Manga from heaven for the Bard
Yet the series has enormous potential. Breaking down iambic pentameter into voice bubbles allows students to appreciate a line's key image, like a super- powered storyboard. Split frames can be used for demanding lines, and lurking background figures hint at staging possibilities. However, I found Bryant's simplistic idea of a "quick text" version, which reduces King Harry's rousing battle instructions to "Get a fierce look in your eyes", profoundly depressing. Can't we offer students something a bit better than this?
In Shakespeare, a word tells a thousand pictures. Comic artists face huge challenges, which, so far, most have met. I just object to the toil and trouble of simplified language in voice bubbles. We do our kids a disservice if we think it's "too hard" to offer a really basic version.
Classical Comics also have competition. The impressive SelfMadeHero imprint have started a dynamic series of manga Shakespeare books. Their artwork reinforces the text, and their inventive transpositions are as good as any insightful theatre director's. Their Hamlet broods in a war-torn cyberworld. Romeo becomes a rock star caught up with the Japanese mafia in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya. You can have a good comic book and be true to the original.
Yet only acting can offer the full theatrical, auditory Shakespeare experience. Performing an ancient text in modern ways, and discovering the characters still compel, the issues still matter, and the language still works on stage that's the stuff that dreams are made on.
Hampton Boys' School,