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Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Tempest / Romeo & Juliet

The closest I've come to reading Shakespeare's The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet is watching movies and, in both cases, quite divergent interpretations of the plays. Baz Luhrmann's version of Romeo+Juliet is hugely watchable and The Tempest was used as the basis for Fifties SF classic Forbidden Planet.

With credentials like that, who wouldn't want to read these two new adaptations? You may find the stories a little different—there are less robots in The Tempest for starters—but don't let that put you off. Being Classical Comics, there are multiple versions for all tastes: the Original Text version for the full Shakespearean experience, a Quick Text version easy enough for a young teenager to understand and a Plain Text version which simplifies the language to a level where it could be read by a 10 to 12-year-old.

Both books are long, careful adaptations, around 125 and 150 pages respectively, with reading and background notes in addition.

I picked on the Plain Text versions to read and they certainly retain all the flavour of the originals, whilst moving the story along at a sprightly pace. And I have to admit finding it quite entertaining to see Shakespeare using phrases like "This big-mouthed scumbag" (rather than "wide-chopp'd rascal") as a ship carrying the King of Naples is battered upon a storm-tossed sea, and Juliet's lament "I have bought the mansion of love, but not possesse'd it" reduced to "I can't wait for us to be together". But that's the whole point of having versions for different age groups.

Romeo and Juliet was Shakespeare's adaptation of Luigi da Porto's Giulietta e Romeo (itself not an original story but introducing many of the elements that Shakespeare was to make famous). Shakespeare's was not even the first version of the story written in the UK (Arthur Brooke's Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet was probably Shakespeare's direct inspiration). The plot shouldn't need repeating here: it's the one with the balcony.

The Tempest
, on the other hand, was Shakespeare unleashed. It was his one and only play not based on anything previously written and was a story of magic and vengeance in which the usurped Prospero uses his powers to unleash a storm against his brother, Antonio, the Duke of Milan, and the King of Naples, driving their ship onto an island where Prospero has been stranded for many years. Other inhabitants of the island include Ariel, a magical spirit, and the deformed son of a witch, Caliban. There are a number of entwining sub-plots as different factions scheme to kill one or other of the newly arrived inhabitants and a romance between Prospero's daughter, Miranda, and the King's son, Ferdinand.

Both stories are told in eye-grabbing visuals, the artwork exemplary in both books—if you're buying for the art alone, far more is visible in the plain text versions. One distinct advantage of the graphic novel over even a simplified written version of a play as complex as The Tempest, with multiple strands and different kinds of character (both human and supernatural) is that comics also have a visual language that can be brought into play. Take, for instance, the following page showing how Ariel was freed from captivity...

...which has the visual dynamism of a Marvel or DC superhero comic, care of artists Jon Haward & Gary Erskine. Just the kind of thing that will keep even the most ADDed kid glued to the page.

Romeo and Juliet, being a romantic story with very little action, requires a more realistic approach if you are to believe in the characters and this has been amply provided by Will Volley. This is only his second comic strip, I believe (the only previous work I know of is an issue of The Atheist, written by Phil Hester), and he's a major find for Classical Comics.

I've reviewed a handful of earlier titles from Classical Comics and I haven't been disappointed by a single one of them. The Tempest and Romeo and Juliet are two more solid additions to the line and highly recommended.

Romeo and Juliet (Original Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332198, 9 September 2009 [originally announced for August 2009].
Romeo and Juliet (Plain Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332204, 9 September 2009 [originally announced for August 2009].
Romeo and Juliet (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332211, 9 September 2009 [originally announced for August 2009].
The Tempest (Original Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332297, 16 September 2009 [originally announced for 1 May 2009, then 12 June 2009, then August 2009].
The Tempest (Plain Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332303, 16 September 2009 [originally announced for 1 May 2009, then 12 June 2009, then August 2009].
The Tempest (Quick Text). Classical Comics ISBN 978-1906332310, 16 September 2009 [originally announced for 1 May 2009, then 12 June 2009, then August 2009].

1 comment:

jon haward said...

thanks Steve, glad you enjoyed the books
all the best
jon