I think it’s fair to say Resident Evil 7 took most people by surprise. Resident Evil is a series that had long ago made the switch from horror to vaguely horror themed action. Seven was a breath of fresh air to old school Resident Evil fans, and a big giant shrug to newer fans who insist that “The gameplay in Six is so good though. You just have to play Mercenaries mode, and the rest of that terrible game you sat through will be worth it.” Seven is a genuinely scary game and that’s mostly due to its characters and story. The story is a little bit ridiculous and contradictory at times, sure, but plenty of good stories are. Even Shakespeare was a bit ridiculous at times. I know what you’re thinking. Or at the very least what you would be thinking if you hadn’t read the title of this article: “That was a weird comparison to make, and seemed sort of out of place. Is there a reason he made a Shakespeare reference right now?” Yes, there is. It’s because contained within the plot of Resident Evil 7 is a classical Shakespearean tragedy.
First I should get something out of the way. You are not playing the Shakespearean tragedy. The playable character, Ethan experiences what we would call in classical theater a comedy. He survives to the end, he doesn’t experience any major loss, and he doesn’t really even have enough characterization to have a fatal character flaw. The true tragedy in this game is the story of Jack Baker. Yes, the father of the Baker family goes through a series of twists and turns that each knock him down a peg until eventually he dies. It’s not in iambic pentameter (although now that I say that I really wish it was) and it’s not quite on the level of Hamlet in terms of its writing and nuance, but it’s at least as good as Coriolanus and with at least twice as many guns.Yes, you think Coriolanus has no guns, but be honest, you don’t know for sure.
There’s a couple of key things that Shakespearean tragedies have in common. How many of these traits exist and exactly what they are is something that varies depending on your sources. I’ll define it in its most basic sense like this: someone of high status makes a mistake so bad that they die, usually as the result of some magic. We got all of that. Jack’s pretty well off. He’s a respected war vet with a happy family, and a mansion so big that he has a guest house. Jack scoffs at your guest bedroom that doubles as an office. Unfortunately his fatal flaw is that he’s too generous and optimistic. No, really. That may sound weird to anyone who just went through the base game, but pretty much as soon as you start playing the DLC episodes Jack comes carrying a girl into the house because she’s hurt. At the first sign of danger he opens up his home to a random stranger. Sure that random stranger was a little girl, but that random stranger was also a living fungus weapon, so, ya know, don’t judge a book by it’s glass house or whatever.
And, hey, that mushroom girl is actually the next point. Shakespeare tragedies have magic. Fairies, witches, wizards. Pretty much anything is fair game. No, Eveline isn’t technically magic. She’s a bioweapon. Of course she is. Everything in Resident Evil is a bioweapon. When Chris Redfield gets a bad haircut, it’s because the barber was actually a bioweapon. But the science behind hallucinogenic bioweapons is so ridiculous, that you might as well just replace any instance of “spore” in the games script with “curse” and everything is more or less the same. It still leads to the same downfall.
Oh, what a downfall it is. One of the most brutal I’ve seen in any sort of tragedy. Consider Shakespeare’s most well known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Six people die. That’s four more than you remembered from the one time you said you read it. It’s a lot of deaths sure, but it’s also surprisingly low for a story that is basically an Italian gang war. Now compare with Resident Evil 7. The number of characters that make it to the credits alive can be counted on one hand. Jack’s wife and son are dead. He murdered a cop in something so brutal it can only be described as “decapitation but worse”. Random strangers have been dragged to this mansion and killed by the dozens. Of course, it all ends with Jack himself. He gets into a fist fight with his brother that ends in his ultimate, long awaited, face-exploding death. That’s so Shakespearean there is literally a sonnet about it.
Don’t even get me started on five act structure. Mostly because it’s boring and hard to write about without this changing from “fun blog post” to “actual critical analysis”. Just believe me when I say that it’s a thing in every Shakespeare and it’s a thing here too.
I know that people don’t really get excited for live theater anymore. I mean, I usually don’t, and I have a degree in it. I also know that plenty of people are going to tell you that the classics should always be appreciated. That may or may not be true. All I can say for sure is that Resident Evil 7 has some of the most interesting characters that have been in a video game just about ever. The fact that they follow the plot of a Shakespearean tragedy almost exactly can’t possibly be a coincidence. Well, it can, but this is the only way I get to justify both my theater degree and the obscene amount of time that I spent playing video games instead of being productive.
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