Click here to listen to the podcast version of my post “Shakespeare and Five Nights At Freddies.”
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This is my new trailer for my fully online, fully immersive murder mystery game based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet.” You play as a detective hired to solve the mystery of Juliet’s murder. You will piece together the plot and characters of Romeo and Juliet, but also use forensic science to identify clues, interrogate suspects, and examine the crime scene just like a real detective! Register now at Outschool.com SPECIAL OFFER: Get $5 off the murder mystery class with coupon code HTHESSQ76F5 until Apr 22, 2023. Get started at https://outschool.com/classes/romeo-a… and enter the coupon code at checkout.
Join Me On Discord for “Julius Caesar”
Shakespeare and “Five Nights At Freddie’s.”
The global phenomenon “Five Nights At Freddie’s” (FNAF) has spawned 11 major games, spinoff games, 19 books, countless comics, an upcoming movie (allegedly), and ENDLESS FAN THEORIES. I admit, when I first heard of this jump-scare-based game with haunted animatronics, I viewed it as a silly novelty- a clever way to create cheap horror using monsters who jump out at you in a dark room… then I saw this:
The YouTube channel Game Theory, which has been analyzing and dissecting the games for the last 8 years finally created a complete chronology of the games’ lore. Like a lot of the best horror stories like Dracula and “Sleep No More,” the game scatters a lot of its lore throughout the game in the form of mini-games, security guard notebooks, newspaper clippings, and of course, the iconic, nervous late-night phone calls that your character (a nameless night watchman) receives from a mysterious character known only as THE PHONE GUY.
This story is truly the stuff of nightmares- serial killers, murdered children, ghosts, possessed robots, broken families, and unending quests for revenge from beyond the grave. Of course, a few of these tropes Mr. Shakespeare would be very familiar with, so I thought I’d delve into some of the themes, tropes, and ideas that link these two franchises. My goal is to get fans of the video game to understand that, since Shakespeare and Scott Cawthorne (the creator of the game) use a lot of the same horror plots and ideas, that, if you can understand FNAF you can understand Shakespeare!
Part I: The mad scientist- William Afton Vs. William Shakespeare’s Prospero
The story of Five Nights At Freddie’s revolves around its main antagonist- a genius roboticist-turned-serial killer named William Afton, who starts out as a successful businessman and children’s entertainer obsessed with bringing his creations to life. Any horror fan will tell you that this is an automatic sign of a villain because he is trying to master the skill that only God possesses- the ability to create life.
In Shakespeare’s final play, The Tempest, the hero is a brilliant magician who, after his brother exiles him to a desert island, masters many crafts considered unnatural for the 1600s:
I have bedimm'd
The noontide sun, call'd forth the mutinous winds,
And 'twixt the green sea and the azured vault
Set roaring war: to the dread rattling thunder
Have I given fire and rifted Jove's stout oak
With his own bolt; the strong-based promontory
Have I made shake and by the spurs pluck'd up
The pine and cedar: graves at my command
Have waked their sleepers, oped, and let 'em forth
By my so potent art.
The Tempest, Act V, Scene i, Lines 2063-
Like I discussed in my post on Shakespeare and Star Trek, Prospero’s magic is both benevolent and terrifying. He uses it to rescue himself and his daughter Miranda from the island, and he creates beautiful visions of gods and angelic music for Miranda and her young lover Sebastian, but he also creates nightmarish visions to torment his enemies:
Both Afton and Prospero are motivated by revenge against the men who betrayed them. In Afton’s case it’s his rival/ partner Henry Emily who bankrupted his business and later got him fired from his own company. Afton torments Henry by murdering his daughter and ruining his business by luring kids to their death inside the pizzeria, disguised as one of the animatronic characters. Afton also figures out how to torment people using sound alone, like Prospero does to his slave Caliban:
Caliban. All the infections that the sun sucks up
From bogs, fens, flats, on Prosper fall and make him
By inch-meal a disease! His spirits hear me
And yet I needs must curse.
For every trifle are they set upon me;
Sometime like apes that mow and chatter at me
And after bite me, then like hedgehogs which
Lie tumbling in my barefoot way and mount
Their pricks at my footfall; sometime am I
All wound with adders who with cloven tongues
Do hiss me into madness.
Here comes a spirit of his, and to torment me! The Tempest, Act II, Scene ii.
Prospero isn’t a killer, but like Afton, he has learned the secret to life after death, which makes him powerful and dangerous. Even more unsettling, both men are on an endless quest for revenge and torment men whom they saw as brothers. Other Shakespearean characters take their lust for revenge to the same dark place Afton did- the murder of children.
Part II: The Purple Killer
For the first four games, Afton isn’t directly part of the game- he’s merely mentioned in pieces of the lore. Frequently we see 8- bit re-enactments of his crimes in a series of mini-games, where he appears as a faceless, purple killer.
Why purple though? It’s true that purple is associated with royalty, and sometimes associated with villainy, (since it isn’t a color found much in nature). I think though, there might be a deeper, more macabre meaning to this color associated with this killer: It is a scientific fact that human blood, when it is shed and deprived of oxygen, actually turns purple:
The colors of arterial and venous blood are different. Oxygenated (arterial) blood is bright red, while dexoygenated (venous) blood is dark reddish-purplehttps://mriquestions.com/why-are-veins-blue.html
Shakespeare’s Purple Poetry
Shakespeare was very aware of this medical fact. He lived in an age where traitors’ heads were placed on spikes on London Bridge, and people would pay to watch wild dogs attack bears (the FNAF of his time). Shakespeare makes many gory references to murderers watching red blood turn purple:
I make as good use of it as manyHenry IV, Part I, Act III, Scene iii.
a man doth of a Death’s-head or a memento mori: I
never see thy face but I think upon hell-fire and
Dives that lived in purple;
Woe above woe! grief more than common grief!Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v.
O that my death would stay these ruthful deeds!
O pity, pity, gentle heaven, pity!
The red rose and the white are on his face,
The fatal colours of our striving houses:
The one his purple blood right well resembles;
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,Julius Caesar Act III, Scene i.
With purple falchion, painted to the hiltHenry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v (Richard of Gloucester)
In blood of those that had encounter’d him:
This last quote is spoken by Richard of Gloucester, who, in the play that bears his name, becomes King Richard III, Shakespeare’s most irredeemable villain. Just like William Afton, he kills without remorse and dispatches anyone who gets in his way on the path to the crown. In addition, like many of Shakespeare’s villains, his turn to pure evil occurs right after he does the unthinkable- when he murders children.
Throughout the rest of the play, Richard kills a lot of his political and personal enemies and we go along with them because he’s the protagonist. But once he murders the princes, who have done nothing to harm him or anyone else, Richard crosses the line from anti-hero to monstrous villain. It is also at this part of the play when his victims begin to take their revenge… FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE!
Part III: The ghostly revenge story
I’ve written before that in Shakespeare, ghosts are usually murder victims either out for revenge, or trying to convince a living person to avenge their death. Likewise, in the subsequent games, Affton’s victims possess the animatronics, seeking to kill their murderer!
One of the creepiest scenes in Shakespeare comes when Richard III is visited the night before his final battle by the ghosts of all the people he’s killed:
Similarly, when Macbeth murders his friend Banquo (and attempts to murder his young son Fleance), he is visited by Banquo’s ghost, during a party, no less! Even more ironic, look at the language Macbeth uses when he sees the ghost:
Approach thou like the rugged Russian bear,
The arm’d rhinoceros, or the Hyrcan tiger;
Take any shape but that, and my firm nerves
Shall never tremble: or be alive again.
It’s truly ironic that, while in FNAF, the ghosts of Afton’s slaughtered children appear in the forms of angry animatronics, shaped like fearsome animals, Macbeth would rather see the fearsome animal, than the ghost of the man he murdered! Though Macbeth himself doesn’t fear bears, in both FNAF and Shakespeare, bears and other animals have long had a symbolism associated with wrath, anger, and taking bitter vengeance on the wicked.
Part IV: The Forrest of Beasts
Even the animals in FNAF have some significance that Shakespeare has touched on in some of his plays, especially bears. In many renaissance and medieval sources, bears are symbols of wrath, revenge, and fierce protectors of children. Both Shakespeare and FNAF exploit this symbolism, and both the game and Shakespearean plays create horrifying beastly images in stories of revenge.
Just like the Fredbear singin’ show, Elizabethans liked to watch real bears perform onstage, sometimes as dancers, but also IN BLOODY FIGHTS TO THE DEATH. In the 1590s, there was a popular sport called “Bear baiting,” where bears would be chained, sometimes to a pole, and set on by vicious dogs. The ‘sport’ was watching to see who would prevail- the fierce and free dogs, or the powerful, bound bear.
As you can see from this close-up of Wenceslaus Hollar’s famous Panorama Of London (1647), we know that Shakespeare had to pass bear beating pits on his way to the Globe all the time, (you can see ‘Beer bayting’ or bear beating, written on the playhouse on the left, and Shakespeare’s Globe Theater on the right). Not only that, Shakespeare writes about the bloody sport frequently in his plays. When Macbeth knows he’s losing the battle with Malcolm, he compares himself to a bear, tied to a stake, forced to fight until his last breath. It calls to mind the moment in the game when the ghosts shed their animatronic skins and attack William directly, while he’s trapped in the Springtrap suit.
It’s worth noting that when the ghosts kill Afton, he’s wearing his Golden Bonnie suit. As Mat Pat mentioned, yes it is the disguise he wore to commit his crimes, but it is also symbolic of who Afton has become- a beastly, inhuman creature who looks friendly on the outside, but inside is cold and robotic on the inside. This also calls to mind the beast symbolism in the aforementioned ghost scene from Richard III. The real King Richard III used a boar as his royal sigil, and Shakespeare exploits that beast imagery by comparing Richard to a bloody, rooting hog, grown fat on the blood of his victims. Richard doesn’t wear a pig suit, but he does wear his cruelty and bloodlust literally as a badge of honor!
In both the games and the plays, the ghosts become a manifestation of the murderer’s guilty conscience, and beast-like imagery is used to convey how cruel and beast-like the murderer has become. Macbeth and Richard don’t dress like beasts, but they do kill like them.
The beast imagery also extends to the concept of revenge. One big theme in Five Nights At Freddie’s is the concept that revenge, (whether justified or not), is blind and indiscriminately destructive. Even though the five ghosts that possess the animatronics are justifiably angry for being murdered, they don’t just try to kill Afton- they attack any poor soul who sticks around the pizzeria at night. Like Hamlet, who wants to avenge his father’s murder, but kills the wrong people, the five souls trapped in their metal cages have a noble goal- protect the children in the pizzeria, and destroy Afton, but they are full of beastlike rage and are unable to see friends from foes. This kind of blind rage reminds me of how real bears will fight off anyone whom they perceive as a threat. In medieval manuscripts, bears are tender to their cubs and literally form them out of little hairy lumps by licking them into shape. At the same time, they are powerful, deadly, and violent to anyone that threatens the cubs.
This kind of blind violence is something Shakespeare explores a lot in his history plays and his tragedies. Every time he talks about a society going wrong, he describes it as if it were populated with beasts, not humans. In Timon of Athens, the titular character, having left Athens to go live in the woods, laments to his frenemy, the cynical philosopher Apemantus, how his city has become like a collection of beasts:
- Timon. What wouldst thou do with the world,
Apemantus, if it lay in thy power?
- Apemantus. Give it the beasts, to be rid of the men.
- Timon. Wouldst thou have thyself fall in the confusion of2025
men, and remain a beast with the beasts?
- Apemantus. Ay, Timon.
- Timon. A beastly ambition, which the gods grant thee t’
attain to! If thou wert the lion, the fox would
beguile thee; if thou wert the lamb, the fox would
eat three: if thou wert the fox, the lion would
suspect thee, when peradventure thou wert accused by
the ass: if thou wert the wolf, thy
greediness would afflict thee, and oft thou shouldst
hazard thy life for thy dinner: wert
thou a bear, thou wouldst be killed by the horse:
What beast couldst thou be, that2045
were not subject to a beast? and what a beast art
thou already, that seest not thy loss in
- Apemantus. If thou couldst please me with speaking to me, thou
mightst have hit upon it here: the commonwealth of2050
Athens is become a forest of beasts.
- Timon. How has the ass broke the wall, that thou art out of the city? Timon Of Athens, Act IV, Scene iii.
In short, the history of horror, which Shakespeare helped shape in plays like Macbeth, Richard III, Hamlet, and others, has a lot of classic tropes and the Five Nights At Freddie’s games exploit them quite well; tropes like supernatural vengeance, the death of innocents, beast-like killers, and unquiet ghosts. What works the best about this franchise is that it tells its lore like a mystery, slowly revealing Afton’s gruesome crimes over multiple installments. I wonder if someone has ever applied this to Shakespeare…
Shameless plug: Romeo and Juliet Murder Mystery
I’m proud to announce that I’ve just been approved to present a fully online, fully immersive murder mystery-style game, where you play as a detective trying to solve the mysterious death of Juliet Capulet! This is a really cool mixture of Shakespeare and forensics science as you examine crime scenes, look for clues, interrogate suspects, and untangle the story of Romeo and Juliet, and it even takes place over the course of five nights! Classes start March 17th. Register now at www.outschool.com!
Would Shakespeare enjoy playing FNAF well, who knows, but I do like to think he would appreciate the lore, if not the jump scares……
Announcing ROMAN MONTH!
In honor of “The Ides Of March” and Women’s History Month, I’ve planned a series of posts, podcasts, activities, and videos all related to “Julius Caesar” and Shakespeare’s female characters. Here’s a preview:
Play of the Month: Julius Caesar
Why “Mean Girls” is like Julius Caesar
Close Reading: Friends, Romans, Countrymen
The Fashion is the Fashion- Julius Caesar- Togas, helmets, etc.
Mock Trial- Julius Caesar
Shakespeare Recipes- Roman Pies
Crafting A Character: Brutus
The turbulent history of “Julius Caesar” in America
Special Promo Event!
Be sure to subscribe for all the fun!
Get $5 off when you sign up for my online class “The Violent Rhetoric of Julius Caesar” with coupon code HTHESIIAW75 until Mar 28th.
Review: Romeow and Drooliet by Nina Laden
What It Keeps
The book keeps the feud between the two families, has the young lovers meet in disguise at a ball, fall in love on a balcony, get married, and amazingly, DIE! Laden still manages to tell the story in a kid-friendly way, though giving it tragic weight.
The book opens with a rhyming prologue, which, although it isn’t in sonnet form, has the same function as Shakespeare’s prologue- to explain the plot before we see it played out in the book, thus giving the whole story a sense of dramatic irony. Plus, as you can see, Laden also imitates Shakespeare’s love of wordplay with metaphors and puns, (a tale of tails), and alliteration to give the dialogue some wit and effervescence. Reading it gave me giggles like I’d just popped open some champagne.
What it changes: Spoiler alert
All throughout, Laden makes small changes to simplify the plot and remove characters that don’t directly impact the main plot. The characters of Lord/Lady Capulet and Lord/Lady Montegue, The Nurse, Paris, Peter, the servants, and the friars are completely absent, turning an already brief play into an even more compressed story.
Like a lot of animal retellings I’ve seen of this story, the author recasts the human leads as animals that are natural enemies- in this case, cats and dogs. This makes the story easier for kids to understand- as I’ve said before, it’s often difficult to keep track of who belongs to which house in Shakespeare’s version. All you need to know is that Romeo and his brothers are cats and Juliet’s family are dogs.
Funnily enough, my daughter actually complained that the story would’ve been better if Juliet were a cat instead of Romeo, which I agree with for very specific reasons. The character of Tybalt is named after a character from a prose story called “Reynard the Fox,” who had the epithet, Prince of CATS. Mercutio annoys Tybalt by taunting him with this title before challenging him to a duel:
Tybalt: What would you with me?
Mercutio: Good Prince of Cats, nothing but one of your nine lives! Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene i.
It would’ve been a funny Shakespeare easter egg to have Juliet and Tybalt be portrayed as cats, but I understand why they went with dogs- Drooliet is a hilarious pun, and having Tybalt be a vicious, rabid dog helps set him up as a fearsome antagonist.
I suppose you’re wondering, how can the author keep Shakespeare’s tragic ending in a children’s book? Well, like Shroedinger’s cat, she manages to make Romeow die and not die at the same time. He gives Drooliet one of his 9 lives, allowing them both to ‘die’ and then come back for a happy ending. It’s a brilliant way to nod at the original, while also keeping the kid-friendly tone.
This book is really fun and very enjoyable for kids, parents, and teachers who want to introduce kids to Shakespeare at an early age!
Just below you can watch the book being read by actress Hayle Duff:
Free teaching guide from the SAG-Aftra Foundation
Graphic Novel Review: “Kill Shakespeare: VOl 4.” a Dark and angsty Shakespeare fanfic.
In this section, I review a Shakespeare book, movie, or TV show that I feel has some kind of value, either as an interpretation of Shakespeare, or a means to learn more about the man and his writing.
- Name: Kill Shakespeare (Vol. 4) by Connor McCreery and Anthony Del Col
- Media: Graphic Novel compilation, with accompanying website https://www.killshakespeare.com/
- Ages: Adult/ Teen. There’s some PG-13 language and a lot of fighting and gore, so it’s not really for kids
- Premise: William Shakespeare is more than just a simple playwright- he has a magic quill that brings his characters to life. Some of the characters worship him like a god or like a father. Many others, (as the title implies), want him dead. A faction of outlaw heroes who call themselves The Prodigals are trying to protect Shakespeare, including Juliet and Hamlet, but in this volume, they’ll have to face raging seas, bloodthirsty pirates, and the mind-altering effects of the island in Volume 3, which has pushed them all to near-madness.
My reaction: Volumes 1&2 was framed like a civil war between the heroes and villains of the Shakespeare canon- basically an Infinity War for Shakespeare nerds. This volume is in the context of a high-seas pirate adventure. It has a lot of cool fights and the drama between Cesario and Viola is great, but honestly, I thought it was poorly paced. Maybe it’s my personal taste, but it’s hard to keep myself invested in the story when everyone is stuck on a boat.
As I said in my review of Volume 2, what I like the most about this graphic novel is that the characters are consistent with how the real Shakespeare wrote him, yet they make different choices in the graphic novel. They also grow and play off each other in many interesting ways. Here are some examples:
Most of the drama of the graphic novel centers around Captain Cesario, a dashing rogue pirate, and his first mate/ girlfriend Viola. The main characters from Volume 2, (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Juliet, and Othello), have escaped the effects of the island run by the mad wizard Prospero, but are still shell-shocked at feeling the terrifying psychic effects of that island. This is a clever plot device that basically makes it makes all the characters unnecessary except for Hamlet and Juliet. You could look at this installment as the story of 2 couples, (dare I say twin couples) where Viola and Cesario are fighting over whether or not to join Shakespeare and the other Prodigals, to remain on the high sea as pirates, or to betray them and become ingratiated with the fearsome cannibal-pirate Lucius Andronicus.
I won’t give too much away (there are some spoilers), but let’s just say that the relationships in Volume 2 have been tested to the breaking point; Hamlet and Juliet are having extreme problems, (almost as bad as Hamlet and Ophelia). Viola and Cesario are also fighting constantly. In addition, the ship is constantly under threat from the feared pirate Lucius Andronicus. Will the characters solve their internal conflicts before a mutiny breaks out? Or will they all be cut to pieces by the cannibal Lucius? On this boat, tempests are not kind, and salt waves are fresh with DEATH!
Shakespeare Easter Eggs
Kill Shakespeare, Volume 4 is largely based on Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, which, although it mainly focuses on the courts of Duke Orsino and Countess Olivia, does have aspects of pirates, deception, and lovers quarreling. It is interesting (and I give the writers credit) for taking a light-hearted comedy with songs and dances and turning it into a swashbuckling pirate adventure; that takes real imagination, yet it works with the text; the first time we see Viola she is shipwrecked and the captain that saves her life is arrested offstage. This prompts Viola to disguise herself by wearing her twin brothers’ clothes and donning the non-de-plume Cesario, in order to freely behave like a man in a man’s world. Shakespeare already made Viola’s fate intertwined with the sea, so it makes sense that she might want to be a pirate. Kill Shakespeare takes Viola’s two identities and makes them two separate people, both intertwined with a love of the sea.
The graphic novel also conflates and expands other pirate characters from the play; there’s another captain in the play named Antonio who saves Viola’s brother Sebastian, and is accused of being a pirate, While Viola in Twelfth Night is a noblewoman who out of necessity disguises herself as a man and becomes a servant to a Duke, Viola in this version is trying to escape being a noblewoman and becomes a pirate by choice. Meanwhile, Antonio, who denies being a pirate, is changed into the roguish Cesario, who loves Viola as much as Antonio loves her brother Sebastian in the play. Like Antonio, Cesario cares about Viola’s well-being and is willing to sacrifice everything to keep her safe, even being a pirate. This causes friction between the two since again, Viola wants to continue to be a pirate and would rather die than give it up. Their conflicting roles as shipmates and soulmates keep them at odds during the play, sort of like how Cesario’s mask is split down the middle; half tragic, and half comic.
I think this graphic novel is poorly paced. Most of the first half consists of Cesario and Viola arguing about what to do with Shakespeare and the rest of the Prodigals. Their drama is good, but it supersedes everybody else, and I found myself wondering what was going to happen to Shakespeare and the rest, and wishing that they’d got more focus. Othello is reduced to a plot device because he is madly searching for Desdemona, whom he killed during the events of Shakespeare’s play. Othello is no longer the honest, loyal friend to Juliet that he was in the previous editions; now he’s more like The Incredible Hulk, filled with animalistic rage and unable to be controlled except by the love of his friend Juliet. In some ways, Othello was the most likable character in the previous volumes so I hated to see him like this.
In addition, the constant couples’ bickering gets a little bit tedious; I suppose that’s inevitable when you take all the comic elements out of Twelfth Night, (Sir Toby and Feste are back in Volume One, and Malvolio, Fabian, and Olivia are nowhere to be seen). I did enjoy the ending where Viola resolves her conflict with Cesario much the same way Viola solves the problem of her being Cesario in the play. I also like the way that they built up the antagonist Lucius from Titus Andronicus. Lucius is a good choice for a villain in this world because he’s seen some truly horrible things in his own play like his father mutilating people, his brothers and sister murdered, and the worst pie recipe of all time. Making Lucius a bloodthirsty, cannibalistic pirate is a great choice. Still I wish they spent more time fighting with him instead of sailing away from him. In short, the characters are compelling as ever but the action is lagging and the drama is reduced to mostly petty couple squabbling. I would like to see this series pick up in a more action-packed version more in keeping with a graphic novel.
Recommendation: I’d recommend this book to all mature fans of Shakespeare, anime, Manga, D&D, or any kind of nerd stuff!
Grade: 3 Shakespeare globes.
- Official Website:
Play Review: Othello 2007
For Throwback Thursday, I’m talking about my first-ever experience going to the Globe Theater. Back in 2007, I saw a production of “Othello” starring Eamon Walker as Othello, and Tim McInerney as Iago. Below are some images from the excellent souvenir program I purchased:
The experience was very special to me I went to London for the second time with my classmates in a college theater class, many of whom I’d also performed with earlier that year in Romeo and Juliet. I got to see over 15 shows in London’s west end , but going to the Globe was definitely a highlight. It felt like a pilgrimage and the icing on the cake after studying Shakespeare’s plays all year long. It was also very serendipitous that the play we saw was Othello, since, as you can see in the video below, I noticed that Sam Wannamaker, the founder of the Globe, performed in the play himself as Iago:
Again, since this was my first time seeing a play at the Globe, I appreciated that they played it straight- Elizabethan costumes, no bizarre staging. This felt very much like stepping back in time. Some critics in recent years say that all Globe Productions should be staged like this, and decry more experimental productions. I see an argument for both camps. The Globe is both a temple to Shakespeare’s life and work, and a modern theater that tries to push the boundaries of live performances, and I think this kind of variety is good. That said, I’m glad that every once in a while, they just let a Shakespeare play be classic.
Eamonn Walker as Othello
Yes, this is one of the first ever Othellos I saw, and the first one I ever saw live, but Mr. Walker will always be one of my favorites. He really nails the complexities of Othello’s emotions- from powerful and stoic, to sweet and romantic, to rage-filled and abusive. I really felt for him and truly hated Iago for taking such a worthy person and turning him into a monster.
What Mr. Walker does incredibly well is show Othello’s journey to fight the simmering hatred and jealousy he feels towards Desdemona. You can see it in his face when Desdamona casually mentions that Cassio (the man Othello suspects is sleeping with his wife), has just been in the room with her.
I’ve heard critics claim that Mr. Walker’s voice is hard to hear, and I have to admit, his voice is a little hard to hear in an outdoor amphitheater like the Globe, but his physicality and his sublime characterizations of the role of Othello more than makeup for it. In addition, his great portrayal of Othello was also immortalized in a great TV (which I’ll talk about another time), which makes the aforementioned critique of his voice irrelevant.
In 2000, Mr. Walker starred in a made-for-TV movie modern-day Othello which has this heartbreaking scene at a restaurant (1:12:00- 1:15:00) where John Othello, (the first black police chief in England), talks about how his people left Africa, came to England and were given “Other men’s leavings.” He also makes it clear that for years he wanted to be white. This Othello is very clearly not healed from his generational trauma, and it comes out in violent ways:
I honestly liked Tim McInerney less as Iago than in other roles, such as his film role in Ian McKellen’s Richard III. I thought his character voice was too gruff to be understood, and though his physicality is good, I didn’t get much of a sense of his concept for the character. As I’ve written before, Iago is a compelling part, but the actor has to have a clear objective to help us in the audience understand why he feels the need to destroy Othello.
These minor nitpicks aside, this was an excellent production, and I’m really pleased to retell my experience to you. Below are links to reviews and photo slideshows.
Adieu for now!
Close Reading: Lady Macbeth “Come You Spirits.”
For the final class of my course on Shakespeare’s Tragedies, I’m coaching two young actors on a pair of tragic speeches I’ve selected, and I thought I’d share some of that work with you. The first is a speech by Lady Macbeth that comes from Act I, Scene v. In this speech, Lady Macbeth prays to dark spirits to make her cold and remorseless, so that she can convince her husband to kill the king, and take the throne.
The raven himself is hoarse
That croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan
Under my battlements. Come, you spirits390
That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here,
And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full
Of direst cruelty! make thick my blood;
Stop up the access and passage to remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of nature395
Shake my fell purpose, nor keep peace between
The effect and it! Come to my woman’s breasts,
And take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers,
Wherever in your sightless substances
You wait on nature’s mischief! Come, thick night,400
And pall thee in the dunnest smoke of hell,
That my keen knife see not the wound it makes,
Nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark,
To cry ‘Hold, hold!’ Macbeth, Act I, Scene v, Lines 388-403.
The Given Circumstances
Lady Macbeth has just received a letter from her husband. That letter informs her the witches prophesied he would be king. Soon after she’s finished reading it, another messenger, (hoarse and out of breath), tells her that King Duncan will be staying at her castle tonight! Lady Macbeth immediately sees this as the perfect opportunity to make her husband king, by plotting to murder Duncan as he sleeps under her roof.
I’ve seen at least six productions of “Macbeth” and when it comes to this scene I think the main interpretations I see are either that Lady Macbeth is gleefully evil, or highly sexual. While it is true that she is praying to dark spirits, and her language when she speaks to Macbeth is sexually charged, I feel that these are not the only options when playing this character.
I love the regal poise of Francis in this 2021 movie. She is utterly in control and has absolutely no qualms about murder. I get the sense that she’s more praying to Mercury to get her to speak daggers to her husband, instead of to Lucifer to help her use one. She even has knives coming out of her ears (look at those earings!) This Lady Macbeth doesn’t seem evil in the sense of a cartoon villain. She’s just a woman in a violent society who believes that regicide is an acceptable way to sieze power. I think in this world, might makes right.
By contrast, Judy Dench in the 1979 RSC production is also very human. Her spirits are like… well spirits. You get the sense that she’s taking a swig of liquid courage to get her to go through with these actions which SHE KNOWS ARE WRONG.
Ravens in Greek and Norse myths were birds of prophecy and associated with the goddess of magic, Hecate (who appears in the play in Act IV). Ravens often appeared to announce deaths or execution. The speech is also full of imagery that rejects traditionally ‘feminine’ virtues. Lady Macbeth seems to associate womanhood with kindness, mercy, pity, and remorse and thus attempts to shed her femininity to accomplish her cruel objective of killing Duncan.
The Rauen himselfe is hoarse,
That croakes the fatall entrance of Duncan
Vnder my Battlements. Come you Spirits,
That tend on mortall thoughts, vnsex me here,
And fill me from the Crowne to the Toe, top-full
Of direst Crueltie: make thick my blood,
Stop vp th'accesse, and passage to Remorse,
That no compunctious visitings of Nature
Shake my fell purpose, nor keepe peace betweene
Th'effect, and hit. Come to my Womans Brests,
And take my Milke for Gall, you murth'ring Ministers,
Where-euer, in your sightlesse substances,
You wait on Natures Mischiefe. Come thick Night,
And pall thee in the dunnest smoake of Hell,
That my keene Knife see not the Wound it makes,
Nor Heauen peepe through the Blanket of the darke,
To cry, hold, hold. Macbeth, Act I, Scene v, First Folio Reprint from Internet Shakespeare Editions.
It’s interesting to note that (in the First Folio text) this speech is only three sentences long. It is a constant build up of energy with only three stops. In addition, Shakespeare puts the most important words, at the end of each line. Almost every line ends with something Lady M wants to kill, such as Duncan, or wants to kill within herself (peace, remorse, nature, Woman(hood). The verse also has commands strewn about in the beginnings and ends of lines. The question is, how confident does Lady Macbeth feel while giving them?
Questions to consider
One of the biggest questions I have with this play is why Lady Macbeth and her husband want to be king and queen anyway? After all, Shakespeare has written plenty of plays that detail how hard and stressful (uneasy) it is to be king. Plus, Macbeth is already a trusted lord and friend of the king, why would he want to damn himself to get a job he knows isn’t his to take? I think that, especially now in the 21st century, it’s very important to have a coherent motive for why the Macbeths are willing to kill for the crown.
Looking over the text, my actress sensed a deep loneliness in Lady Macbeth and a haunted feeling that makes her seem desperate to change her life. I thought about how insomnia and paranoid fears are repeated motifs in the play, as well as character traits found in both Macbeth and later Lady Macbeth. Then I thought- Macbeth is a soldier; his wife has probably had to spend years wondering if he is going to come home and imagining what kind of terrible death he might suffer on the battlefield While the king sits safely at home. Perhaps she sees killing the king as a form of revenge for all the fear and sleepless nights she’s experienced, and an attempt to protect her husband from war, by safely placing him on the throne. Maybe she sees this as the only way to make sure her beloved husband never dies in battle. Therefore, instead of watching an evil woman become more evil, you’re watching a good woman, (with good intentions), damn herself for love, which I would argue is a much more active and dynamic choice.