Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, by Kate Brown

Amulet Books clearly worked hard on their Manga Shakespeare books. The series is edited by a “leading Shakespeare scholar” and evaluated by an educational editor and an advisory group of teachers. The books feature abridged versions of Shakespeare's original plays, short explanatory essays, and manga-inspired artwork. They're sturdy, attractive, and (at $10.95) reasonably inexpensive.

Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream is an excellent example of the line. For those of you unfamiliar with the title, A Midsummer Night's Dream is one of Shakespeare's sillier works—there's a love square, two feuding fairies, a magical plant, and a yawn-inducing subplot about a play (The Tragedy of Pyramus and Thisbe) being put on by a group of well-meaning but inept city workers.

Amulet's take on this material is gorgeous, featuring delicate and beautifully laid-out artwork by illustrator Kate Brown. Her style is reminiscent of Charles Vess's work, and gives the material an appropriately dreamlike feel. This version is set in a futuristic version of Athens, but the unobtrusive sci-fi touches ensure that the focus remains on Shakespeare's language. And while I stand by my belief that this is a fundamentally stupid play, it's also the source of some of Shakespeare's most well-known lines, including “Lord, what fools these mortals be” and “The course of true love never did run smooth”, so the editors were smart to approach the abridging with a light hand.

Despite the book's many virtues, however, I doubt it will be of much use to young readers. It features too much original language to be easily understood by Shakespeare newbies, but it's edited too heavily to stand in for the original work. The artwork provides plenty of context (and humor), but it's not as informative as the many editions that feature Shakespeare's original language on one page and explanatory notes on the next. I enjoyed Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I'm keeping an eye out for the rest of the series, but high school kids looking for a dumbed-down version of Shakespeare to get them through Honors English should look elsewhere.
Posted by: Julianka


15 Apr, 2010 06:14 PM @ version 0

"...I stand by my belief that this is a fundamentally stupid play..."
Oh, come on; it's fluffy and fun! I wish that students were introduced to this rather than to Romeo & Juliet! They might enjoy Shakespeare rather than find him boring (or worse, an inspiration for tragic "romantic" young love).

15 Apr, 2010 09:05 PM @ version 0

Hah--sorry, I love the language in this play, but I can't fully embrace any story that features a "romantic" duo like Helena and Demetrius. I've never been sure who I wanted to kick more...

15 Apr, 2010 09:42 PM @ version 0

To me, that is the point: "romantic love" is incredibly shallow and superficial, easily modified by mere tomfoolery. I always found the "romance" in this play delightfully cynical. :-)

And, speaking of points, good review; I now want to read this book.

16 Apr, 2010 12:21 AM @ version 0

Thanks--I loved reading it, but I definitely thought you needed to be familiar with and appreciative of the original play in order to enjoy this adaptation.

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