Sunday, March 11, 2012

Character Autopsy: The Walking Dead's Shane Walsh is a Shakespeare Villain

Something's rotten in the state of Georgia Horatio. And it's not the zombies. It's Shane Walsh.

In an interview with AMC, Jon Bernthal stated that he feels that Shane shares traits with three characters from Shakespeare's Othello.  He has Iago's villainy, Cassio's nobility, and Othello's jealousy."

For those of you that don't know, the works of William Shakespeare have a huge influence on Western culture. Shakespeare's complex characters have a depth of emotion similar to those found in people you'd meet in real life. The Walking Dead's Shane Walsh is, like a Shakespeare villain, a very complex character with a deep seated fear that drives every single choice he makes; whether it is pre-meditated or not.

I say that Shane shares traits with four Shakespeare characters-- and that Shane's defining characteristics are, in fact, based on Shakespeare villain archetypes.

1. Iago
Iago is an archetypal Shakespeare villain. He successfully convinces Othello that his wife Desdemona was cheating on him with his right hand man Cassio and pushes him to kill her. One of Iago's defining characteristics is his sociopathic disdain for people which stems from his superiority complex. Like Iago, Shane is selfish, egotistical, ruthless, pragmatic sociopath with little regard for humanity or civility. Both Iago and Shane kill in order to gain something. In Iago's case it is revenge, in Shane's case it's for his own survival and for the love of Lori and Carl.

Both Iago and Shane have a disdain for those who are honest and virtuous. However, Shane believes that these heroic qualities will get you killed, whereas Iago believes that it makes you a gullible fool that deserves to be manipulated.

Most of Iago's plotting is pre-meditated- he uses his quick wits to manipulate people on the spot, which Shane does as well. However, Shane is not as subtle as Iago nor clever enough to effectively manipulate others to do was he wishes. Iago manipulates Roderigo into attacking his rival Cassio and gets Othello to kill his own wife. Shane manipulates people so that he can regain his position as camp leader and Lori's man.

Unfortunately, the group's overall opinion of Shane has begun to falter, especially after his actions with the barn, which lead to the discovery and ultimately the death of an undead Sophia.

2. Cassio
Cassio is a gentleman soldier who's life is ruined by Iago's machinations. Cassio was chosen to be Othello's lieutenant instead of Iago. As Iago's rival, he becomes a victim of his wrath. Iago's resentment of Cassio comes from his lack of real personal knowledge of the battlefield. In an attempt to ruin his life, Iago manages to fool Cassio into getting drunk and then gets his ally Roderigo to get into a fight with him in public. When governor Montano breaks up the fight, Cassio, in a blind drunken rage, punches him. The direct result of his assault on a ruling nobleman is his demotion and loss of his rank of lieutenant. Shane does not act like a gentleman, and lacks Cassio's noble qualities.

However, like Cassio, Shane cannot handle himself when drunk. His anger, jealousy and lust got the better of him back at the CDC when he got drunk at the dinner party, after which he cornered Lori in the rec-room and attempted to force himself on her.

While Shane may seem like a noble character (all he ever says is that he is looking out for the safety of the group) in actuality, he is afraid of losing face, which happens shortly after he breaks open the barn and induces the group to form a firing squad and kill off the walkers.

3.  Othello
Othello is a brooding, moody character who is quick to anger and ruled by his fear of rejection. Iago believes that Othello slept with his wife Emilia and plots his revenge. He goads Othello into a fit of jealous rage that causes him to smother his wife to death.

Unlike Othello, Shane does not want to kill his object of affection and lust (Lori) but the man that is preventing him from being with her (Rick). Shane's jealousy of Rick brought him to the point of aiming a rifle at him while they were walking through the woods on their search for Sophia. But, even with all of his anger and jealousy, he still cannot bring himself to kill Rick, because he honestly does care for him. Rick and Shane are friends and their complicated relationship has been one of the main driving forces of the show.

4. Claudius
Shane also shares characteristics with Claudius from Hamlet. Claudius is Hamlet's uncle. Claudius killed his brother and then married his wife Gertrude (Hamlet's mother) in order to gain the throne. Claudius is a calculating, ambitious man that manipulates people into actions that he directly benefits from. Shane, like Claudius, is willing to kill anyone that gets in his way in order to stay in power (or stay alive for that matter).

Claudius is quick to show remorse and sincere feelings towards Gertrude and Hamlet, even though Hamlet does not believe that the man truly loves them. Claudius even stated that upon his death the throne was to be inherited by Hamlet. In his own way, Claudius (as sinister and selfish he is), cares for Hamlet as though he is his own son; much like Shane cares for Carl. Almost all of Shane's actions in the series revolve around keeping the objects of his affections, Lori and Carl, safe.

Upon autopsy we see that Shane's driving forces are:
  • Fear
  • Pride
  • Jealousy
  • Lust
  • Wrath

For all of his bravado and blustering pragmatic swagger, Shane is all talk. Everything he does, from taking in Lori and Carl, to teaching Andrea to shoot a gun, is driven by fear. He stayed with Lori and grew close to her because he was terrified when civilization went to hell and he needed an emotional refuge (and safe warm arms to sleep in) in order to stay sane. He stayed at the camp to "protect the others" when Rick, Glenn and Daryl went back to Atlanta to save Merle, not because he was mainly concerned for the welfare and safety of the group, but because he was terrified of going into the walker infested city and getting killed. The first time Shane volunteers to go out to combat the walkers is when they need to get medical supplies from the high school FEMA trucks in order to save Carl's life.

While many people hate him, I think that Shane Walsh is a great character and an interesting a villain of The Walking Dead series. He is a complex character and his decisions are extremely hard to predict.

Jon Bernthal's character is a divisive presence on the show that may survive to see Season 3, or not. We have only two episodes left of Season 2 of The Walking Dead. With the way they've been killing off characters, I wouldn't be surprised if they eliminate Shane before the Governor story arc starts. What do you think?

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1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is awesome! I've been trying to find other people that actually see Shane's complex character. A lot of my friends were happy when he was killed off, but I miss Shane.