Then lend the eye an easy aspect

17th August 2007 at 01:00
When pupils are having trouble getting enthusiastic about classic literature, perhaps it's time to turn to a comic

"ONCE MORE unto the breach, dear friends, once more." The words of Shakespeare's Henry V rallying his troops for battle are difficult to forget. But who remembers the king going on to say: "Take a deep breath and fight" or "Get a fierce look in your eyes"?

No one, hopefully. These phrases are taken from a simplified comic version of the bard's play that is designed to grab the attention of teenagers and has been backed by the National Association for the Teaching of English.

Next term the publishers Classical Comics will be launching three comic book versions of Henry V aimed at children with different levels of literacy. The first uses Shakespeare's own words, the second translates them into plain English, and the third, "quick text" version uses as few words as possible.

"We want to make Shakespeare as energetic and colourful as Spiderman," Clive Bryant, the chairman of Classical Comics, said.

"Teachers tell us they are desperate for something exciting to use in the classroom, but if you ask kids about Shakespeare the word they usually come back with is 'boring'. We're trying to break down the barriers so they can get interested.

"The beauty of the three versions is that teachers can get kids of different abilities all reading in class."

Mr Bryant said Henry V would be followed next year by comic versions of Macbeth, Great Expectations and Jane Eyre.

Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English, said secondary school lessons on Shakespeare always involved studying his plots, adding: "This is a fun way of getting into the stories.

"Plays are not meant to be read, but to be seen. The illustrations in these books are an easy way of following what is going on.

"The genius of Shakespeare is in the language, but for some students understanding it can be a struggle. It will be useful for teachers to have three different versions of the text."

David Kendall, a literacy consultant and former English teacher, runs comic based workshops with Year 9 pupils. He said teachers who use the quick text version of the comics should be careful to avoid the impression of dumbing down.

"Reluctant readers must not get the feeling that they've been given the quick text because their teacher thinks they're thick," he said. "Graphic novels should be used as a starting point, so the kids can tackle the full text, even if they don't like it. Otherwise all you're doing is fobbing them off with easy reads."

Mr Kendall, who edits collections of comics, said Japanese manga-style comics, which contain both speeded-up action and long passages of contemplation, were popular with teenagers. A manga version of Macbeth was published by Puffin two years ago.

Julia Strong, deputy director of the National Literacy Trust, said comics could work wonders for some children. However, her favourite approach as a teacher was to get pupils to read the original text and then mime it.

"What's wrong with a good film?" she added. "I used Romeo and Juliet by Zeffirelli and it knocked them dead, even in the inner city."

* www.classicalcomics.com

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