Topic Exploration Pack Theme: Heroes and Villains


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Topic Exploration Pack

Theme: Heroes and Villains

Frankenstein – Nick Dear

Topic Exploration Pack 1

Theme: Heroes and Villains 1

Frankenstein – Nick Dear 1

Introduction 2

Characters, plot and themes 3

Useful links 7

Activity 1: The Hero 8

Activity 2: The villain 9

Activity 3: Duel Casting 10

Activity 4: Exploring the physical creation of the Creature 11

Activity 5: Impact on an audience 13

This Topic Exploration Pack supports OCR AS and A Level Drama and Theatre.


Hero or Villain?

A hero battling against a villain is perhaps the most common plotline in literature and drama. Typically the hero or heroine is someone who, in the face of danger, can overcome such adversity, often showing gumption, bravery and strength. The villain typically has some kind of negative effect on the other characters. He or she is often presented as a character who maliciously plots against the hero and tries to bring about their downfall.

Frankenstein however is much more complex than this. It could be argued that there is no clear hero and villain and that both central characters show personality and plot traits associated with heroes, villains and victims (Frankenstein) or villain and victim (his creature). It is however a commonly shared view that Frankenstein is indeed a tragic hero. A tragic hero is someone who is deeply flawed, experiences great suffering throughout the plot and learns from their actions before their ultimate destruction. It is easy to see how Frankenstein can be seen in this role. He was a man of privilege with great ambition but ultimately this ambition brought suffering and destruction to himself and those around him. He does show remorse and takes some responsibility for his actions when he destroys the female Creature. However this is short lived when he considers bringing Elizabeth back to life. In this exploration pack we will be exploring the complex role of the hero and villain in the text and production through a series of activates and discussions.

Key terms

  • Hero (Mythology) – Normally a warrior who is often the son and less commonly the daughter of a God or King. They often go on an epic quest.

  • Hero – The protagonist of the play who often displays admirable qualities.

  • Anti-hero – A protagonist who is flawed in some way.

  • Tragic-hero – A protagonist of a tragedy whose flaws leads to his or hers destruction.

  • Byronic Hero – Rebellious man who has a troubled past and indulges in self-destructive behaviours that threaten to doom him or her.

  • The Tyrant – A bully. This type of villain wants power at any cost.

  • The Devil – The devil is the most powerful archetype in drama. The devil is extremely charming and is able to lure his victims to their own type of destruction.

  • The Traitor – He betrays those who trust him the most. Typically of this character, victims do not suspect him as he appears supportive but is secretly plotting their downfall.

  • The Outcast – Often a lonely character who desperately wants to belong. Yet he wanders from place to place tortured and alone. He wants redemption but gains it by sacrificing others. The Creature falls into this category.

  • The Evil Genius – The malevolent mastermind often presented as the mad scientist in film and literature. This character likes to exert his superior intelligence. Frankenstein has traits of this character.

Characters, plot and themes

The characters in Nick Dear’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein differ to those in the novel and other stage productions. There is no Robert Walton, the main narrator in the story. The Justine subplot where she is tried for the murder of Frankenstein’s younger brother William is also cut. The play, instead of being told from Frankenstein’s point of view, is told from that of the Creature. Dear and Boyle wanted the audience to focus on the birth of an innocent child-like being, rather than the creation of a monster. In the opening scene the audience witnesses his birth. We see him begin to acquire language, intellect and eventually a high level of articulacy. In previous productions the Creature is not given a voice; something that is integral to this production. Dear and Boyle wanted to give him a voice, partly because it hadn’t been done before and partly because they wanted him to tell his story, justify himself and be able to question his maker.


Childhood, parenting and abandonment

One of the questions raised in the production is responsibility. Who is responsible for the tragic events that unfold? Victor or the Creature? In the original novel, Shelley makes it clear that Frankenstein has failed to fulfil his parenting duties. He leaves his creature to fend for himself and abandons his duties as a parent. In the play, the Creature challenges Victor on why he abandoned him when all he wanted was love. By seeing the play through the eyes of the Creature the audience are able to understand his actions. It also brings the play up to date discussing the topic of parenting. An abandoned child is more likely to be abused, depressed or commit a crime.

Loneliness and solitude

Loneliness is also a key theme in the play. All the main characters experience solitude and loneliness. The Creature is condemned to a life of solitude after Victor rejects and abandons him. Throughout the play the Creature is constantly referring to his loneliness and his longing to be accepted

Frankenstein. Here is my request. I wish to be party of society. But no human being will associate with me. But one of my own kind – one just as deformed and horrible – she would understand.”

Dear, N. (2011) Frankenstein – based on the novel by Mary Shelley. London: Faber & Faber, p79.

In the first half of the play Victor choses a life of solitude as he cuts himself off from his family and friends in his quest to create new life. By the end of the play Victor has been condemned to a life of solitude by the Creature, who has taken his friends and family away from him.

Creator and created

This is a complex theme within the text. The play looks at how we are created and how our environment shapes our being. It is raises many ethical questions about the role of science in the creation of life.

Danny Boyle wanted to look at the creator and the created, and their relationship. How both are a mirror image of each other, not physically but intellectually. As Danny Boyle states ‘he created a mirror brain’. They are both creator and creature, master and servant, father and son, hero and villain. He wanted to show how the roles were fused together. To highlight this, he took the unique technique of duel casting the lead two lead roles; one night the actor would be the created, the next night they would be the creator.

Nick Dear and Danny Boyle discuss the role of the creator and created:


The Creature

The Creature is a complex character and in many ways shares many similar traits to Victor. He is intelligent; he has taught himself to read and has read complex literature. He is also sensitive and can show compassion for others such as saving Gretel from being attacked. He tries to integrate himself with society but is rejected at every hurdle. Ultimately he is searching for love and companionship. However his constant feeling of abandonment compels him to seek revenge against his creator.

Victor Frankenstein

Victor Frankenstein comes from a wealthy and supportive family. However Victor often neglects his duties as a son, brother and later husband due to his obsessive experimentations. Victor is very intelligent but he is also egotistical, stubborn and fails to listen to others. He, like the Creature, is both capable of empathy as well as utter disdain. As soon as he has created the Creature he rejects him. The Creature tries to embrace him but Victor throws a cloak over him and runs, leaving the Creature to fend for himself. His behaviour is very childish, a key theme in Boyle’s production. He fails to take responsibility for the Creature or his actions. His obsession with playing God costs him his friends, family and lover. In the penultimate scene we are left pondering whether Victor is the real monster (Villain) when he asks “Do you have a soul and I none?” (p141).

De Lacey

A blind, wise old man who shows compassion towards the monster. He feeds the creature, listens to him and educates him. He sees the creature as someone who is pure. He describes him as having a pure heart. Unaware of the Creature’s appearance, De Lacey introduces the Creature to his son and daughter in-law, who are instantly repelled by him. Feeling rejected, the Creature burns down the house and murders him and his family.


One of the challenges Nick Dear and Danny Boyle said they faced with the character of Elizabeth was how to bring life to her character. Elizabeth essentially plays the role of the passive woman, constantly waiting for Victor to come back from his studies or travels to marry her. She is beautiful, compassionate and, like De Lacey, shows love towards the Creature before he rapes and murders her. In this production she is seen as intelligent but is unable to realise her potential due to her sex.

The production

On the 5th of February 2011 Frankenstein had its world premiere at the National Theatre. Adapted for the stage by Nick Dear and directed by Danny Boyle this spectacular production was met with rave reviews. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were cast in the lead roles. Each alternating between the role of the Creature and Frankenstein. Like many of Danny Boyle’s films, sound and music played an integral part of the production. Once again he used music by Underworld to provide the score/sound track. Boyle said in his interview that sound in the theatre had changed dramatically in the twenty years he has been away from it. Claiming that sound was now like a music score rather than something that just signalled a location or for dramatic effect.

Useful links



Making of Frankenstein

Mary Shelley Biography

Activity 1: The Hero

This lesson assumes prior study of the performance text Frankenstein. Extracts rather than full scripts facilitate rehearsing and then performing. It is assumed that all performance work in this resource is shared and performed in class.

Aim: To introduce the idea of a tragic hero

Warm up

Improvise a scene where a couple are arguing over their work/life balance. One of them is currently working on a project that will change not only their life, but that of others. The other is feeling neglected and wants to spend more time together as a couple.


What makes a tragic hero?

How is a tragic hero different from someone who is misfortunate?

How do we know what a characters tragic flaw is?

Can you think of any modern day tragic heroes?

Given that we all flawed so some degree are well all just tragic heroes anyway?


Improvise a scene where one person is seeking some form of moral justice. In the scene they should be aware of the consequence of their actions, but take no responsibility for it. For example, a Mother willing to face the death penalty for seeking revenge on her child’s killer.

One of the key traits of a tragic hero is that although the hero is aware of their actions and that they have brought their own fate down on themselves, they are normally too proud or arrogant to take responsibility for their actions.


In pairs, rehearse and perform scene twenty four. In this scene, Victor seeks out the Creature and plans to kill him. It is the first time the Creature and Victor have met since his birth. The Creature questions him about why it is acceptable for Victor to murder him but not for the Creature to commit murder.

Alternative text

Look at the previous scene (twenty three). How does Victor fail to take responsibility for either William or the Creature in this scene? As an actor how would emphasise to an audience Victor’s lack of ownership for his own action in this scene.

Teacher led discussion

Do two wrongs ever make a right?

Do you think either the Creature or Frankenstein’s actions were justified?

If Victor had owned up to creating the Creature when William had died, do you think their fate would have been different.

Are they both tragic heroes?

If so, how do these scenes show us that they are tragic heroes?

Activity 2: The villain

Aim: To explore the role of the Creature as a villain outcast

Warm up

Form a large circle and all hold hands. One person must stand outside and try to get into the circle. The people in the circle must try to block the person from getting into the middle without letting go of each other’s hands.


  • How did it feel being on the outside of the circle?

  • If you failed to break into the circle did it make your desire the break through the next time even stronger?

  • How would you define an outcast?

  • Do you think the outcast differs from other types of villains?

  • Are outcasts really victims who want revenge?


In groups of three or four create a list of fairy tales where the main villain is seen as a social outcast. Characters such as the Giant in Jack and the beanstalk, Maleficent in Sleeping Beauty or the Witch in Hansel and Gretel are good starting points. Choose one of the fairy tales and create a short performance where you retell the story from the point of view of the villain.


  • How has seeing the story from the point of view of changed your perception of the villain?

  • Do you have more empathy for them?

  • Has it created a more rational approach for their actions?

  • Do you think by giving the creature a voice and telling the story from his point of view, it still made the audience appalled by his actions?


In groups of four rehearse and perform scenes twenty and twenty one, following all the stage directions set out in the text. In these scenes we see two contrasting sides of the Creature’s character. In the first part of the scene we see the Creature being mentored by De Lacey before Agatha and Felix enter and are horrified by his appearance.


As a director how would you get the balance in these scene between the audiences having empathy for the Creature, yet being appalled by his actions? Do you think you achieved this?

Further discussion

  • Do you think there is a difference between a tragic hero and an outcast villain?

  • Or are they one of the same?

  • Do you think Victor is also an outcast villain?

  • Are there examples in the text to support this?

Activity 3: Duel Casting

Aim: To explore the technique of duel casting

Boyle and Dear both agreed that the Creature and Frankenstein were mirror images of each other, albeit not physically. To truly understand this concept Boyle wanted the actors to play both roles and alternate between them during performances.

Warm up – Mirror

Person A begins to lead an action such as raising an arm and B follows. The aim is for both A and B to be so in tune with each other that it is impossible to tell who is leading. Choose a range of movements. The lead can pass between the partners.


Person A should create a mime of an everyday task such as making a cup of tea or brushing their teeth. The task should be broken down into a series of simple actions that can easily be taught to person B. Once person B is confident with the mime, A and B should synchronise the movement together.


In pairs, learn the Creatures speech in scene thirty, starting from the line “My heart is black” until the line “why did you treat me as criminal?” Rehearse performing the lines in unison with synchronised movements and facial expressions.

Text – Role Swapping

Rehearse the whole of scene thirty. Victor should be played by person A and the Creature by person B. Once they have rehearsed the scene through, the scene should be replayed with the performers reversing the roles. To truly be effective, both performers should learn both roles off by heart.


  • What did you learn about the roles from the role swap?

  • Do you think you have a better understanding of the roles?

  • Did you manage to create two roles that were reflections of each other?

  • Did you both interpret the roles differently?

  • Could it be problematic if you tried to perform the roles exactly the same?

  • Did the audience receive a different experience each time the roles were reversed?

Activity 4: Exploring the physical creation of the Creature

Aim: To apply Artaudian techniques to explore the physical creation of the Creature

When we first meet the Creature he has not acquired language yet. He is unable to express himself. To the audience and the other characters he must appear frightfully intimidating. Artaudian techniques are suggested, however other practitioners who focus on movement over language could also be used.

Warm up

Ask students to use their bodies to create an inanimate object such as a toaster, light, television, microwave or shower. They should focus on the mechanics of the objects e.g. how it moves rather than giving it any form of emotion.


What are the difficulties of creating an object that is removed from human form.

What did they need to consider?

Did this exercise change the way they used their body when creating a non-human form?

Movement exercise

When creating the role of the Creature, Benedict Cumberbatch researched the movement of stroke victims. When working with his actors Artaud would focus on creating physical control of the actor’s body. One of the simplest ways to achieve this is to work in slow motion.

Ask the group to line up and tell them that they are about to have a race. Only the slowest person is going to win. Students must be moving at all times. They should consider the impact moving in slow motion has on the whole body.


  • What was the impact of moving in slow motion on their body?

  • How did it make their body feel?

  • Did it feel lighter of heavier?

  • How do you think the creature would move at the start of the play compared to the end?

Solo movement exercise

Ask students to find a space in the room and create a solo movement improvisation. Explain to them that they have just been born however they are in adult form. In the improvisation they must show how they react to their body.

Remind students that they have never seen their hands or feet, or even walked before.

  • How do they react?

  • Are they curious?

  • Scared?

  • Do they have difficulty in moving?

Large group movement exercise

In groups of seven, ask the students to create a short movement sequence that shows the seven stages of man. The movement should be synchronised and flow smoothly from one stage into another.


  • How does the body change as we age?

  • How did your weight, balance and speed of action change as you went through the different ages?

Activity 5: Impact on an audience


In groups of four, read the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons.

What is the rhyme about? What is its message or moral?


In groups, recreate the nursery rhyme only using movement. Once you have become familiar with the movement sequence, consider how a director or performer might create a different response from the audience.

For example, students could consider the use of sound to replace words, they could change the proxemics and motions. Design elements could also be considered such as lighting and sound.


Were you successful in creating your desired an impact on the audience?

How could this exercise be applied to the opening of Frankenstein?

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