In praise of The Duke, the breakout star of Resident Evil Village

“Come in! And know me better, man!” says the Ghost Of Christmas Present to Scrooge in the second act of A Christmas Carol. Entering the living room, Scrooge discovers a jolly giant, wreathed in green and surrounded by blazing candles and heaps of seasonal food. It’s not unlike your first encounter with the Duke, Resident Evil Village‘s eerie yet debonair plus-sized shopkeeper, grinning from his caravan at the centre of the map.

True, the Duke’s trade isn’t very Christmassy. Where the Ghost is an emblem of reconciliation equipped with a swordless sheath, the Duke is a gentleman arms dealer, his throne garlanded not just with strings of sausage and wheels of cheese but weapon parts and crates of ammunition. He has no moral lessons to offer, but pistols, shotguns, pipe bombs and landmines – everything you might need to topple a Tyrant – for a reasonable fee. He’s undeniably jolly, though, with his cigar and books and bulletproof grin, and undeniably not of this world.

Resident Evil Village The Duke

(Image credit: Capcom)

He appears throughout the game, in places you can’t picture him reaching on foot – taking up a room in Castle Dimitrescu, which Lady Dimitrescu herself is curiously unwilling to enter, and winking from an elevator in the depths of Heisenberg’s factory. He’ll buy the crystallised remnants of your enemies, flogging them on to heaven-knows-who, and drop hints about wider events. And he’ll cook for you, unlocking permanent upgrades such as decreased damage on guard – providing, that is, you track down the requisite meat and fish, and he can have his share.

Which brings us to the question of fatphobia. A colleague of the fourth game’s cackling Weapons Merchant, the Duke is one of Resident Evil’s many grotesques, a foil for the sculpted ‘normative’ physiques of musclebound heroes such as Chris Redfield. His pale, protruding underbelly, positioned at a height to meet with the player’s eyes, is clearly meant to inspire amusement and revulsion. One of Village’s surprising pleasures is watching this mean-spirited caricature of an overweight person dissipate, as the writing counteracts the body-shaming aspects of the visual design. Take that ill-fitting shirt – it’s hard to imagine a man of the Duke’s impeccable comportment putting his body on display in this fashion. Unless, of course, he’s doing it out of mischief to provoke exactly the reaction above.

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