Wednesday, September 02, 2009

'Great Scenes from Shakespeare's Plays' illustrated by John Green and edited by Paul Negri.

The task of bringing Shakespeare to children (or children to Shakespeare) has become something of a theme on the blog lately and Dover Publications have been good enough to send me examples from their Shakespeare lines directed a youngsters. Founded in 1941, Dover were one of the companies to spearhead the growth of the paperback book, republishing works which have fallen into the public domain, and one of their great successes was Albert Einstein’s The Principle of Relativity. Inevitably the wikipedia has a good biography of the company.

First up, Great Scenes from Shakespeare’s Plays, part of the pictorial archive series, a colouring book with drawings by prolific illustrator John Green who looks to have provided an infinite number of similar images on a range of topics, in science, the natural world, well, everywhere. Looking back, I even think he drew the A-Team colouring book I was given on holiday when I was a pre-teen. The format of the book, edited by Paul Negri, marries Green’s illustrations of various scenes from Shakespeare’s plays on the right hand side of a spread with a short synopsis and extract on the left.

For Hamlet, right at the front of the book, that means the gravedigger scene and the duel, the former perhaps because it’s the moment and speech which have become folklore because of the skull, the latter for its dynamism and there’s certainly something of the Errol Flynn about the way the two rivals grimace at each other mid swash. Green seems to have been influenced by a range of sources in creating his images; his Hamlet and Henry V both look like they've stepped out of Lawrence Olivier's films, Rossetti’s Proserpine portrays Lady Macbeth, and his King Lear looks just like a still from The Ten Commandments.

That’s not a criticism. I love the idea of child working tirelessly to fill in these drawings and at the same time building a acquaintance with the images and then later in life revisiting them in their original forms with an pre-built familiarity. And the scenes chosen reflect the sheer variety of different types of incident in Shakespeare’s plays and doesn’t shy away from the darker images, of Othello suffocating Desdemona, of Leontes denying his child, of Caesar’s assassination. Indeed, both of the Hamlet images are about death, and this is underscored by the inclusion of the prince’s final speech.

Hatches, matches and dispatches. They’re all here.

'Great Scenes from Shakespeare's Plays' illustrated by John Green and edited by Paul Negri. Dover Publications. ISBN: 978-0486409603.

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