If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $5.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

Billy Budd, Foretopman: An Inside Narrative by Herman Melville

Gale Novels for Students

Guide to Billy Budd -- The best of the best. Seton Hall University professors Edward R. Winans and James Paris summarize and analyze every chapter with the insight and expertise one always hopes for but seldom finds in teacher guides. Unfortunately, the site is blocked at my school because it resides inside a “Gay Books” * folder. I provide offline access through a PDF file.

*Warning: Homoeroticism may need to be addressed. A clip from the Sopranos is oddly helpful. “Exploring Homoeroticism in Herman Melville’s Novella Billy Budd, Sailor” by Dana Sliva offers a critical perspective. Zachary Woolfe’s review of the opera, “Secret Desires in the Heart of Billy Budd, addresses the same issue.


Benjamin Britten’s opera, libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozierr, is frequently performed. The entire 1966 BBC broadcast is available on YouTube. BBC also offers a free 10-minute overview on iTunes as part of their Opera Guides series.

Synopsis from the Metropolitan Opera.

Los Angeles Opera website includes several exerpts, interviews, learn more link page, and audio/video files. Trailer.

Opera of the Year Short Video

Production Trailer with audience reactons to the English National Opera performance.

Glyndebourne Performance Interviews. Just the Trailer.

Billy is a baritone, Claggart a bass, and Vere a tenor. Although Billy is the opera’s eponymous hero, the real focus of the work is the moral dilemma facing Captain Vere who, confronted with an agonising decision between saving Billy and his sense of duty as the ship’s Captain, is at the center of the opera.

Melville Background

The Melville Society

Melville’s Home Arrowhead

Walton Overview -- Biography, summary, characters, quotes, and essay questions. I don't now who R. C. Walton is but the materials are good.

DISCovering Authors Overview



“Billy in the Darbies” (Poem & Activity) is the poem that ends the novella. Benedict Nelson performs a version from the Britten opera.

Vinicio Capossela’s “Billy Budd” in Italian is his quirky performance of the same poem. His Italian lyrics are powerful. My re-translation back into English a little crazy.

The Morrisey “Billy Budd” is less clearly related to the novella (lyrics). “Billy Budd” by Peacefield seems to be directly related to the novella, though something is amiss in the lyrics.



•Vocabulary (Laying the Foundation)
•Reading Questions reading check
•Chapter Questions recall
•Great Books Discussion Questions from the discussion series
•MIT All-School Read Questions college level
•Book As a Whole overview
•AP Chapter Discussion Questions more challenging chapter discussion questions
•AP Timed Essay Prompts selected from previous exams


Original Trailer for the 1962 black & white movie.

Teach with Movies has an excellent unit, pairing this with Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government.” Their unit contains a Movie Viewing Guide, Thoreau Notes, Court Martial Transcript, an Essay Assignment, and Projects.


Enriched Classics packet

Three Letters -- A wonderful assignment by Dixie Dellinger.

Group Analysis -- Four interpretaive lenses for analysing the novella

Billy Budd and the Law Discussion Questions -- a worthwhile focus for discussion.

GrammarDog Sampler -- I love these materials! Grammar, usage, literary terms, style, and more taught using passages from the novells.

Prestwick Unit Sampler -- Better for non-AP classes, but Essays would work for both.


Louis Coxe and Robert Chapman have written a stage play of the book. Its narrative structure stays true to the chronological order of the novella -- no reflections afterwards, no newspaper stories, naval legends, or poetry (1948).

“Ustinov’s Film Billy Budd, A Study in the Process of Adaptation: Novel, to Play, to Film” by Joseph Friel


PowerPoints -- Short Introduction & Full Analysis

The usual free sites have not recorded Billy Budd, but iTunes has versions ranging from $1.95 to $13.95.

Prints by Ruth Oinn, inspired by the operas of Benjamin Britten, these from Billy Budd.
king of the birds
darkness comrehends
fathoms down fathoms

King of the Birds -- “The print symbolises the freedom and companionship Billy Budd feels as foretopman aboard the Indomitable before Claggart begins to work his evil.” (Ruth Oinn)

The Darkness Comprehends – “This print visualises the struggle between Claggart and Billy, which Claggart inevitably wins. Claggart sees Billy’s goodness and is compelled to destroy him. I used the myth of the Kraken, all sailors’ worst fear, to symbolise Claggart.” (Ruth Oinn)

Fathoms Down Fathoms -- “Before his execution Billy dreams of how his body will sink into the twisting weeds. I have used the spiral of gold coins to represent him. He was, by Claggart’s own admission, “a beauty, a jewel, a pearl of great price” so gold seemed fitting. ” (Ruth Oinn)

Updated 9 September 2018.

If you download or print anything from this site, please consider making at least a $5.00 donation through PayPal.
I can maintain and expand this website only with your help.

Back to Assignments or Home.

hit counter