Hamlet as a graphic novel? Yes, please!
First of all, a confession:
Someone pitched me the No Fear Shakespeare series over a year ago in advance of Shakespeare’s 2,134th birthday on April 23rd. So two of his birthdays later (OK fine I actually looked it up and this year he would have only turned 450. I’d like to say I figured this was a better year to post about these books, but that would be a lie.) I thought it was a great pitch – “Like Cliff Notes for Shakespeare, except more inventive!” (I paraphrase.)
Specifically, the No Fear Shakespeare titles give you a catchy hook into the texts. Most of them have a similar layout: Shakespeare in modern language on the right page, and the original text on the left, so basically what you have is the actual play or sonnet, with a contemporary translation alongside it. No flipping back and forth to the footnotes or end notes.
For example, in The Taming of the Shrew:
Petruchio: Signior Baptista, my business asketh haste
And everyday I cannot come to woo
Petruchio: Signior Baptista, I’m actually in a bit of a hurry. I can’t make this wooing into a daily thing.
Right?! I kind of love the people who translated Shakespeare into 21st century language.
That reminds me. My very first memory of Shakespeare is a scene in Beverly Cleary’s Fifteen, in which Jane Purdy is doing her homework and she is trying to translate the original text of Hamlet into “plain English.” I read Cleary’s book far before I turned fifteen. It took many more years for me to read Hamlet.
That play, along with other titles in the No Fear Shakespeare series, gets an even better treatment as a graphic novel. I will confess to you and all the people of the world two things: that this is the first time I’ve read Hamlet, and also the very first graphic novel I have attempted.
I loved them both.
The artwork by Neil Babra gives Hamlet the print version of action-film treatment. It makes Hamlet a beach read for summer. It makes it a page-turner, which is a big surprise for me and Shakespeare. Still crazy after all these years.
I mean, who knew? I certainly wasn’t thinking “Oh, I need to get around to reading all of the Shakespeare I wasn’t required to read during 8 years of Catholic liberal arts education.” Every now and then I pull out my anthology of Shakespeare to reference something I learned a thousand years ago that stuck with me (Helena’s monologue in “All’s Well That Ends Well,” which I used for Acting 101 during my junior year of college, comes to mind). But once this pitch found my in-box, I looked through the titles and chose a few that piqued my interest.
The Tempest. I’ll be honest, I wanted to read this because of the teaser at the end of the film “Shakespeare in Love.” Shut up.
The Taming of the Shrew, because I saw a middling production of it in college.
And Hamlet, because everyone should have read Hamlet. It’s like working in food service. It builds character.
No Fear Shakespeare – lots of titles, prices vary. Read that Shakespeare play you’ve always you wanted to read. Why not?
And just for fun, enjoy this tune by Shakespears Sister, called “Heroine.” The founder of the band was once in Bananarama. Your mind is now blown. You’re welcome.