Mantrap: Playing BILLY BUDD

An experiment in "doing things with novels" using Ivanhoe in Hunter College's ENGL 399 course

Mantrap: The Billy Budd game, team 1.

Playing since: March 28, 2016


Game Description

This game’s players are: Jimmy, Devon, Ari, Kate, and Ellie.

Our “gamified” Billy Budd will be unlike any novel you’re read and unlike any game you’ve played (though for RPG fans, maybe a bit more familiar). Each of us will play one or more roles. Roles can be:

  • “inside” the text of Billy Budd (and remember, it’s already an “inside” story): Billy, Claggart, and Vere, of course, but also more peripheral characters might be fun to play, fleshing out aspects of characters or exploring things that happen “offstage” in ways that Melville’s text ignores or represses, the narrator of the text (who, remember, is neither a character nor Melville, as we’ve explored via Iser’s work)
  • “outside” the text but around it: Melville himself, of course, but also his family members or heirs (he died before finishing the novella), the publishers of the various editions of Billy Budd (first published in 1924), the first wave of reviewers and critics to engage it in the 1920s, more recent interpreters of it, such as Peter Ustinov, writer/director of the 1962 film version, and so on

From within your role, you can do at least three things:

  • make a move
  • respond to a move
  • reflect on a move

How do you win? There’s no winning.

When is it over? When the syllabus says so, and then only if we’re bored.

How will be be evaluated? As much as I’d like to evaluate you on how much fun you’ve had, I’ll have to stick with the quantity/quality of the writing you’ve doneMore detail to follow…

Prefer to, sir.


…and yet, if you fail to publish, I will lie for all eternity in a jappanned box in a musty attic. Vita brevis, ars longa is the word. Narrators need to be duplicated and cast to the four winds to do their bidding. Related

What’s in my mind?


Ah! Was that a knock? Most likely a debt collector at my door. Why did I ever decide to pursue publication of my novels if the critics tear apart any story I write. Who’s to purchase a story that is bestowed such a harsh critique by a critic that is simply ridden by jealousy and envy. They … View More


It’s the happy family here


Mumford, was Baby Budd’s passing entirely my doing? This could not be. Is Billy Budd so entirely separate from me? You speak of natural and formal law, but if Billy Budd be handsome and pure, where then, does that leave me? If opposites be black and white, perhaps I am beneath even the deceitful Claggart who whispered … View More

You Will Die in the Dawning


Oh, Baby Budd. You are but an Adam among a ship of serpents. Claggart hated you simply because your goodness opposed his evil, and your maker could not be bothered to fashion either of you as more than heavy-handed Platonic forms. If Claggart was a snake, his hatred of you was its venom: seemingly causeless … View More


Killing Blow


Oh G-G-G-God, I-I-I killed C-C-Claggart. I d-d-didn’t m-mean to, i-i-it just ha-ha-happened. C-C-Cap’n V-Vere b-b-b-bound m-me in c-chains, s-s-said I-I-I had to g-g-g-go to t-t-t-t-trial. I d-d-don’t l-l-like this. I d-didn’t me-mean to k-kill h-h-h-him. Related

’Tis but thy name that is my enemy


Death is not swift. I had long pondered what visage hell would take before it wrapped its dark cloak around me, but I had not once considered thus. The moment before my fall, trapped endlessly in that singular space in time as the musket ball digs itself a home in my chest. ‘Tis a time that … View More

To all my family: the real MVPs


Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 8.43.12 AM

Just as I had expected, Clarel, had sold so poorly that I had to accept any monetary gifts from my relatives so that I could pay for printing costs that I may have given all of you my unfinished novella Billy Budd. Praises to my wife, Lizzie, who would spend all day copying down all my writings as well as … View More



Dear Diary, Today something really scary happened and I don’t know what to do. I was taking a quick nap when someone shaked me by the shoulder and told me to go meet someone on a balcony. I figured that it was important and I went over and a shadowy man started telling some weird … View More

My Life, My Work, My Melville


Recent Books - The New Yorker - 03.30.1929

My recent biography of Herman has been briefly noted in The New Yorker, a paper whose good editors I deeply respect. Perhaps I’ll find time to make a contribution in the near future. While I have been vocal in my criticism of Billy Budd, I feel I should reiterate my deep affinity for not only Herman … View More

Mood: Apathetic


I’m feeling gloomier than the stormiest day upon the most unsuccessful whaling trip. Unimpressed to find that numerous writers have tried to “finish” my prose. I must say, “Billy Budd” was left imperfect for a reason. It was fine just the way it was, really. It was complete with incomplete endings. Related