Lady Caroline Lamb said of Lord Byron, the poet and her lover, he was “mad, bad and dangerous to know.” These words have defined Byronic Heroes, an archetype of storytelling, ever since.
However, it is my honest belief Byronic Heroes aren’t discussed nearly enough. Sure, teachers gloss over them quickly in English Lit class, but nothing more. In fact, scrolling the internet I discovered there just isn’t much out there to find on Byronic Heroes, especially not when it comes to film or television. And when you do, it’s plain as day most people don’t even know what a Byronic Hero actually is (just because the word hero is used doesn’t necessarily mean he’s “heroic” in the traditional sense of the word).
What then is a Byronic Hero? We read about them in books, watch them on film and television, but we don’t even know what to call them. The archetype is so familiar to us we don’t think twice about it when we see one on screen.
As a society we recognize and at times love the “bad boy,” but then, on the other hand, we criticize a character in a novel or in a film because he doesn’t have ideal characteristics. In fact, we sometimes argue the writer is sending out a bad message. But is it about a message? Or is it about representing the traits of the Byronic archetype?
For instance, several critics complain about Edward Cullen of the Twilight Series. He’s labeled as obsessive and even abusive (though I would personally refute the second point). We forget he’s a vampire who doesn’t feel he needs to obey human laws. He is a Byronic Monster who is SUPPOSED to be dark. From a feminist perspective, Edward’s personality sends out a dangerous message to young girls. What message then did Emily Bronte send out to the masses when she wrote Wuthering Heights and introduced the villainous (and yes, actually abusive) Heathcliff? Stephanie Meyer reveals her awareness of the Byronic figure by having Edward sympathize with Heathcliff on a personal level when he sees a passage from Wuthering Heights.
Not that I’m comparing the literary greatness of Wuthering Heights to Twilight. Twilight falls into the category of YA paranormal romance (sensation) fiction. The point remains the same, though. I think what upsets critics are the actual traits of the literary archetype of a Byronic Hero. Byronic Heroes are supposed to be like Edward. And honestly he’s a puppy in comparison to many other ones (see Eric Draven from The Crow or Bill from True Blood who had Sookie beaten).
So as any good Byronic Hero would argue: I’m getting bored with the attacks on this misunderstood literary character.
Again, I ask, what then is a Byronic Hero? Let’s take a quick look at many of the famous characteristics (adapted from http://kplit.wordpress.com/, Atara Stein, Wikipedia and our own ideas) of the Byronic Hero:
- Presents obsessive tendencies; focused and constant
- Typically has one all-consuming passion
- “Byronic love obsesses on the idea of a man and a woman so similar in character and in spirit, as to be almost one individual” (kplit.wordpress.com).
- passionate; has deep emotions
- cynical; sarcastic
- sophisticated and educated; or even street smart
- Intellectually superior
- cunning behavior; ability to adapt
- a troubled past and/or suffering from a hidden crime or past sin
- self-critical and introspective
- mysterious and charismatic
- seductive and can be very sexually attractive
- moodiness (sometimes presenting bipolar tendencies); tortured
- isolated (this can be both emotional and physical) from society in some way; an outcast or an outlaw
- dark attributes
- disregard for rank and privilege
- above the rules of society; distaste for social institutions
- jaded, gets easily bored
- self-destructive behavior
- sympathetic despite his rejection of virtue
- capable of being redeemed
- capable of heroic behavior
- rejection of classicism
While a Byronic Hero can have many of these traits, they won’t necessarily have all of them. It should also be pointed out a character may have a few of these traits and not be Byronic as well. Of course, some characters will constantly be up for discussion and debate.
That all said, for this particular top 20 list, I’ve decided to focus merely on the big screen. As a result, if the character is only seen in a book, they won’t be on the list. If they’re a Byronic Hero from a TV Series or even a TV Movie they won’t be on this list. I felt like Literature, Film and Television should be three separate categories (too many to choose from)…so look forward to the other two lists in the near future!
Till then, enjoy reading the quotes of the top 20 Byronic Heroes in Film.