Vice (theater)

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Vice ( English: vice, from Latin vitium "error; imperfection; defect") is the personification of sin or Satan , who tries to seduce the main character, but is brought down in the course of a play. In the 16th century, the Vice, next to his respective opponent, was the most popular figure on the English stage. The Vice replaces the devil of morality and mystery games , who appear in person, and brings increasing liveliness and creative freedom to the theater through the humanization of evil. There is no motive for his malice, he is not a human figure, but simply evil personified.

In the Vice figures, there is a transition stage between medieval allegory and modern character roles . The personified vice develops into a vicious person in the course of theater history. The general term "vice" is his actors no longer externally as an inscription , but it comes in his behavior to express . The vice turns from the external to the internal.

Further development

Further steps in this direction are Shakespeare's villains such as Richard III around 1600 . or Iago in Othello .

Later in the 17th century Molière's comical characters like his miser or his Tartuffe . Mephistopheles in the many variants of the Faust material is a vice like in the late medieval morality. In the 18th century, the vicious way of life is increasingly overlaid by the social background as the source of evil (cf. Don Giovanni ).

The internalization of “characteristic” properties was taken to extremes at the end of the 19th century with the individualization and dissolution of the role subjects in naturalism (cf. Stanislawski ). However, even in the 19th century, allegorical figures persisted, especially in melodrama - up to and including the villains of today's popular culture. In the 20th century, Bertolt Brecht again pleaded for the representation of evil characters in the theater without empathy .


  • Bernard Spivack: Shakespeare and the Allegory of Evil , New York: Columbia Univ. Press 1958.
  • Leah Scragg: Iago — Vice or Devil? , in: Shakespeare Survey , vol. 21: Othello. Edited by Kenneth Muir, Cambridge: Univ. Press 1969.
  • Wolfgang Clemen: Commentary on Shakespeare's Richard III., Göttingen, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1969, pp. 175–177. ISBN 9783525231067