For decades CliffsNotes has helped students digest the verbosity and virtuosity of Shakespeare’s plays. Now the company is extending that approach to a new market with Manga editions of Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth and Romeo and Juliet. The plays are greatly abridged (“so reading these isn’t tedious torture,” according to the website) and paired with comicbook art in the style of the Japanese — big eyes, cute faces, and exaggerated poses.
While I appreciate any attempts to make the works of Shakespeare popular with a new generation, something is lost in the translation. Looking at the sample pages provided online, many characters are drawn as cartoon villains or simpletons without the shades of gray present in the original plays. Removal of much of the text also simplifies the stories and characters to the point of caricature.
Products and concepts can be brought to different media or markets, but sometimes something is lost in the translation. The spin-off then fails as a standalone product and may then only succeed as expensive marketing for the original. I feel that these manga fall into this category. There are filmed versions of these plays that better translate these great plays into a more accessible form. The utility of these editions is diminished to nothing more than average illustrations of excerpts from some of the greatest literary works in English. Maybe one day someone will create manga or anime versions of Shakespeare that does the original plays justice.
What other things have lost their virtue when translated to another medium?