Evil Virtues

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"You wrote to me once, listing the four chief virtues: Wisdom, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance. As I read the list, I knew I had none of them. But I have other virtues, father. Ambition. That can be a virtue when it drives us to excel. Resourcefulness, Courage - perhaps not on the battlefield, but... there are many forms of courage. Devotion, to my family and to you. But none of my virtues were on your list. Even then it was as if you didn't want me for your son."
Commodus in Gladiator, just before suffocating his father and framing Maximus.
"Look at them. Can you not hear their souls crying out?! You abandoned them! Your real family! You threw them away like trash. Fool. If you turned your back on something you wanted, YOU DON’T DESERVE TO CALL YOURSELF "GREED"!"
Ling Yao, Fullmetal Alchemist

Villains are bad, it goes without saying. However, they can't be all bad for the simple reason that a character loaded down with all of the Seven Deadly Sins (along with whatever other character flaws writers can think of) will be too lazy, gluttonous, envious, prideful, angry, lusty and miserly to do much of anything.

Even if they only have one vice, a villain is going to need a big heaping of icky good traits in order to accomplish their goals. They don't have to be an Anti-Villain,[1] they just need to have one or more of the Seven Heavenly Virtues or another good trait to get by. The reason for this is both practical and artistic. Practically, a villain with a virtue of some kind will have a way to put their schemes in motion and effectively oppose The Hero. Without these virtues, authors would have to resort to making them a Generic Doomsday Villain to get anything done. Artistically, it helps make the villain a Rounded Character, and helps make them dynamic if their virtue and vice are somehow in conflict.

For example: A Prideful villain might also be very hard working in order to get the power he needs. A slothful villain might compensate with amazing creativity, coming up with amazing inventions, Evil Plans, and limitless funds. A wrathful villain may nonetheless be very loyal to his minions, inspiring great devotion.

Where this can get strange and interesting is when this is applied to a villain who is Made of Evil. Here you have a ball of elemental nastiness who also happens to have one or more positive traits. Who knew elemental evil had such good taste in scones?

However, there are virtues and then there are virtues. Much like Color Coded for Your Convenience, there are some virtues that are okay for heroes and some that are more often seen in villains. These are:

Contrast Mr. Vice Guy, where a hero has an emblematic vice. Not to be confused with Villainous Valor, though bravery could be another villain's virtue. After all, if you're trying to take over the world, you're up against pretty much everyone, and thus it helps quite a bit to be able to look at an army six billion strong, smile confidently, and say "Bring it on."

This trope is very, very common. Listing examples here would just be an exercise in futility.

Notes

  1. (Though villains with enough virtues usually end up switching categories, if not pull a Heel Face Turn)