Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, April 6, 2018


Manga Shakespeare:  King Lear adapted by Richard Appignanesi (2009)

This is not your parent's Classics Illustrated comic book.  It's 200 pages of manga (sans Japanese schoolgirls in short skirts) designed to get students Grade 8 and up to like Shakespeare.  A British publisher called Self Made Hero has published at least fourteen adaptations of Shakespeare's plays as graphic novels for the school market -- fairly successfully, I might add.

To my mind, a decent and enthused teacher should be able to promote a love of Shakespeare without resorting to gimmicks like manga comics.  I realize, however, this is difficult for several reasons.  Many teachers are not enthused about Shakespeare, having not had decent and enthused teachers themselves.  School curricula are often rigid and boring; when I was a lad such books as Silas Marner, The House of Seven Gables, and Great Expectations were merely ordeals to get through; it was only later that I began to glimmer their worth. 

Then, too, in the case of Shakespeare, youngsters need to be be protected from the crudities that helped make these plays popular for the audience at the high school, Shakespeare's character don't piss.  The Manga Shakespeare books are abridged and bowdlerized, although the artist did managed to spread some surprising cleavage here and there

To make Shakespeare palatable for the middle school and high school crowd, why not turn the plays into manga stories?   That is something kids can relate to, right?  Actually, that's not a bad idea.

I have not seen any of the other Manga Shakespeare books, but this one uses Japanese-style manga, although not the Japanese-schoolgirl-in short-skirt style that I am most familiar with.  (Wait.  Does that make it sound like I'm kinky?)  The illustrator, British artist/writer Ed Hillyer signing himself as "Ilya," is an acknowledged expert on manga and anime.

So...King Lear.  My absolute favorite Shakespeare play...passion, power, betrayal on an operatic scope...all set during...

...The French and Indian War?

Yes.  King Lear re-imagined during the time of The Last of the Mohicans.  Lear is now an Algonquin chief.  Gloucester is cast as a trapper.  Edmund is half black. Rochester is an Indian brave.  Goneril and Regan are both married to English fops.  The raging torrent is now a mountaintop blizzard.  Somehow, it all works.

I gave my copy to my granddaughter.  She loved it.  Perhaps you will, too.


  1. Oddly enough, in high school we were quite aware of Country matters...but then, I went to a private HS for 10-12, so some of the pressures were off (our big Sex Ed film in health in tenth grade was some sort of Scandinavian import generally referred to by the student body as "This Is a Vagina"/"This Is a Penis" with full-frontal closeups that would've been somewhat difficult to screen in the US till the Supreme Court weighed in in the earliest '70s).

  2. The WALL STREET JOURNAL just had a review of Jo Nesbo's version of MACBETH. Gillian Flynn's novel based on HAMLET will be out in a year or so.