'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Thursday 17 October 2013

Review: Romeo and Juliet

If you were asked to name one of Shakespeare’s plays, I’m sure there are many which would come to mind. One of the best-known, the “most excellent and lamentable tragedy of Romeo and Juliet”, has been reimagined as a graphic novel by the award-winning Gareth Hinds. Other classic titles he has adapted to this format include The Odyssey, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, and Beowulf.

Here though, Hinds has adapted and illustrated, via digital ink and watercolour, the story of the Montagues versus Capulets - two rival families going head to head, complicated by two of the younger generation falling in love. This version of Romeo and Juliet has a cast of multi-racial characters, and if you look closely, some contemporary cultural references woven in.

At 129 pages, this isn’t the full text of the original play. It does, however, remain true to the original language, something Hinds felt, and explains via the introduction, was important in order to retain the iambic pentameter: “I think, in this play above all, you might experience a greater appreciation for Shakespeare’s genius if you make an effort to read the dialogue in its meter, at least from time to time. I think it’s especially brilliant when he uses rhyming verse lines broken up between two bantering characters.” A plea to read it aloud, perhaps? I certainly found it somewhat easier to do so, as the language is not as familiar in today’s world.

In true Shakespearean tradition, we are first given the list of “dramatis personae” complete with tiny portraits of the main players. Then comes the prologue over a green landscape, followed by Act 1, Scene 1, in a public square of Verona. Indeed, many of the scenes begin with an expansive illustration to set up the forthcoming dialogue. Act 1, Scene 5, which opens at the Capulet’s house, is a double-page spread showing a cavernous ballroom filled with dancers. Immediately following that, we see dialogue-free panels: a close up of a couple dancing, Romeo climbing the stairs, and then spotting Juliet dancing.

Telling the story in this way seems particularly appropriate given Shakespeare’s intention it be performed on stage. By reading and ‘watching’ it, you get a different understanding than you would by simply reading a book. Shakespeare’s work really is meant to be seen, and in graphic novel format, it is possible to get a better sense of the original story.

This graphic novel of Romeo and Juliet is a great introductory experience for those who are new to Shakespeare’s work, and gives a new perspective to those who know it well.

You can watch a YouTube clip of Gareth Hinds' digital inking of the ballroom scene from Romeo and Juliet here.

Title: Romeo and Juliet
Author: Adapted by Gareth Hinds from the play by William Shakespeare
Illustrator: Gareth Hinds
Publisher: Candlewick Press, $22.95 RRP
Publication Date: September 2013
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780763668075
For ages: 12+
Type: Graphic novel