Writer: William Shakespeare
Adapted by Richard Appignanesi
Art: Kate Brown
Publisher: Self Made Hero
What’s it about?
This is an adaptation of a William Shakespeare play. To my mind, it’s the most magical and comedic one.
Theseus and Hippolyta are due to be married in Athens, Greece. Theseus' servant Egeus has a daughter named Hermia. Hermia and Lysander are in love and wish to marry, however Egeus has decided that Demetrius is an appropriate husband. Helena loves Demetrius but, as he wants Hermia, he is not interested in Helena.
In honour of Theseus and Hippolyta’s wedding a group of inept craftsmen decide to put on a play about star-crossed lovers, Pyramus and Thisbe. It’s a tragedy where the lovers kill themselves, so not entirely fit for a wedding – I did say they were inept!
In the forests of Athens the fairy court is in session. Oberon, King of the fairies, and Titania, fairy Queen, are embroiled in an argument. Oberon wants a human boy that Titania has adopted, but Titania won’t give him up. Oberon plots revenge, and here is where the plots converge...
Oberon gets his servant Puck to enchant Titania so she falls in love with the first hideous thing she sees. Hermia and Lysander have run away to get married and are pursued by Demetrius, who is in turn pursued by Helena. Oberon witnesses this and instructs Puck to enchant Demetrius to fall in love with Helena, except Puck gets it wrong and enchants Lysander instead. The enchantment of Titania is successful, as Puck gives one of the craftsmen, Bottom, a donkey’s head, and Titania falls for him.
This takes up the first half of the play. The second half concerns the humans and fairies trying to sort out the mess Puck has caused.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream is my favourite Shakespeare play and I’ve seen it performed at least ten times. So rest assured that I know it well and that I am qualified to talk about the quality of this adaptation.
Plays are meant to be seen, not read - that much is clear. A good director and good cast can bring new meanings to the words and actions within a play, so that you see it in a whole new light. When you read the script it can feel flat and tedious. Watching it performed, you see the play come alive. This adaptation does a similar thing. It is heavily edited but remains faithful to the script - as such it complements the script and the performances. The words are not modernised, they are straight from Shakespeare’s pen, but they are easier to understand in comic form, because the pictures also tell the story.
This version is less crude than some stage performances, which may please parents but displease teenagers. Sex is discussed, but not in a vulgar way. Through the choice of text this comic highlights some relationships I had been unaware of, which has deepened my understanding of the characters.
It is suitable for students and people with English as a second language who find the dialogue hard to follow. It is useful as a study aid or as a refresher, if you are dying to see it but there are no performances near you.
The comic format of this book really brings the characters to life and gives me a new understanding of the four young lovers and Theseus and Hippolyta. Helena and Demetrius became more real to me, and I began to appreciate them as individuals, not just stock characters. Bottom is truly a fool and the other craftsmen become rather ludicrous.
What’s bad about it?
As a long time fan I am disappointed at some of the omissions. Very little time is spent on Bottom’s dalliance with Titania or the craftsmen’s practice in the woods. These are some of my favourite parts, and are often the stars of the show, so I would have loved to see them have a bigger role.
What’s the art like?
I am in two minds about this. On one hand it is drawn in a very generic manga style. Manga is not a genre, it is the Japanese word for comic. If you scroll through our manga reviews you will see that each book is drawn differently. However, this book looks very much like Brown is imitating an idea of manga faces and bodies, and not drawing in her own manner. To be honest, the people aren't drawn that well.
But where she excels is in the panels and layout. I feel I've been banging on about this a lot lately in reviews, but I really have come to appreciate the framing of comic art.
The above pages are good. The left page gives a great sense of movement where you feel like you are falling with Helena. The right page continues this - your eyes are drawn to the hidden Demetrius and you sort of feel like you are trapped with him.
These next ones also have a lovely feel to them:
These next ones also have a lovely feel to them:
She's also not afraid to use modern items to illustrate (pun intended!) the play's meaning. Early on in the book we see TV screens in Theseus' home which allows more information in the panel. In the next scan, we see a sort of thought bubble which emphasises the character's dismay:
There are lots of Manga Shakepseare titles out there. We have previously reviewed The Tempest.