Words, Words, Words: If We Were Villains

by M. L. Rio

Thursday, April 07, 2022, 6:30 pm
Virtual Event on Zoom | 6:30 Eastern Time
Free, Registration required

"What do you read, my lord?"
"Words, words, words."
Hamlet, II.ii.209-10

About the Book Club

Join the Folger as we search the stacks for our favorite novels inspired by Shakespeare and the early modern era.

This informal Book Club is free and open to all. Our picks range from historical fiction to adaptations of Shakespeare's plays, encompassing a wide variety of genres—all sourced from a different local, independent bookstore partner each month.

To spark the discussion, Folger staff open each meeting with a brief presentation that provides historical context, trivia, and connects the book to relevant items from the Folger collection. Participants are then broken into smaller groups for breakout discussions, moderated by a team of staff and volunteers.

Participation is free but registration is required. Sessions will be conducted through Zoom, so keep an eye on your inbox the day before for an access link, along with recommendations for quick bites and beverages to enjoy while we chat.

Register for the Discussion

Our April Pick

If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

Content Transparency: This book contains adult material, including forms of violence/self-harm, scenes of emotional intensity, offensive language, and substance abuse. We have provided additional context below.   
On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

A decade ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extras.

But in their fourth and final year, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make-believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Why did we choose this?

The Folger Shakespeare Library's collection explores not only Shakespeare's life and works, but also the plays' historical context, source material, critical and performance histories, and the ways in which they inspire and are adapted by contemporary novelists.

If We Were Villains takes place at a fictional arts conservatory where theater students exclusively study Shakespeare during their four years of study. As the plot unfolds, readers are given a glimpse into the theatrical process of staging Shakespeare’s plays and the practice of textual analysis. Additionally, the students themselves often express themselves through Shakespearean quotations, offering opportunities to explore the language of the plays as a means of expression.

M. L. Rio on Shakespeare and Beyond


Order Your Book

Purchase Your Copy

This month, we are excited to partner once again with Lost City Books, an independent bookstore in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington DC, offering used, new, and rare book selections as part of DC’s thriving book-loving community.

Owned by Adam, a veteran and dog-lover, a long-time resident of DC, and an enthusiastic disseminator of books. Our small team is a collection of some of DC’s coolest kids: artists, educators, musicians, writers, and—of course—avid readers all coming together to create this unique environment.

Order online, by phone (202.232.4774), or come in person and browse the shelves. Front door pickup and shipping options are available. For questions, email oracle@lostcitybookstore.com.

Learn more at lostcitybookstore.com


Related Events: Virtually Everything! featuring author M. L. Rio.

Wednesday, April 13, 5:30 pm ET
Live on Zoom | Exclusive for Folger Members

Members of the Folger Shakespeare Library are invited to exclusive programs, including Virtually Everything!, Folger Director Michael Witmore’s monthly, smart, joyful interview series about… well, everything! Previous guests on the program include authors Deborah Harkness and Alexandra Petri. On April 13, watch Mike’s conversation with M. L. Rio, author of If We Were Villains.

Folger members will automatically receive an invitation to this exclusive event. You can become a member by registering through our website. We hope to see you there…and don’t forget to bring your questions!



We would like to thank the following organizations for their generous support of this program:






Content Transparency

This book contains: Substance use/abuse; Depression; Eating disorder (mentioned); Homophobia; Physical abuse/violence; PTSD; Racial slur (use of Romani slur); Self harm; Sexual content; Slut shaming; Suicide (mentioned); Transphobic comment.

Swipe right for select details (including spoilers). If you have further questions, please email folgerboxoffice@folger.edu.

Violence/Self-Harm: The central mystery of the book revolves around the death of a student, who is found beaten and drowning. His injuries and death are described. Before his death, he is depicted as violent to those around him, including his girlfriend. Late in the book, a character’s suicide is discussed, though his ultimate fate is left ambiguous. The narrator’s sibling suffers from an eating disorder; he is not supportive of her.

Sex/Power Dynamics: In conversation, characters make reference to date rape, being groped, and variations on the word “slut.” The teaching style of one instructor is emotionally intense and problematic; the novel does not interrogate these methods. It is revealed in passing at the end of the book that one character is in a relationship with a teacher that began while they were still in school. Disparaging and homophobic comments are made to Oliver about his relationship with James.

Substance Use: There are repeated instances of college-aged drinking and recreational drug use; one character suffers a non-lethal overdose.