Shakespeare Goes Manga

This is for real, people.

So there I was, in the public library, and BAM! Like Batman’s fist in a villain’s face, I found Shakespeare-as-graphic-novel.

My first reaction was repulsion: NOOOO!

But then–hmm. Could this be a good thing for the Bard? I cracked it open, to see how they handled the iambic pentameter, the Elizabethan English.

Not bad. Instead of “griefs and clamor”–just “griefs”. It loses some of the sharpness without that hard “c” and some of the rhythm. But still. And Macbeth’s line: “I am settled, and bend up / Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.”

But these kinds of cuts are common in productions of Shakespeare’s work, so that the running time won’t put the audience to sleep. I showed the book to one of my library co-workers, and she was outraged. “Oh golly.” She said. “They’ve really dumbed it down.”

But have they?

I worry sometimes about our fear of “messing with” the canon. What of Orson Welles’s 1937 production of “Julius Caesar” in modern dress? Now considered a classic piece of theater, Welles production appropriated Shakespeare’s play for political ends, staging it in a fascist European state and thus making the corruption and totalitarianism breathtakingly familiar to his audience. What of Daphne du Maurier’s reworking of “Jane Eyre” into a novel that has become its own classic, “Rebecca”?

One of my friends recently attended a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in which the director had slightly shifted a character’s name, changing the role from male to female–and thus introducing a lesbian element into the play. “But that’s not how Shakespeare wrote it!” My friend protested.

But I daresay few productions are.

And as we continually develop new media, the universality of Shakespeare’s work will–and should, in my view–seep into them. Think of Kenneth Branagh’s charming film adaptation of “As You Like It” in 2006. And now, graphic novels.

Is it really so bad?

Or is it a sure sign that the Bard is still very much alive?


Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

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