseur, diseuse, dog, dramatizer, evildoer, fat part, feeder, felon, foil, gangster, heavy, hero, heroine, histrio, histrion, ingenue, juvenile, knave, lawbreaker, lead, lead role, leading lady, leading man, leading woman, lines, malefactor, malevolent, malfeasant, malfeasor, matinee idol, mime, mimer, mimic, miscreant, misfeasor, mobster, monologist, mummer, outlaw, pantomime, pantomimist, part, person, personage, piece, playactor, player, precious rascal, protagonist, protean actor, public enemy, racketeer, rapscallion, rascal, rat, reciter, reptile, rogue, role, rotter, scalawag, scamp, scoundrel, shyster, side, sinner, sneak, soubrette, spalpeen, stage performer, stage player, stooge, straight man, straight part, stroller, strolling player, supporting character, supporting role, theatrical, thespian, thief, title role, transgressor, trouper, utility man, viper, walk-on, walking part, worker of ill, wretch, wrongdoer
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