Monday, September 07, 2009
Ever on the look out for unusual ways in which Hamlet can been communicated, I find myself looking at the play in paper doll form. As you’ll know, paper dolls are the two dimensional equivalent of dollies, the way that little girls and I expect some boys played dress up before the invention of plastic. They’re of no fixed origin, with evidence of kimonoed versions cropping up in ancient Japan and Balinese designs dating back to biblical times. They first became popular in Europe during the eighteenth century and Milton Bradley made them popular in the US from 1920 onwards (wiki). Virtual versions have followed.
It says in the introduction to this book from Dover Publications that its been the dream of artist Tom Tierney to create a paper doll set featuring Shakespeare’s characters. Judging by the product list on his website he’s something of an expert and enthusiast and a google search reveals hundreds of examples of his work. Tierney’s the illustrator who created the Barack Obama and John McCain dolls during the presidential campaign last year. His latest publication features Obama and his family, part of a presidential series.
The best way to review a book of paper dolls would be to find a pair of scissors and cut out the figures and costumes. But being practically challenge, I’ve decided to simply look at the pictures. On page three of the book are the dolls themselves, Richard and Elizabeth, or Richard Geer and Julie Andrews or Heath Ledger and Jennifer Garner. I’m opinion oscillating but it’s impossible to see these images and not attempt to assign an identity. Elizabeth Taylor then? Elizabeth Hurley? They're painted in a simple comic book style, with their hands close to their chest presumably to allow for some flexibility in the shape of the costumes.
The rest of the book features those costumes. As Hamlet, Richard finds himself tunic’d all in black, clasping the skull to his stomach and wearing a wig which seems to have been borrowed from Adam, prince of Eternia and defender of the secrets of Castle Greyskull (He-Man). Elizabeth’s Ophelia is already gripped by madness, is draped in a white nightdress with long golden hair and clasping those flowers which are often imaginary depending upon the budget of the production. Of the all plays features in the book, it is noticable that Hamlet is about the only one where the apparel so clearly orientates the characters to a particular point in the play.
At the back of the book is a short synopsis of the plays which manages to offer the plot of Hamlet in about seventy words and confirms which part of each story is being illustrated. As ever, Fortinbras is cut. But if I was of a certain age, as with the colouring book I reviewed the other day, I’d probably find all of this fascinating. The only improvement I might have made would have been to include a short extract to give children to act from, but on reflection the lack of such only means they have to pick up a copy of the play which has to be for the good.
Great Characters from Shakespeare - Paper Dolls by Tom Tierney. Dover Publications. ISBN: 978-0486413303.