Rummanah Aasi
  Shakespeare. Love him or hate him, but you can't deny his influence on our literature and pop culture. The most common complaint against Shakespeare is his language. Many readers are unable to understand what his characters are saying. The lack of action and more character introspection seems to turn off lots of people. I guess I'm in the minority that I don't mind the tough language. I like to observe what his characters are doing or aren't doing. Shakespeare's plays weren't made to be read, but to be seen and felt with all of our senses. My favorite thing about Shakespeare is that there is no one single, correct interpretation to his plays, which I know infuriates a lot of readers. It also made me incredibly frustrated when I had to write papers on his play for my classes. So when I came across a book aptly called Kill Shakespeare that seems to bring Shakespeare lovers and haters together, I knew I had to read it.

Description: The heroes of William Shakespeare's plays, Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, and Falstaff, attempt to overcome his most infamous villains, Richard III, Lady Macbeth, and Iago, in order to find and kill the reclusive wizard William Shakespeare and take his magic quill that is said to give immortality and power.

Review: The concept behind Kill Shakespeare is nothing new. Taking well known characters and setting them in a new environment has been done before quite successfully in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore and more recently the Fables graphic novel series by Bill Willingham. While this narrative approach could have failed miserably for Kill Shakespeare, I actually found it very interesting and an enlightening exploration of Bard's well known plays and characters.
  As we begin the graphic novel, Hamlet's father has been murdered and his uncle has taken the throne. A distraught Hamlet is tricked by the incredibly foul, powerful tyrant Richard III and the seductive Lady Macbeth to kill the mysterious wizard known as William Shakespeare and to retrieve his magical quill. If Hamlet is successful in his quest, the leaders promise that they will rise Hamlet's dead father from the grave. Although left in the care of the king’s adviser Iago, Hamlet soon finds himself in the company of the deceptively clownish Falstaff, who brings him before Othello and Juliet, leaders of a rebellion against the king and claims Hamlet as the Shadow King, the chosen one who can only protect William Shakespeare.
  Kill Shakespeare is full of action scenes while keeping an authentic interpretation of the cast while simultaneously adding another layer of complexity to them. For example, Juliet has survived from her disastrous relationship and vows never to give in to her emotions again. She is now a strong, female leader of a rebellion. Like wise Lady Macbeth uses her sexuality to gain an upper hand on the males who think they are in power. She controls the three witches and plays an insiders game. At first I will say that the selection for heroes piqued my interest. I don't really consider Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, or even Falstaff heroic. For the authors to choose them makes me wonder how a hero is defined and whether or not Shakespeare himself would agree with their selection. I actually found myself more interested in the so-called villains and how they try to outsmart one another through their manipulations and games.
   I think Kill Shakespeare has successfully showed Shakespeare-phobic readers what makes the Bard so special. Readers who are unfamiliar with the Bard or his plays are able to follow the story because there are enough context clues given. While some of his original dialogue are retained, it doesn't seem misplaced but flows naturally in the story. I think the combination of drawing and text allows readers to understand what is happening instead of relying on the foot/side notes. I, personally, loved the various connections to many plays and loved seeing characters from other plays pop up in the story. The art, all in color, opens up the world and offers some great background sets that don't overwhelm the characters or their dialogue. I told my English teachers about this graphic novel and already have one reading it. I look forward to hearing their reviews and reading more from this series.

Curricular Connection: English/Shakespeare

Rating: 4.5 stars

Words of Caution: There is some language and allusions to sex throughout the novel. There are also many scenes of bloody violence. Recommended for high school students and adults.

If you like this book try: Fables by Bill Willingham or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore
4 Responses
  1. danya Says:

    This one sounds like fun and a great way to pull in Shakespeare-reluctant readers! You're right, though, that is an interesting cast of 'heroic' characters - not the first I would think of either (except perhaps Hamlet). Seems like they pulled most of the characters from his tragedies, so perhaps that's why...I think his comedies have more traditionally heroic characters in the lead roles. Anyway, enough waxing on about Shakespeare, LOL - I may check this graphic novel out for my 'read outside the comfort zone' challenge. Thanks for the review!

  2. This sounds really interesting. I like Shakespeare, but I always need to read it in a class or with Cliff Notes because otherwise I miss the symbolism.

    What is your favorite play? I think mine is Hamlet. I'd like to read King Lear. Can you believe that I never read Romeo & Juliet in school? The regular English kids read it in 9th grade while the honors kids read Macbeth.

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Will readers need a good knowledge of Shakespeare to enjoy this book?

  4. Danya: My thoughts exactly, but I think how we define "hero" would make a great discussion. I hope you enjoy this title as much as I do!

    Alison: My favorite play is also "Hamlet". I think "Romeo and Juliet" is a bit overrrated. I know in high school it was taught in a hero unit freshman year, but when I reread it a few years ago and took a closer look at it, it's completely different.

    Campbele: Absolutely not. I think this book can be read as simply an adventure story. As I mentioned in my review, there is enough background information about the main cast of characters so you know what happened to them in their play.

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