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The Supervillain Reader$
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Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781496826466

Published to University Press of Mississippi: September 2020

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496826466.001.0001

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Shakespeare’s Villains1

Shakespeare’s Villains1

(p.106) Chapter 10 Shakespeare’s Villains1
The Supervillain Reader

Maurice Charney

University Press of Mississippi

Supervillains have been stock characters in popular culture for decades, and, just as we can trace the roots of modern superheroes to ancient hero tales, we can find precursors to supervillains in myths as well. In this paper I examine a “proto-supervillain” from ancient India: Aṅgulimāla, a vicious murderer who, subdued by Buddha, renounces his outlaw ways for monastic life and eventually attains nirvana, the supreme goal in early Buddhism. Aṅgulimāla is well-known in Buddhist tradition, and over the years his story has been the focus of various paintings, sculptures, folktales, popular rites, and movies. More interestingly, though, like many modern supervillains, Aṅgulimāla is deeply complex and compelling – an undeniably evil figure who is also a “victim,” and who turns out to be rather heroic. I maintain that Aṅgulimāla’s redemption reveals something important about the relationship between heroes and villains that we do well to heed.

Keywords:   Aṅgulimāla, Buddha, redemption, antihero, ahiṃsā

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