play: for tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings

anonymous asked:

Hello Duke! (Is it courtesy to curtsy here first?) I'm in a Shakespeare seminar and our final is tomorrow, and I just stumbled across your blog and found it absolutely fascinating. As you are both an actor and academic, I was curious what are some limits of Elizabethan staging that you've noticed and have actually added to the dramatic effect (no lighting, curtains, etc.)? I noticed that you were writing on how the addition of modern elements to the Globe was a terrible idea - I agree!

Hello! I actually find that the “limitations” of a early modern staging are not limitations at all. Early modern plays were designed to work perfectly in the spaces playwrights had available and with the limited technology they had on had (for instance, actors didn’t need microphones because a space like the Globe is built to resonate like the inside of a guitar). The only thing required is the audience’s imagination. Consider the prologue to Henry V, where the chorus begs the audience to  

Suppose within the girdle of these walls 
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man, 
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times, 
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

In much the same way, characters will often draw attention to the time of day or the weather. We don’t need any light or sound effects to know what the weather’s like up on the ramparts at Elsinore because Hamlet tells us: “The air bites shrewdly; It is very cold.” You can act midnight scenes in broad daylight so long as your characters make those conditions clear: “Here stood he in the dark, his sharp sword out.” What’s great about this is that there’s nothing at all to distract from the performers and the text. No lights, so sound, no fancy props or costumes. It’s all about the story. That, in my opinion, is a huge asset, and it’s a large part of the reason I prefer early modern theatre. It doesn’t need a bunch of expensive electronic gimmicks to work. That’s real theatre.

The basic outline for a DnD/Pathfinder Campaign:

The Shakespeare Campaign


War, terrible war, has come to the Italian Coast!

In the West, King Lear has died along with all of his heirs and the throne of Illyria stands vacant. After a brief struggle for control among the nobles, Duke Orsino has gained the support of Illyria’s nobility and now intends to place himself on the throne by marrying the last living member of Old Lear’s family: Lady Olivia.

To the East, the island of Messaline has taken advantage of Illyria’s succession crisis to declare itself independent of their rival. Even now, the Duke of Messaline plans to travel to get aid from mainland Europe. As the campaign begins, the Duke and his twin children, Sebastian and Viola, travel to Aragon to ask Don Pedro for money and arms.

So the two nations call upon their allies across the Mediterranean to stand with them and prepare for war. Italy’s kingdoms are divided, some siding with Messaline and others with Illyria. If shots are fired, the conflict could spread as far as France and Spain.

Only the Doge of Venice, a wise man who knows the cost of war, seeks a diplomatic solution to the madness. To this end, he has hired the pirate captain Antonio to take his airship Portia, and find the mighty wizard Prospero, who disappeared from Milan on the twelfth night of June.

But some people whisper that there is an unseen force behind this war, an inhuman mastermind who plots a terrible revenge upon Prospero, Italy, and all Mankind!

For reasons all your own, you have answered the call to join Antonio’s expedition and have prepared yourself to set sail for an adventure that will take you to undiscovered countries.

You enter the small tavern described in Captain Antonio’s letter and across the hustle and bustle of sailors and barmaids, you find the Captain sitting at a table near the rear of the building…


Welcome to the Shakespeare Campaign, a Pathfinder Campaign featuring characters and settings inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare.

As a participant in this campaign, you are about to take a journey through the mind of a master of the English language. This setting is designed to try to capture the essence of the source material and create a high fantasy environment based on the Bard’s more fanciful tales. So before playing, Players and Game Masters are encouraged to watch and or read a few Shakespeare plays to brush up, although it’s not necessary.

The main plot of the campaign is based around the idea that, with a little editing, five of Shakespeare’s plays could occur in the same universe with shared characters: Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice, Two Gentleman of Verona, Twelfth Night, and The Tempest. Other characters from other plays also make appearances and connections between characters in different plays are created that didn’t exist before. For example: Captain Antonio from Twelfth Night is now the same Antonio who nearly lost a pound of flesh in the Merchant of Venice, Valentine from Two Gentleman of Verona is apparently a distant member of the Capulet family, and Petruchio from Taming of the Shrew is a Montague and he’s Romeo’s cousin.

As for the Campaign’s time period, players are going to have to give us a little leeway. Most of the setting occurs a fictional “Clockpunk” interpretation of the 1500s English Renaissance but with deliberate adjustments and anachronisms throughout. By the late 16th century, the Italian Renaissance was long dead and the romantic, enlightened Italian characters of Shakespeare’s comedies simply didn’t exist anymore. So much of Shakespeare’s writing covers a bygone age, even at the time that it was written hundreds of years ago. Even though this game officially occurs during the height of Shakespeare’s writing period, the Italian characters will make no mention of the various outside countries that owned or invaded Italy at the time because this isn’t the real Italy, its Shakespeare’s idea of Italy.

Trust us; it isn’t as weird as it sounds

So keeping all of this in mind, prepare to enter into a world of passion and pain and humanity and loss and romance. A world divided by race and class and history and mystery. This is a world with Ghosts, Wizards, Witches, Mischievous Fairies, and Murderous Kings. An age that existed in the mind of one man (or multiple men or a woman using a pseudonym or aliens depending on the interpretation) the world of the Shakespeare Campaign!

Before we move on, here are a few words from the man himself:

And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o’er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.

(From Henry V, Prologue, Act 1, Scene 1)

Playable Races

“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players.” As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

Humanity in this campaign, as in real life, is a multifaceted race of many cultures. Primarily this campaign will deal with Europeans, it would not be impossible for every human race to find its way into the lands of Shakespearean Europe. Players who play a human are encouraged to use a name found in one of Shakespeare’s plays or a period appropriate name, for example : Baltus, Cordelia, Malvolio, Helena, Hermia, Iago, or Falstaff.

Alternate rules: To add a little spice to the game, GMs are encouraged to allow players from different races to have different problems/benefits related to their culture. For example, Jews in Europe were heavily persecuted and discriminated against but their long history of Jewish mysticism and scholarship might make them natural mages and sorcerers.

Italian (Default)- +1 to all tests involving navigation, cartography
Asian- may suffer -1 social when dealing with European NPCs, +1 to all tests involving guns
Danish or Norwegian- +1 resistance to cold
French- may suffer -1 social when dealing with British NPCs, +1 to all tests involving Charm
British (English or Welsh) - +1 to all tests involving bows and swords.
Scottish- +1 to all tests involving clubs or large swords.
Moorish- may suffer -1 social when dealing with European NPCs, + 1 to Intelligence
Jewish- may suffer -1 social when dealing with European NPCs, +1 to all tests using Magic
Spanish- may suffer -1 social to all British NPCs, +1 to all tests involving naval warfare

Note: Since race can be a tricky topic that can distract from play, these rules should be considered strictly optional.

Grecian Elves
“Swifter than the moon’s sphere. I serve the Fairy Queen.”- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 2, Scene 1

The enchanted woods around Athens are home to many mythic races: satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, dryads, and even treants. But none are as numerous and as respected as the High Elves of Athens. It is assumed that they are descended from the Greek Gods themselves, born into the world from the union of Aphrodite and Hephaestus. They are long lived, beautiful, and possessing the kind of wildness not found in most other High Elves. Their chief is Oberon, King of all the woodlands and fields from Athens to Arcadia and using his powerful magic he stands watch against the dark things of the world, a source of harmony wherever he goes. Oberon’s marriage, however, is not a source of harmony. He and his wife Titania have a fierce, passionate marriage with loud disagreements, endless threats of divorce or dissolution, and rampant infidelity on both sides. While they have never failed to ultimately reunite, their marital strife tends to be a huge source of upheaval in Woodland Society. A few rough patches are normal in a marriage, 1200 years of rough patches is the definition of a toxic relationship. Many political factions have risen up in the Forest Realm as a result of these disagreements with various courtiers leading factions in favor of the king or in favor of the queen or both at the same time. For this reason, many elves prefer to go off wandering for decades, returning when the sectarian violence caused by Oberon and Titania’s “passion” has died down.

Note: Most Grecian Elves prefer to name their children after small, natural objects that bring them pleasure. For example: Cobweb, Pease Blossom, Mustardseed, Bee Wing, and Hawk Feather

Scottish Dwarves
“Does he have such a high opinion of you because I’m so short?”- A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 3, Scene 2

While most Dwarves prefer the mountains in places like Iceland, Russia, or the Alps, there is one breed of Dwarf who digs deep in the Highlands and builds up mighty strongholds alongside black lakes. The Scottish Dwarf is a mighty being, who stands 3 inches taller than all other Dwarves. For this reason they are called “Glenn”, which means “Deep” in old Gaelic. While they retain much of the Old Dwarvish ways, the Glenn have certain cultural distinctions that only their kin lay claim to. For one thing they do not dig as deeply into the earth as other Dwarves and their mines are often large open air pits instead of twisting tunnels in mountainsides. Furthermore they tend to wear kilts, like their human neighbors, and carry swords. They have a fondness for human ales and consider it superior to the thick liquid bread favored by other Dwarven kingdoms. They even enjoy the bagpipe and drum, also like the human Scots who share their lands. But unlike the Scots, the Dwarves do not assemble in clans and instead maintain the complex “stronghold government” of their Dwarf kinsmen. Dwarves live in a stronghold (which is a mine, a city, and a fortress all at once) and each of these strongholds are ruled over by a Thane or Earl, and he is ruled over by a Lord, who is himself ruled over by the High King. This rigid hierarchy was originally designed to keep the peace among warring nobles but lately that peace has been in shambles when a dwarf named Macbeth seized the throne and ruled the land as a mad tyrant. The nobles, now led by an alliance of wronged parties, revolted against Macbeth and his Half Elf Wife, Lady Macbeth. In the throes of madness, the King exiled many of his enemies both real and imagined and created a large Glenn Diaspora who now wanders the world in search of shelter.

“In black ink my love may still shine bright.”-Sonnet 65

Elves (and some Drow) are very beautiful creatures and thus attract the attentions from many different races. As the focus of so much passion, Half Elves have become increasingly more common, much to the chagrin of many Elven monarchs who dislike seeing their bloodlines mixed with mortal peasants.

“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”–The Merchant of Venice, Act 3, Scene 1

Half Orcs are a pathetic people, looked upon with disdain and generally feared as brutes descended from other brutes. Many Half-Orcs find themselves dropped on the doorsteps of orphanages or sold into slavery by human mothers who either regret consorting with Orcs or had not choice in the matter to begin with…

Egyptian Tengu
“Like a white dove in a flock of crows.” – Romeo and Juliet, Act 1, Scene 5

The mysterious bird people of Asia seem alien and monstrous but have a rich cultural heritage that stretches back centuries. Many of the Western Tengu are descended from a small colony that travelled across Asia to the Mediterranean and settled on an island near the African Coast. Known among their people as the Horus Flock, these Tengu had close relations with the Egyptians and were a common sight in the court of the Ptolemy Pharaohs. Anthony and Cleopatra were known to have several Tengu in their body guard. To this day, many of the Egyptian Tengu still wears the clothing of their ancient ancestors and worship the old Egyptian Gods. Sadly, this colony of Tengu died out mysteriously and the location of their island was lost. The remaining members of their race live in scattered communities across Southern Europe in small working class neighborhoods. Considered hard working, but strange folk, the Tengu tend to live quietly.


“All that glisters is not gold”- The Merchant of Venice, Act 2, Scene 7

As the very first scientists, Alchemists set off in search of the impossible dream of endless wealth only to instead find endless knowledge and the science that would ultimately become chemistry. While the Alchemists in this campaign could indeed turn lead into gold, they are just as likely to heal an injury or cure a sickness…or make a poison…

“If Music be the food of love, play on!”- Twelfth Night, Act 1, Scene 1

Minstrels and Bards and theatre folk were very important to the society of the Renaissance, spreading thoughts and ideas across borders and cultures. Some Bards even traveled on the road and put on plays, some built grand theatres to entertain countless masses of people. One even worked at the Globe in London…

“And, upon this charge cry ’God for Harry! England and Saint George!’”- Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1

Gone are the knights and paladins of old and in their place rises a new class of hero: the Cavalier! Charging forward into battle, past the frontlines and towards their goals, the Cavalier is a dashing figure who swings a shining sword that glints in the sunlight. Don’t bother wishing them luck…for they need it not.

“Now, God be praised….”- Henry VI, Act 2, Scene 1

Religion in Shakespeare’s Europe had a complicated history. Yes, it was indeed a source of conflict, war, and strife. But it was also a source of comfort and social bonding that assured the meek that their toil would not go unrewarded and reminded the powerful that the defense of their people was their sacred duty.

Sample Real World Alignment Chart for Cleric PCs
(Monotheistic Religions can apply their deity to any “Domain” within their alignment; Polytheistic Religions should merely chose one of the appropriate gods in their pantheon and apply it to that domain.)

Christianity: Lawful Good
Judaism: Lawful Good
Islam: Lawful Good
Hinduism: Lawful Good
Egyptian Pagan: Lawful Good
Buddhism: Neutral Good
Norse Pagan: Chaotic Good
Taoism: True Neutral
Greco Roman Pagan: Chaotic Neutral
Satanic Worship: Lawful Evil
Typhon: Neutral Evil
Great Old Ones: Chaotic Evil

Note: Since human religion can be a tricky topic, use of the Cleric class and the religious alignment chart should be considered optional only.

“Come not between the dragon and his wrath!”- King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1

Though they were hardly cut from the same cloth as the noble Cavaliers or the Paladins of ages past, many a sell sword found work during Late Renaissance thanks to the dozens of wars that raged across Europe at the time. The difference between a Fighter and Cavalier was often money, Cavaliers are typically noblemen and Fighters were usually just good with a sword.

“…knowledge is the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.” –Henry VI Part 2, Act 4 Scene 7

Christian Monastics were well known in Europe and there are still many wandering friars and clergy willing to travel across the world in search of a place to spread the word of their God. But not all Monks have to be Christian. A Monk PC could be a Hindu Fakir traveling West to see where the Silk Road ends, or a Muslim Imam who wishes to increase his knowledge of Allah’s beautiful creation, or even a Shaolin Buddhist in search of the ultimate source of enlightenment

“Some Cupid kills with arrows, some with traps.”-Much Ado About Nothing, Act 3, Scene 1

Despite centuries of settlement, a portion of Europe remained wild and unsettled. Wild wolves still roamed the Iberian Peninsula and wild deer run through the fields in the British Isles. So men and women with the skills to live off the land are still a prized part of society who could help provide food and faster routes of travel. Rangers in this era have an advantage over nature that their kind have never had before: the Musket.

“Where we are, there’s daggers in men’s smiles…”- Macbeth, Act 2, Scene 3

The 1500s saw the rise of the Golden Age of Piracy on the oceans and organized crime in the city. A person who knows how to be subtle and pick a pocket or two would be highly prized by the proto crime lords of the Elizabethan Era.

“Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”-Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1

Every society has someone sitting at the edge, even magical societies. Witches perhaps don’t quite fit in with the stuffy world of magical colleges or libraries. Here at the edge between the wild and civilization, the Witches hunch over their cauldrons and whisper words to their familiars…

“For I can here disarm thee with this stick and make thy weapon drop!”-The Tempest, Act 1, Scene 2

While the Renaissance was an exciting time for the advancement of human knowledge, it was still a time when mankind had a strong belief in magic. When people whispered old words over stones to tell their fortunes or buried locks of hair to keep their beloved close. Magic still rules the day.

A (Role) Play Game in Seven Acts

Act One
Venice: A Pound of Flesh

You and your fellow adventurers are hired by the Doge of Venice to follow Captain Antonio on an expedition to find the lost Milenese wizard Prospero. But before you can depart, it seems one of Captain Antonio’s sins has come back to haunt him…

Dramatis Persone

The Doge

Act Two
Verona: A Pox on Both Your Houses

You first travel to Verona to meet with two friends of Captain Antonio’s: Valentine and Proteus, two gentlemen of Verona. But upon arriving in the city, you discover that there will be no warm welcome for the entire city has gone mad! The Prince’s nephew Paris and his cousin Mercutio have died by violence! Tybalt of House Capulet has been murdered! The only son of Old Montague has committed suicide and alongside him the only daughter of Old Capulet. Chaos spreads across the land! And now the city has taken up arms in revolt, each side blaming the other for these young deaths…

Dramatis Persone

Streets of Verona
Prince Escalus
Pertruchio of House Montague
Valentine of House Capulet
Proteus, Valentine’s friend
Old Montague
Prince’s men

House Capulet
Old Capulet
Lady Capulet
The Apothecary
Mad Men

Act Three
Athens and later the Forest of Arden: All the World’s A Stage

Athens is under Goblin attack and the mighty hero Theseus calls for aid. All the lands of men and Elves empty of soldiers to fight off the green horde and the crew of the airship Portia answers the call to action. Perhaps if you join the fight you can meet the Elven King Oberon and ask him a favor….

Dramatis Persone

Grimwhisker the Gnoll
Spider-eye the Goblin
Goblin soldiers
Gnoll warriors
Athenian Hoplites
Elven Warriors

Frederick the Usurper
Duke Senior
Frederick’s Men

Act Four
Scotland: For Whom the Bell Tolls

As your party heads towards Denmark, a terrible snow storm forces the airship to land in the wild Scottish countryside where you are rescued by a tribe of Scottish Dwarves. Inside a darkened stronghold, the Dwarven Thane Macduff tells you a story of murder and evil…

Dramatis Persone

Castle Macbeth in ruins
Thane Macduff
King Malcolm
Siward of England
Dwarven Warriors
English Soldiers

The Dark Forest
The Wyrd Sisters
The Mysterious Shade
Drow Bandits
Sycorax’s Tengu

Act Five
Denmark: Something Rotten in the State of Denmark

After finally making your way to the castle of King Fortinbras, you find that Prospero and his company have already come and gone. But there may be some evidence of their ultimate destination in the deserted castle of Old King Hamlet. “But you mustn’t go there,” The courtiers’ whisper, “that is a terrible place…”

Dramatis Persone

Castle Fortinbras
King Fortinbras

Castle Hamlet
Shades of Hamlet, the King, the Queen, and others
Dire rats

Act Six
Sicily and later the Isle of Prospero: The Stuff that Dreams Are Made Of

On your way to Prospero’s old island home, you stop in Sicily at the home of Leonato, Governor of Messina, to attend the wedding of his niece, Beatrice, to Sir Benedict, a lord of Aragon. It promises to be a merry affair and a good rest after a long journey. But an Oracle from Delphi sent by King Oberon arrives and gives a terrible warning…

Dramatis Persone

Don Pedro
The Elf King’s Soothsayer

Prospero’s Island
Caliban’s Children
Sycorax’s Tengu

Act Seven
Illyria: Or What You Will

The final villain of the plot stands revealed: Sycorax the fiendish witch and mother of Caliban. She seeks Prospero to avenge the death of her son and she doesn’t care who she hurts on her way to that goal. Now you race against time to avert a terrible, terrible war. So Antonio turns the airship toward Illyria, charging through the naval blockades to house of Duke Orsino…

Dramatis Persone

Duke Orsino
Countess Olivia
Sir Toby
Prospero the Fool
Sir Andrew
Orsino’s Guards
Olivia’s Guards
Sycorax’s Tengu Warriors
Sycorax’s Tengu Ninjas
Baphomet, demonic husband of Sycorax



O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend
The brightest heaven of invention,
A kingdom for a stage, princes to act
And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!
Then should the warlike Harry, like himself,
Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels,
Leash’d in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire
Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all,
The flat unraised spirits that have dared
On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth
So great an object: can this cockpit hold
The vasty fields of France? or may we cram
Within this wooden O the very casques
That did affright the air at Agincourt?
O, pardon! since a crooked figure may
Attest in little place a million;
And let us, ciphers to this great accompt,
On your imaginary forces work.
Suppose within the girdle of these walls
Are now confined two mighty monarchies,
Whose high upreared and abutting fronts
The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder:
Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts;
Into a thousand parts divide on man,
And make imaginary puissance;
Think when we talk of horses, that you see them
Printing their proud hoofs i’ the receiving earth;
For ‘tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings,
Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times,
Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.