Umbridge and Snape: A Study in Defense Against the Dark Arts


No two Hogwarts professors have prompted such strong reactions as Dolores Umbridge and Severus Snape. We compare the characters to see how they match up.

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Hogwarts has a very colourful history of Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. From frauds to Death Eaters in disguise, it’s a wonder students managed to learn anything. But perhaps no two teachers have raised eyebrows among fans more than Dolores Umbridge and Severus Snape.

At a glance, the professors share many similarities. Umbridge and Snape were half-bloods born to unhappily married parents. They were students of Slytherin House at Hogwarts. Both had ties to blood prejudice which allowed them to hold high offices during Voldemort’s reign. For Umbridge, it was Head of the Muggle-born Registration Commission. For Snape, it was Headmaster of Hogwarts.

However, it’s perhaps most interesting to look the trait which brings these two characters to meet: Being a teacher at Hogwarts. While Umbridge is acting as his Defense professor, Harry often compares his feelings about her with his feelings about Snape. Harry notes after a particularly horrific detention with Umbridge that though Snape had been the teacher he’d hated most in the world, “he had to admit he had found a contender.”

That comparison is pretty jarring when you consider that Umbridge had just forced him to hurt himself. Snape’s emotional harm to Harry is on par with Umbridge’s physical harm. It’s clear that neither person was well-liked by their students. Harry may have been a personal target of both professors, but that in itself is a mark of bad teaching. Singling out one student constantly is never fair.

When you consider all these parallels between them, that raises the question: Why did Umbridge and Snape not get along? From the books, to the movies, to the play, in each story Snape disdains Umbridge. Snape’s limited patience for Umbridge becomes clear during Chapter Seventeen of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

"“And you have applied regularly for the Defense Against the Dark Arts post since you first joined the school, I believe?”“Yes,” said Snape quietly, barely moving his lips. He looked very angry.“Do you have any idea why Dumbledore has consistently refused to appoint you?” asked Umbridge.“I suggest you ask him,” said Snape jerkily.“Oh I shall,” said Professor Umbridge with a sweet smile."

In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Snape even engages in a duel with her:

"SNAPE: Depulso!Umbridge is propelled backwards through the air.She always was too grand for her own good. There’s no turning back now."

There are several possible reasons behind this feud. Dolores Umbridge obtained her position because the Ministry handed it to her. Snape applied each time the position opened and failed to get the job until 1996. Umbridge taught only theory through Ministry-approved texts. Snape had been creating his own spells from the time he was sixteen. But I tend to think his hatred stemmed from a difference in philosophy.

Both characters inflict their share of hurt, but on Snape’s part, it seems he considered his actions justified. He disliked Harry because he thought Harry arrogant like James. He was awful to Neville because he was an incompetent student. Remus and Sirius were bullies and would-be murderers in his mind, so he was willing to sacrifice their fates for his own satisfaction. Every personal attack had a logic to it, even if it wasn’t fair.

Umbridge, however, attacked for the sake of it. Pottermore compares her to Bellatrix Lestrange in bloodlust. Snape showed distaste for that kind of behaviour. Not only that, she used weak-minded men like Cornelius Fudge to feed her ambition. Though Snape had stood on either side of the war, he always stood with a powerful wizard ready to shape the magical world. Umbridge stepped on others to gain power while Snape attempted to seek power through merit. As a Dark Wizard or as a spy, he chose a role and rose through the ranks. The two professors would never be able to see eye-to-eye.

Next: Wizard's Council: What are our opinions on the Hogwarts e-Books?

These two characters show the diversity of Slytherin house. Though they may have similar histories, the ambitions of Umbridge and Snape are quite different.