Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Fine Arts



First Advisor

Professor Nancy C. Jones

Second Advisor

Dr. Christine Ritter


A disproportionate amount of research into musical theatre focuses on the positive and accessible nature of the books and librettos. Very little, if any, research into musical theatre explores its darker side, specifically the considerable amount of villainy (i.e., traditionally immoral and/or criminal behavior) practiced by some of its protagonists. Moreover, it is important to note that several of the most popular musicals contain villainous characters, and that many of these characters are highly popular and even sympathetic (i.e., understandable, pitiable, and deserving of compassion) to audiences. Therefore, this thesis explores sympathetic villainous personalities in popular American musicals, focusing on the defining characteristics of the sympathetic villainy presented within specific musical works. Specifically, this thesis examines a variety of American musical theatre pieces, chronologically, from Show Boat (1927) to Wicked: The Untold Story of the Witches of Oz (2003) which have strong sympathetic villainous characters. This thesis primarily addresses musical theatre villainy primarily from a critical literary analysis standpoint.