Jun 19, 2017
Now is the cryonic stasis of our discontent…
Just kidding. That would be super goofy. Though, for Proteus, it would be fitting. As I’ve mentioned throughout the campaign, Proteus is indeed an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Richard III. Up until now, I haven’t really gone into any great depth on what that means, and I’m sure it’s had some people baffled. How does one take a 435 year-old historical play about a conniving English king and set on a massive spaceship full of cyborgs?
I’ll tell you.
The idea of taking Shakespeare’s stories and retelling them in new settings is not new. It’s possible you’ve even seen one without realizing it (The Lion King, for instance, or Ten Things I Hate About You). By far my absolute favorite of these stories is a cult classic 1956 science fiction film called Forbidden Planet.
You may recall that I’ve spoken about Forbidden Planet before: it was a huge inspiration for Tantalus Depths. The exploration of a planet filled with ancient technology left behind by an extinct race, the pervasive tone of dread that permeated the movie, the presence of a robot that can build anything its master demands, these are the elements of Forbidden Planet that influenced Tantalus Depths. Something else about that film inspired the very concept of Proteus, however.
Forbidden Planet is a direct adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. From the moment that I learned of this connection (which was long after I’d seen the movie several dozen times) I became obsessed with it. In several classes throughout my academic career, I wrote lengthy essays deconstructing the parallels between The Tempest and Forbidden Planet. Some parallels are obvious: the planet Altair IV is home only to a brilliant scientist and his naïve daughter, who has never known the outside world. This lines up easily with the wizard Prospero who raised his daughter alone on the island they’d been marooned on. Both Prospero and Dr. Morbius discover sources of incredible power on the island left behind by long-gone predecessors: the hyper-advanced technology of the Krell in one case, the lingering magical influence of the witch Sycorax in another. The comparisons go on and on.
What interested me even more than the parallels between the stories were the areas where they diverged, however. For instance: Prospero’s two servants, the ethereal spirit Ariel and the treacherous troglodyte Caliban are essentially merged into one character in Forbidden Planet: Robbie the Robot. Morbius himself is less of a direct interpretation of Prospero and more of a dark mirror, showing what could have happened if Prospero allowed his pursuit of knowledge and power to go too far and consume him.
I could go on and on for ages about this (and I have, as several of my professors can attest) but obviously you’re not here for an essay on Forbidden Planet. So let me tie that in with the story I’m telling in Proteus.
The story of Richard III is, to oversimplify things terribly, about a man’s quest for power. Richard is the youngest of three brothers, and last in line for the throne. After having played an integral role in securing the throne for his family following a lengthy war of succession, Richard now finds himself underappreciated and ill-used. His physical deformities and his notoriety on the battlefield have left him ill-suited for a time of peace, and he feels that society has left him behind.
So Richard goes on a campaign of regicide, manipulating and backstabbing his way to the top with a devious plot George R. R. Martin wishes he was twisted enough to conceive. Richard kills off his own siblings and their entire families down to the last child, he seduces the widow of a man he killed at his own funeral purely to see if he can get away with it. He relishes in his own villainy as he stabs his way to the top, and, for a time at least, he gets everything he wanted.
This is the story I’m adapting. Jacob Sicarius is my Richard. He was destined to receive a crown of his own when The Somnambule arrived at its destination, but when his pod is sabotaged, he loses that promised glory forever. Like Richard, he too is “deformed, unfinished, scarce half-made up,” but rather than physical deformity, Jacob is a cyborg, with mechanical parts replacing those he lost in his own war. He too has three brothers, all three of which posing a threat of some kind to the kind of order he wishes to establish on this ship.
As Forbidden Planet took some plotlines and characters and reworked them, so does Proteus. While Richard gleefully states “I am determined to prove a villain,” Jacob is more morally complex. He is capable of horrific deeds, but his goals are noble, and his constant conflict with the targeting AI fighting for dominance of his brain creates even more complexity in his character. The war in Proteus is not about seizing a throne for a ruling family, but about preserving the fate of the thousands of colonists aboard the ship.
Many characters have been changed. Some have been combined, some have been flipped around to mirror versions of themselves. Some are as perfectly true to their original nature as they could be in an environment so unlike Shakespeare’s version of the tale. If you’re familiar with Shakespeare, you will certainly find dozens of fascinating interpretations of the original story. If you aren’t, you’ll get the benefit of reading a story ripped off of one of the best storytellers of all time, so either way, you can’t go wrong!