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 2

Playing since: March 28, 2016


Game Description

This game’s players are: Nick, James, Romario, Greg, Liz, Miguel. 

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…

Mutiny, Masculinity, and Macrophallia


The male body is unmistakably lovely to male eyes; male same-sex desires run rampant, especially in such close quarters as that of a ship. But, why, Claggart, why is Billy the object of your homoerotic affection? The novella is centered about the hierarchical respect for its hero, in which the possibility of mutiny lingers at … View More

Rummaging in the drawers


Prologue libretto

Rummaging in the drawers today, I found a number of wonderful little paper artifacts, and so I thought maybe I’d let you in on a few.   This first one is an early attempt at the prologue libretto, the immediate opening of the opera in which we are introduced to a Vere alone, awash in his … View More

Humanizing Vere


Ah, of the shipfather to speak these words to his fated son–is he, Billy, the first pure man, Adamic in chastity only to stumble, or like the all-forgiving Christ whom the shipmates raise up at our work’s conclusion? We had a fair bit of trouble figuring out what we would do about Vere, that vehicle … View More

Budd It was Just a Dream


Last night I awoke in a feverish sweat from a most irregular dream.  In this dream I was once again witnessing the execution of Billy Budd, though through his own eyes.  I was him in this dream and every movement of mine was one of his on that day.  I watched the sun rising, heard the … View More

Budd How Will They Remember Me?


The sun was just rising and the day was upon us. As I looked upon my fellow crewmates I heard eight bells ring in the distance. The intensity filled me with awe: a spectacle for me to be an object of pleasure. The law was right, the law was true and so I must make … View More

Budd Vere, I Understand.


               But Vere, did my conscription not serve as a means to eventually justify my end? If you truly understood our natures as good captains are aware of their crew, then the conclave might’ve ended differently. However, I respect you for acting justly within your authority and considering my crime as it is and no more … View More

Just who is Claggart?


perhaps not my intention to make him in anywhere especially ‘in a closet’ but rather just bear the symbol of evil. Given that he has almost no background, it is most left inconclusive but I can see how that is. Let me reveal: what’s in a name? A name like any other would it still … View More