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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Shakespeare's King Lear in Graphic Novel Form -- two different versions

Hinds, Gareth (2007) William Shakespeare's King Lear,  The Comic.Com.

Appignanesi, Richard  (2009) Manga Shakespeare King Lear  New York:  Abrams

There is a secret known only to excellent English Teachers and a few scholars.  Shakespeare did not write plays for people to read.  He wrote them to be seen.  Whenever we force a student to read a Shakespearian play without first seeing it performed, we are creating a confused and angry Shakespeare hater.  Sometimes when they later see the plays they come around -- but this pain and suffering is utterly unnecessary. 

If I ruled the universe, every high school English classroom would be attached to an excellent theater, where they could see Shakespeare any time they wanted, free of charge (of course, if I ran the universe, there would also miniature woolly mammoths and every restaurant in the world would have to serve my amazing wife's beef-ramen stir fry -- so it is probably better that I don't rule the universe).  If you cannot do that, though, and if a field trip to an excellent Shakespearian theater is impossible, and if you would rather not have to stop the Kenneth Brannaugh video every three minutes to point something out -- then I can recommend an excellent alternative.  Have the students read Shakespeare initially in a graphic novel adaptation.   Graphic novels allow readers to see who is speaking and what they are doing as they utter those amazingly insightful lines. 

It turns out there is a real range of quality when you are looking at adaptations.  The classic comics adaptation is one of the worst.  Its characters seem to mostly be talking heads who don't ever do anything.  Instead, then, let me talk about two of the best adaptations, those by Gareth Hinds and Richard Appignanesi. 

Hinds has a profoundly interesting style (See my review of his Beowulf  last month).  He uses line drawings and color washes to evoke emotions from his readers.  On pages 89 to 91, for example, when Cordilia and Lear are reunited, he renders it in such a way that it is deeply moving.   In Lear he also uses arrows and speed lines to indicate movement.  Hinds understands that Shakespeare should move across the stage, and he does everything within the limitations of the graphic novel format to make that happen.  He also uses the graphic novel format to go beyond what can fit on a stage.  His rendering of the final battle between the English and the French (94-95) is wonderfully sweeping, and lets us see how the whole conflict plays out.

Get hold of this one.  You need it.

A second and also excellent version is the Manga Shakespeare version. Though unaccountably set in in the American frontier in the 1750s, and though lacking the color of the Hinds version, like all of the Manga Shakespeare books, this one brings Lear alive in excitement and action.  Teachers can discuss with students whether this version fits well into the native American tableau.  Even more than Hinds, students will have to learn their way around reading a graphic novel, but once they do that, this version should grab and hold their attention very effectively.

I love that both of these versions preserve Shakespeare's rich original language instead of trying to water it down with paraphrasing.

This would be a good one to get a hold of too.  If you end up using either one of them in class, let me know how it goes.

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