Click here to listen to the podcast version of my post “Shakespeare and Five Nights At Freddies.”
New Trailer/ Special offer on my Murder Mystery Game!
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.
Breaking up is hard to do
I have broken up with Hamlet on more than one occasion. The first time was in the Spring. It’s so lovely out, I thought, and this play is so tragic. Let’s read something more cheerful. We did. But the breakup didn’t take – Hamlet and I tried again a semester later. It didn’t last. It’s […]Breaking up is hard to do
This is a cool account of a teacher wrestling with the same questions I covered in my “Is Shakespeare Being Cancelled?” post. Really clever, insightful stuff.
Happy Spring! Watch “When Daffodils Begin to ‘pear.”
Happy First Day of Spring Everyone!
Today is (technically) the first day of Spring! I thought I’d give you a little lighthearted music inspired by Shakespeare to celebrate the turning of the seasons! The text comes from The Winter’s Tale:
When daffodils begin to peer, With heigh! The doxy over the dale, Why, then comes in the sweet o' the year; For the red blood reigns in the winter's pale. The white sheet bleaching on the hedge, With heigh! the sweet birds, O, how they sing! Doth set my pugging tooth on edge; For a quart of ale is a dish for a king.
Join Me On Discord for “Julius Caesar”
Romeo and Juliet Murder Mystery Course!
I’m pleased to announce my brand-new, fully immersive, fully online murder mystery game! Similar to my “Macbeth” and “Interactive Guide To London,” course, the course is a series of slides, videos, digital activities, and websites that you explore and complete based on your knowledge of a Shakespeare play. Unlike that course, this one also includes real-life science experiments and handy guides to both the play “Romeo and Juliet” and forensic science!
Background on the game
Through a series of slides, you’ll learn that you are playing the part of a detective, hired by Juliet’s parents to investigate her sudden death. You’ll read her obituary, look at a crime scene photo, and the story so far.
Parts of the course:
The class is divided into 8 parts that students can complete at their own pace over a 4-week period. Once you are signed up for the class, you will receive a link to a Nearpod Presentation that has links to all the online activities. You will also receive a detective case file, that will serve as your notes as you record your discoveries through the mystery. Finally, I will provide you with a course cheat sheet and a list of resources in case you need help through the various activities.
Week 1: The Scene Of the Crime
The student will learn, not only about the plot of “Romeo and Juliet,” but also the way real detectives and forensic scientists follow clues and try to solve crimes, in this case, an apparent death by poisoning.
Activity 1: Poison Analysis
In a pre-recorded video, The Investigator introduces himself. He is in the middle of doing a toxicology test on the vial found near Juliet’s bed. He explains that most poisons are either highly acidic or highly alkali (aka, bases). Testing the liquid’s PH will help you determine if the substance is poisonous or not.
In a short simulation via Nearpod, you will test multiple liquids for acidity or alkalinity. You’ll even learn how to test substances in your own home for acidity and for alkaline properties!
Week 2: Crime Scene Investigation
Using the Nearpod slides and a linked website, you’ll figure out what happened to Juliet’s cousin Tybalt the day before her own mysterious death.
Activity 3: Unlock Juliet’s Computer
Using Shakespeare’s text, you will decode a secret password to unlock Juliet’s website (Google Sites). Using Juliet’s (fake) Twitter account, you will read her account of the events of the play thus far. Each tweet is paraphrased from a line of Shakespearean
dialogue. Once you’ve read the fake tweets, you can play a game where you match them with the real Shakespearean dialogue.
Activity 4: Fingerprint Analysis
You will ‘scan’ a fingerprint found on the vial found in Juliet’s bed. The website will tell you who it’s from and you will record it in your case file. You’ll also learn how to take your own fingerprints, and the characteristics real detectives look for when analyzing them.
Week 4: Construct a Timeline/ Make the Arrest:
Using your case file, you will write the sequence of events thus far in your case file and write down information about the suspects (the characters in the play), in the format of a police dossier.
The activities will enrich the student(s)’ understanding of the plot and characters of “Romeo and Juliet” using the format of a murder mystery In addition, the students will learn the methods practiced by detectives, investigators, and forensic scientists when they solve real crimes including toxicology, fingerprint analysis, CSI, and interrogation techniques.
Please sign up now at www.outschool.com!
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.
Ira Aldridge: Actor and Abolitionist
Happy Black History Month Everyone! Today I’m paying tribute to a great actor and activist, Mr. Ira Aldridge (1807-1867).
Mr Ira Aldridge was not only a great actor but also an influential figure in the abolitionist movement. He rose from the depths of discrimination and dehumanization to become a famous, respected international actor. Furthermore, his life was marked by creating new opportunities for himself and other people of color.
Who Was Ira Aldridge?
True feeling and just expression are not confined to any clime or colour.Ira Adridge
Born in New York in 1807, Mr. Aldridge had dreams to found an all-black theater even as a teenager. His first job was with William Brown’s African Theatre, the first African American theater company. However, discrimination and racism blocked Mr. Aldridge from success in New York, when another theater manager “hired thugs to beat up the actors”. The theatre subsequently burned down and the actors were abused by the New York police. Undaunted, Aldridge decided to take his talents to England, boarding a ship, and arriving in the early 1820s. (Howard, qtd in Thorpe 1). Even though he faced discrimination and violence as a child, Mr. Aldridge would not be deterred. Soon his skill as a Shakespearean actor would soon command respect from all.3.) He refused to be defined by the color of his skin, but by his skill as an actor.
Success In Shakespeare
In order to become a professional actor, Ira Aldridge boarded a ship to London and became a Shakespearean actor in the early 1820s. He not only became the first black actor to play the role of Othello, he also played other roles such as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Gambia in The Slave, and other roles that denounced the evils of slavery:
Aldridge chose to play a lot of anti-slavery roles, including Othello, as well as the standard lead parts in the repertoire,” said Tony Howard, professor of English at Warwick University.
Not only did his performances call attention to the evils of slavery, they also challenged preconceived notions of what black people were capable of. As you can see in this reproduction of Mr. Aldridge’s 1851 tour advertisements, Ira Aldridge chose to bill himself as “The African Roscius,” a reference to an ancient Roman actor. His performances were heralded for his poise and dignity. The Leeds Times highlights “The passions he admirably portrayed in the human breast.”
No sooner did the Moor make his appearance, than I felt myself, I confess it, instantly subjugated, not by the terrible and menacing look of the hero, but by the naturalness, calm dignity, and by the stamp of power and force that he manifested.Ira Aldridge
From 1820 to his death in 1867, Mr. Aldridge toured more than 250 theatres across Britain and Ireland, and more than 225 theatres in Europe. Though he had much more success in Europe, Mr. Aldridge still had to confront prejudices. According to ArtUK.org:
One scathing (and racist) review for The Times claimed that: ‘His figure is unlucky for the stage; he is baker-knee’d and narrow-chested; and owing to the shape of his lips it is utterly impossible for him to pronounce English in such a manner as to satisfy even the fastidious ears of the gallery.’https://artuk.org/discover/stories/ira-aldridge-a-brief-visual-history-of-the-black-shakespearean-actor
Thus, Aldridge’s performances confronted and challenged racist views of whether or not a real black person could play Othello, subtly changing the hearts and minds of the European public, at a time when the question of slavery threatened to rip Europe, (and later the United States) apart.
Although Aldridge didn’t arrive in Britain with the sole purpose of promoting the abolitionist movement, his impressive skill, charisma and oratory capabilities inevitably swayed public opinion. He became known for directly addressing the audience about the injustices of slavery on the closing night of his play at a given theatre (Source: https://artuk.org/discover/stories/ira-aldridge-a-brief-visual-history-of-the-black-shakespearean-actor )
As I’ve written before, Shakespeare has a complicated relationship with the American Civil War, and ironically, many people in the Civil War were Shakespearean actors. More importantly, England at this time was deeply divided about whether or not to support the Union or the Confederacy. England was embroiled in the cotton trade with America, and thus had an economic incentive to support the South. At the same time, public opinion was very much against slavery at the time, and Aldridge helped keep England’s public within that mindset.
Ira Aldridge cared about abolitionism and making life better for black people, especially actors. Not only did he speak out against slavery onstage, he also helped change hearts and minds in local communities. According to ArtUK, in 1828, Mr. Aldridge was approached by Sir Skears Rew to become the new manager of the Coventry Theater. He was the first black man to manage an English theater. Aldridge became a beloved member of the community of Coventry and may have helped inspire the community to petition Parliament to abolish slavery. Thus, Mr. Aldridge’s success in Europe helped open doors for European black actors and encouraged the abolitionist movement, while his sympathetic portrayals of former slaves and oppressed peoples helped change hearts and minds.
Aldridge’s Influence Today
“Aldridge has always interested black stars, but the wider influence he had is not well known,” said Howard. “Robeson was a great fan of his, and when he came to London to play Othello in 1930 at the Savoy, he put on an exhibition about Aldridge in respect of his memory.”Vanessa Thorpe: “From 19th-century black pioneer to cultural ambassador of Coventry.” The Guardian, November 12th, 2016. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/nov/13/black-theatre-ira-aldridge-coventry-slavery
For nearly 100 years, actors and devotees of Mr. Aldridge have been inspired by his life. As the quote above indicates, the next great American Shakespearean Paul Robeson helped build his career on Aldridge’s success; being the first black man to play Othello on the American stage, and eventually touring Europe himself as an actor and a distinguished opera singer. Click below to read more about how Aldridge inspired generations of black actors, and his tours helped bring Shakespeare to many previously unknown European countries.
In modern films and plays, Mr. Aldridge is remembered as a hero, and rightfully so. In the play “Red Velvet,” actor Adrian Lester plays Aldridge and highlights his struggles and successful contributions to the theatre. He was not only a great actor but a dignified and courageous champion of the rights of all people. I’m proud to conclude my black history month posts with this review of the life and career of a man who inspires all Shakespeareans and turned his profession into a powerful call for change.
Stratford-upon-Avon’s first Black Othellos