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"The most important phases of the sense development of this word may be summed up as follows: 'inhabitant of a farm; peasant; churl, boor; clown; miser; knave, scoundrel.' Today both Fr. vilain and Eng. villain are used only in a pejorative sense." [Klein]Meaning "character in a novel, play, etc. whose evil motives or actions help drive the plot" is from 1822.