This is an interactive game that teaches the craft of Shakespeare’s writing and stagecraft in the form of an Elizabethan escape room. You must find the lost play of William Shakespeare before a mystery thief destroys it! Solve the clues and learn about Shakespeare’s writing and theater to uncover a historical mystery!
In this fully online, fully interactive game, you play as a member of Shakespeare’s company. You’ve just discovered that someone has stolen Shakespeare’s new play “Love’s Labors Won,” and you need to find it before the show tonight! In the course of the game, you search the Globe Theater and Shakespeare’s study. Then a mysterious note reveals that someone has stolen the play! You must figure out who it is, and find the play before the thief burns it! Through the course of the game, you will learn about Shakespeare’s theater, the secrets of how he wrote some of his great plays and beautiful poetry, and the work of his contemporaries in a fun, interactive way.
The class is organized into four parts, based on four locations where you will search for the missing play:
Part I- Search the Theater
Part I- Search the theater (website/ Slides/ Jamboard) You learn the basic parts of an Elizabethan stage (Google slides) You label the parts of the theater (Google Forms) You do a virtual tour of the theater (via Globe Theater.com) Web quest- answer 3 questions about Shakespeare’s Globe: https://www.shakespearesglobe.com/ (handout) You search the tiring house (the backstage area of the Globe), and find the letter from the thief (Sites).
Part II- THe Crime
A video plays where the thief declares that he’s stolen Shakespeare’s play for money and revenge. After the video, you will learn about plays, printing, and theft in Shakespeare’s day through a series of Google Slides Activity- make a folio, quarto, and octavio with just a piece of paper (handout) Web Quest- answer 3 questions about how Shakespeare’s plays were printed and the first folio (Slides) Activity 2: make an actors’ scroll or roll the way that Elizabethans might use (video) Easter egg- find a pair of gloves in the print shop and answer questions.
You’ll gain new understanding of the types of plays Shakespeare wrote and their basic plot structure via Google Slides. You’ll then take a short quiz to confirm what you learned.
-Plot Structure You’ll learn about the basic structure of Elizabethan plays via Google Slides. A second set of slides will demonstrate the plot structure of Romeo &Juliet You’ll mix and match a series of plot elements to create your own Elizabethan play via Jamboard
A hero is given some unwelcome news
He feels betrayed by those close to him
He agonizes about the ethics of killing someone close to him.
He kills someone (or banishes an honest man) and immediately falls into a downward spiral.
The hero does (this will be a mandatory choice)
The heroine disguises herself as a boy
A hero or heroine swears (s)he will never fall in love and immediately falls in love
The heroine pretends not to be interested in the hero, (but secretly loves him).
A loyal best friend is captured, sent to prison, or bewitched
The hero and heroine hate each other due to a series of misunderstandings.
The hero and heroine get married (this will be a mandatory choice).
An ambitious young man arises to challenge the king for the throne.
The old king dies, (or is murdered)
A new king becomes king
Duels and or battles
Someone dies in battle
Someone is murdered, assassinated, or sentenced to death.
New King gets married
King and Queen reign peacefully (at least for now)
Romance ( if students pick this option, they can mix and match everything (except the main character dying)
Verse practice- You’ll learn about the verse Shakespeare wrote, through a series of slides and a jam board. Activity- You will be given a series of famous lines from plays and movies, (such as a quote from a Disney Movie, a Star Wars film, or a song). You will then determine if it is an iambic pentameter line (Google Slides). Easter egg- you find a second note from the thief (Google Sites).
Part IV- THe Tavern
You will look at a series of pictures and videos about Shakespeare’s contemporaries and try to figure out which of them stole the play. Through the handout, you will conclude who the thief is. You find a dagger in the tavern and take it. Outside the tavern, you will fight the thief in a short animation. GAME OVER.
THe FIrst Class starts April 28th, 2023. CLick here to register!
Shakespeare’s birthday is coming up! This is the week where I usually stop talking about individual plays, and talk about the man himself. Today I’d like to cover how he’s been portrayed in fiction. As you’ll see, with such a famous and at the same time mysterious figure like Shakespeare, there is a lot of leeway in terms of how you portray him. This list shows multiple interpretations of Shakespeare and at different stages (ages) of his life. Some are comic, some are tragic, but all are fascinating to discuss:
#10: Rhys Ivans (Anonymous, as The Earl Of Oxford).
Like I said in my podcast, I don’t believe Oxford was the real Shakespeare, and I have some issues with the character and his lack of humanity. That said, I do like the character they were going for- a tortured genius who has to create, in spite of himself, and it destroys him and his family.
#9: Hugh Laurie
I love what they do here- Shakespeare’s a temperamental artist who hates editors, but ultimately accepts that he has to put butts in seats. It’s very true-to-life and Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie do a great job in this sketch!
#8: Kill Shakespeare Volume 2
Like I said in my full review, I really like the idea of an aging Shakespeare buckling under the pressures of being an icon. Bardolatry, the worship of Shakespeare as a literary god, has been a real thing in academic circles for at least the last 200 years and I think it really hampers first-time readers from even attempting to read Shakespeare. Since this comic is very much attempting to get people to do just that, it makes sense that they portray Shakespeare as a deeply flawed human who is trying his best, but not able to live up to his god-like persona.
#7 Matthew Baynton- Horrible Histories
Even though this history show for kids is also trying to make Shakespeare accessible for British schoolchildren, it actually takes the opposite approach for Shakespeare- make him cocky, self-assured, silly, and a bit of a schlamaazel, who like his own creation of Mercutio, talks too much and invariably gets himself into trouble.
#6: King Of Shadows
“Nat, say hello to William Shakespeare”. They might as well have said, “Nat, say hello to GOD!”
-King Of Shadows
Again, most interpretations of Shakespeare are aware of and try to subvert the god-like status he has in our culture, which is why this YA novel attempts to humanize him, by having him interact with the hero, Nathan, a 20th-century child actor, go back in time and finds himself switching places with another Nathan Field, a real boy actor in Shakespeare’s company. Nathan then meets and befriends Shakespeare and the two form a father-son bond.
This book takes place just a few years after the death of Shakespeare’s own son, Hamnet, so this William Shakespeare has a son-shaped hole in his heart. It’s really heartwarming to see the two broken people form a family bond.
As I said before, Shakespeare is not the main character of this novel; he pops in and out of the life of the real main character; his wife Anne, as he visits her at his parents’ home, and later when he sees her on periodic trips home from London. His characterization is entirely indirect. That said, we learn a ton about him through her perceptive eyes. We see his hatred of his abusive father, his frustration with being a glover’s son with no time to make a living in the theater. We see his ambition take hold as he travels to London, and at last, his contrite return to finally become a good husband after the death of his son. This Shakespeare is sort of a prodigal son, who searches for fame and fortune as a young man in the big city, but eventually comes to value his life at home. This solves the mystery of why Shakespeare never moved his family to London, why he retired in the early 1610s, and why his writings have nothing about his relationship with his family, his wife, or especially his son. This Shakespeare is scarred; trying to redeem himself from the sins of his past.
#3 Kenneth Branaugh- “All Is True”
This Shakespeare is at the end of the journey he took in “Hamnet.” He’s retired from theater, trying to pick up the pieces of his life in Stratford, and trying to reconcile his feelings for the fair-young-man (played by Ian McKellen), and his wife, (played by Judy Dench). It’s melancholic, but still funny in a dour way.
#3: Christian Borle- “Something Rotten”
Like I said in the review of the Broadway musical, Borle is the best part of this show. Like Matthew Baynton, he plays Shakespeare as a cocky young self-assured genius on the outside, but unlike Baynton, we see he has a deeper side underneath. As he sings in the incredibly catchy “Hard To Be the Bard,” Shakespeare is once again dealing with the problem of maintaining his success and is under a tremendous amount of pressure to crank out new and successful plays all the time. Even though he’s the antagonist, he’s more sympathetic than the heroes.
#2: Jacob Fiennes- “Shakespeare In Love”
I realize this movie has lost a lot of prestige over the years, thanks to the controversy over its loathsome producer, Harvey Weinstein. I realize that the film Shakespeare In Love might not have deserved best picture over films like Saving Private Ryan. That said, I still think it’s a fantastic movie and every single element from the sets to the costumes to the near-perfect casting, is top-notch, especially the casting of Jacob Fiennes as Shakespeare. This young, heartthrob Shakespeare hasn’t yet become the self-assured genius we see elsewhere on this list. He’s constantly out-classed by Christopher Marlowe, which is a very good choice because it helps us sympathize and root for this man, whom we all know will become a rich, successful genius, but hasn’t yet.
Fiennes also gives Shakespeare a very good arc- he’s a selfish dreamer like Bottom at the beginning and a sweet, sensitive man at the end. In the end, he writes for all the right reasons- supporting his family, immortalizing his love Lady Viola, and helping his friends and partners in the Chamberlain’s Men. Most of these Shakespeare are fairly static, but this movie gives him a great hero’s arc which allows us to like him and hope that his play is a success. As you can see in this alternate version of the final scene, Shakespeare makes a tearful goodbye to Viola, and sets about paying tribute to her in a play that will eventually become Twelfth Night. He also begins his lifelong partnership with Richard Burbage, who will go on to play Malvolio in that play, as well as Hamlet, Othello, and many others. It’s a satisfying conclusion to his arch, which like Viola, shows that Shakespeare is ready to take on a “brave new world” with a new sense of purpose.
#1: Dean Lennox Kelly From Dr. Who: The Shakespeare Code
Though this episode has an inauspicious start, Dean Lennox Kelly from this 2007 episode of Dr. Who finds a way to incorporate every aspect of every other Shakespeare on this list! He’s a cocky, self-assured showman on the outside who knows he’s a genius but is also a middle-class man of the people, playing to the groundlings. On the inside though, he is mourning the loss of his son and yearning for love, which is why he falls in love with Martha and (spoiler alert) makes her the Dark Lady of the sonnets. He also is clever enough to figure out what’s going on as three aliens try to manipulate him into using his gift of words to conjure the end of the world for them. Finally, he is still a hard-working writer and does occasionally doubt his own work:
Shakespeare: “To be or not to be”. Oh, that’s quite good.
10th Doctor: You should write that down
Shakespeare: I dunno… bit pretentious?
-The Shakespeare Code.
Again, the best thing about this Shakespeare is his arc- he drops his mask of genius and opens up to Martha and the Doctor, just like how the Doctor confides in Shakespeare how he is mourning the loss of his previous companion, Rose. In the end though, he draws strength in the memory of his son, and actually uses it to save the world!
Is this a historically-accurate biopic? No. Is it a silly cartoon? Also no. The reason I ranked this episode the highest is because they managed to encompass the myth and the man of Shakespeare in a very compressed time, with tons of Shakespeare easter eggs, and historical references, and it was filmed in the real re-creation of Shakespeare’s own theater! Someday I’ll write a full review of this episode, but for now, I hope you’ve enjoyed this list, and are hungry for more Shakespeare’s Birthday Week content!
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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.
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-purple
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 many 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;
Henry IV, Part I, Act III, Scene iii.
Woe above woe! grief more than common grief! 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;
Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v.
Now, whilst your purpled hands do reek and smoke,
Julius Caesar Act III, Scene i.
With purple falchion, painted to the hilt In blood of those that had encounter’d him:
Henry VI, Part III, Act II, Scene v (Richard of Gloucester)
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?
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 transformation!
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……
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.
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.
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.
Lady Macbeth. 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.
Stagecraft has a fascinating and interesting history. The way we portray spectacle on stage has changed a lot since the advent of television and movies, which utilize computers and animatronics, etc. to create impossible things that could never be is shown live. In a way, the pre-recorded nature of film and TV gives theater practitioners an advantage because the more clever they are with their stagecraft, the more impressive it is for the simple fact that it is live- happening right now in front of an audience.
What I want to do with this post is to speculate whether, with the technology of the time, if Shakespeare could have used some kind of visual spectacle to portray otherworldly creatures, such as the ghosts in Hamlet and Macbeth
The conventional wisdom
Most books I’ve read on Elizabethan stagecraft say that the theaters of this era were very minimalistic in design. They had trap doors, they had galleries, they had a primitive flying rig, and they had music and some simple sound effects, but most of the experience was watching the actors, their costumes, their bodies, and hearing their voices hence ‘audience’- audio, “To hear.”
We are told there wasn’t much visual representation of spectacle and fantasy on Shakespeare’s stage, which which is is odd because there are some pretty fantastical elements in his plays, especially Hamlet and Macbeth, where the former calls for a ghost and the latter calls for a ghost, witches, and a literal goddess to appear on stage. How may one ask, was this achieved back in Shakespeare’s day, the late 1590s and the early 1600s? The conventional wisdom is that the ghosts in Hamlet and the ghost in Macbeth came through a trap door in the stage known as Hell.
If you’re you go to the Globe now you can see this actual trap door being used. It used a primitive pully system to open up in the middle of the floor. The ghost would ascend to the stage through a small step ladder. Hamlet’s father’s ghost is described as wearing a suit of armor and being very pale. Banquo’s ghost is described as having long hair dappled with blood.
Banquo’s ghost appears during a banquet in Macbeth’s honor. Based on this hypothesis it’s likely that a banqueting table was brought out into the middle of a stage to conceal the ghost, to make it more of a surprise when it ascends onstage through the trap door, but the effect to modern taste would be rather dull. However impressive the performance, this cannot stand up to the stunning nature of visual effects using computer technology, motion capture, et cetera. I wanted to see if there are any Elizabethan theatrical illusions that would still have been accessible to Shakespeare back in the 1590s.
Idea #1: A Smoke-monster ghost?
My research began with this video from the YouTube History Channel Atun-Shei Films, where the author traces the history of film, (both as photography and film as a projection). He cites at the start, an incident in 1536 where a supposed necromancer appeared to conjure a ghost for an unsuspecting rube. According to The Lives Of the Necromancers, the solution was achieved by creating huge clouds of smoke within the theater space, (which was the Colosseum) and then using a primitive camera obscure to project a frightening image Into this space.
Camera Obscura is a term is it Latin for dark chamber the principal had been discovered for century had existed for centuries bit is for centuries but only in the 1530s this was the 1st recorded example of it being used to create a theatrical illusion.
The question is, could Shakespeare’s company have performed the same illusion with the technology of the day? Honestly, I find it rather unlikely that Shakespeare’s audience would’ve put up with huge clouds of smoke in a wooden amphitheater. Still, the fact remains that primitive projection technology existed back in Shakespeare’s day, which means a director could reasonably implement it in a production of Hamlet or Macbeth, even under the constraints of Original Practices.
So the question remains, is there a visually striking way to represent the ghosts that could actually work in Shakespeare’s theater. My first idea is…
Idea 1: Glow In the Dark Paint
Glow-in-the-dark paint wasn’t invented until 1908, but there are some rocks that naturally glow such as hackmanite and phosphorus.
Theoretically, Shakespeare’s company could have crushed this rock into a powder and made it into a paint that glowed onstage. There is precedent for this- in The Hound Of the Baskervilles, Sherlock Holmes discovers that the terrifying ghost-hound is merely a large dog painted with phosphorescent paint:
In mere size and strength it was a terrible creature which was lying stretched before us. It was not a pure bloodhound and it was not a pure mastiff; but it appeared to be a combination of the two–gaunt, savage, and as large as a small lioness. Even now in the stillness of death, the huge jaws seemed to be dripping with a bluish flame and the small, deep-set, cruel eyes were ringed with fire. I placed my hand upon the glowing muzzle, and as I held them up my own fingers smouldered and gleamed in the darkness.
“Phosphorus,” I said.
“A cunning preparation of it,” said Holmes, sniffing at the dead animal.
Doyle, Part IV.
Though this paint would potentially make a terrifying effect, this would be impossible at an outdoor theater during the day. This makes it unlikely that Shakespeare used glow-in-the-dark paint at the Globe, as most of the performances took place in the afternoon. That said, both Hamlet and were written just at the point in which Shakespeare’s company was in the process of acquiring an indoor theater, the Blackfriars.
The Blackfriars and Shakespeare’s stagecraft
Almost all of these ideas would depend on Shakespeare having access to a theatre in which he could control the lighting. As you can see, the Blackfriars was lit with candles and its indoor nature meant that performances weren’t dependent on sunlight. Greg Doran, former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company has theorized in the past that maybe while his company was preparing to move into the Blackfriars, Shakespeare was changing his material to make it both literally and figuratively darker.
In the reconstructed Blackfriars, (where I studied and interned for three years), there is a trap-door and flying rig like the Globe, so the conventional trap-door ghost can and has been utilized there. I would also argue that in the Blackfriars unlike the Globe, there was a chance for more variety of theatrical illusions- perhaps a smoke projection, magic lantern, or even…
Idea 3: A Pepper’s ghost
A Peppers Ghost is a stage illusion that dates back to the 19th century. It uses the principle of refracted light to project the image of a ghost on top of a piece of glass. This image will appear translucent and could be very impressive to an audience at the Blackfriars! As you can see in the diagram below, the actor could be under the stage in the trap door standing in front of a mirror, and the glass sheet could be used to project his image to the audience. The only concern would be that this could limit the blocking of the other actors, and it might not make the ghost visible to the audience members in the upper galleries, but it would still be an impressive visual effect that uses scientific principles known in the 17th century.
Pepper’s Ghost illusions are still used frequently in theme parks, trade shows, and concerts where singers interact with “holograms.” As a special Halloween treat, (or trick as the case may be), I’ve included a video that will allow you to make your own Pepper’s ghost at home. If you choose to make one, leave me a comment!
So, in conclusion, though we are taught that Shakespeare’s theater often reveled in simplistic theatrical designs, I personally think that there is more room to explore low-tech theatrical illusions like these, especially at companies like the Globe Theater and the American Shakespeare Company, which pride themselves on using Shakespeare’s original staging practices. Live theater has dodged giving up its ghost for 2,000 years by exploring the limits of live theater through movement, voice, story, music, and yes spectacle. I think theater practitioners, even Original Practitioners should keep innovating new kinds of spectacular means to keep creating fresh interpretations of Shakespeare, that still keep within the spirit of the play’s original time and place.
Bonus: If you want to learn more about the stage illusions of Shakespeare’s company, click here to listen to That Shakespeare Life Podcast with Cassidy Cash. In this episode, she interviews theater professor Frank Mohler, who describes how thunder and flying effects were done in the 17th century, using records of the period, and his own experimentation.
This book Demonology influenced Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet in ways I’ll get into later. It was written by King James himself, and it takes the form of a dialogue, that is, an intellectual conversation where the concept of witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, etc is explained, debated, and questioned between two imaginary people.
In the video, Youtuber Andrew Rakich, known for his history series, Checkmate Linconites, (where he plays two characters who argue about the Civil War from a Union and Confederate perspective) has done a dramatic reading of the whole book in the accent of 1600s England. It’s part audio book, part history lesson, part linguistics lesson, and all great!
Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
Just like in Dr. Faustus, James theorizes that the Devil lets all so-called sorcerers and necromancers believe they have power over him, to deceive them later.
For as the humor of Melancholie in the selfe is blacke, heauie and terrene, so are the symptomes thereof, in any persones that are subject therevnto, leannes, palenes, desire of solitude: and if they come to the highest degree therof, mere folie and Manie:
This passage echoes Hamlet’s description of his own meloncholy, and his fear that The Devil might be trying to use his melocholy to conjure up his father in order to damn him:
The spirit that I have seen 600May be the devil, and the devil hath power 601To assume a pleasing shape; yea, and perhaps 602Out of my weakness and my melancholy, 603As he is very potent with such spirits,
603. As . . . spirits: i.e., because he has great influence on those who have a temperament such as mine. 604Abuses me to damn me. I’ll have grounds
604. Abuses: deludes. If the Ghost is deceiving Hamlet about King Claudius’ guilt, and Hamlet kills him, Hamlet would be a murderer, and therefore damned. 605More relative than this: the play’s the thing 606Wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the king.
Hamlet, Act II, Scene ii, reprinted from Shakespeare Navigators.com.
For that is the difference betuixt Gods myracles and the Deuils, God is a creator, what he makes appeare in miracle, it is so in effect. As Moyses rod being casten downe, was no doubt turned in a natural Serpent: [pg 023]where as the Deuill (as Gods Ape) counterfetting that by his Magicians, maid their wandes to appeare so, onelie to mennes outward senses: as kythed in effect by their being deuoured by the other. For it is no wonder, that the Deuill may delude our senses, since we see by common proofe, that simple juglars will make an hundreth thinges seeme both to our eies and eares otherwaies then they are. Now as to the Magicians parte of the contract, it is in a word that thing, which I said before, the Deuill hunts for in all men.
Demonology, Chapter 6, p. 23
It’s very useful to conceptualize what the early Jacobeans thought the difference was between God and the Devil, and thus the difference between divine miracles and hellish charms. In James’ eyes, all magic and demonic arts were mere illusions, designed to play upon men’s senses and draw the intended victim into the Devil’s power. Obviously, since all of theater rests upon such illusion, it’s no wonder Shakespeare portrays magic onstage in his most popular works. In particular, this passage calls to mind the magic of Prospero, who is able to conjure spirits fo a while, but they all eventually dissolve:
146. mov’d sort: troubled state. 147As if you were dismay’d: be cheerful, sir. 148Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
148. revels: festivity, entertainment. 149As I foretold you, were all spirits and 150Are melted into air, into thin air: 151And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
151. baseless fabric: structure without a physical foundation. 152The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces, 153The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
153. the great globe itself: all the world, [and the theater] >>> 154Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
154. all which it inherit: all who live on it. 155And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
155. insubstantial: without material substance. 156Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
156. rack: wisp of cloud driven before the wind. 157As dreams are made on, and our little life 158Is rounded with a sleep.
The Tempest, Act IV, Scene i.
For although, as none can be schollers in a schole, & not be subject to the master thereof: so none can studie and put in practize (for studie the alone, and knowledge, is more perilous nor offensiue; and it is the practise only that makes the greatnes of the offence.) the cirkles and art of Magie, without committing an horrible defection from God: And yet as they that reades and learnes their rudiments, are not the more subject to anie schoole-master, if it please not their parentes to put them to the schoole thereafter; So they who ignorantly proues these practicques, which I cal the deuilles rudiments, vnknowing them to be baites, casten out by him, for trapping such as God will permit to fall in his hands: This kinde of folkes I saie, no doubt, ar to be judged the best of, in respect they vse no invocation nor help of him (by their knowledge at least) in these turnes, and so haue neuer entred themselues in Sathans seruice; Yet to speake truely for my owne part (I speake but for my selfe) I desire not to make so neere riding: For in my opinion our enemie is ouer craftie, and we ouer weake (except the greater grace of God) to assay such hazards, wherein he preases to trap vs.
Demonology Chapter 5, page 15.
It almost seems in this passage that James is covering his tracks against any detractors who might be wondering if he himself might be damned for knowing so much about witchcraft. Accordingly, he asserts that the knowledge of witchcraft is perfectly lawful, it’s the practice that damns the scholar.