Shakespeare, William. The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Adapted and Illustrated by Gareth Hinds. Massachusetts: Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN 9780763668075
Romeo and Juliet are from feuding families. One night, Romeo sneaks into a party at Juliet’s house, they meet, and fall in love instantly. They are secretly married and then during a quarrel, Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. For this, Romeo is banished from the city. The two hatch a plan to reunite, but an undelivered message puts a serious kink in their plans and puts their lives at risk. In the end, their tragic tale does succeed in ending the bad blood between the families, but this comes at a great cost.
In this graphic novelization of the Shakespearean classic, Gareth Hinds has stuck very close to the original text of the play. Therefore, his interpretation of the characters is portrayed through his illustrations of them. He has chosen to use several different ethnicities for the characters. For example, the Capulets are an Indian family and the Montagues are African. Hinds does a good job of drawing facial expressions on all the characters so that the reader truly feels each emotion and makes a connection with the characters. Each character is unique enough that the reader is able to differentiate between them and Hinds has provided a pictorial directory of the characters at the beginning as well. Romeo and Juliet both have fresh, young, attractive faces and readers will root for them along the way and mourn for them in the end. The younger generations of the two families exhibit a bit of upstart behavior as evidenced by their more modern (for the times) clothes and their tattoos. Hinds mentions in his notes at the end that he hopes younger readers will immediately pick up on this and thus identify more closely with the characters, but without a background knowledge, young readers may not know that a dress cut above the ankles was not proper. They may have an easier time identifying the fact that tattoos were meant to be rebellious. Overall, the facial expressions and emotions are what makes the connection and not their attire.
In Shakespeare’s time, one had to defend their honor and their family’s honor at all costs. So, when Capulet’s cousin, Tybalt, feels that Romeo has dishonored his family, he sets out to make Romeo answer for this insult. Romeo tries to settle things without a fight, but Tybalt is insistent. A member of both families ends up dying and then Romeo is banished for drawing the last sword. Meanwhile, Juliet’s father has decided that she is to marry. Romeo and Juliet have already secretly married at this point and in order to be together, they must find a way to get Juliet out of her betrothal. The two must overcome many obstacles to obtain their goal of being together and while they do overcome the obstacles, there is a grand miscommunication and in the end, their efforts are for nought as they both end up dead. Most everyone is familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet, but Hinds has done a splendid job of giving fresh life to the age-old story. His illustrations of the duels, the escapes, the hiding, and the eventual taking of lives is engaging. His fight scenes are complete with “FWAT”, “SHINK”, “KISH”, and “SNAP” onomatopoeias, mirroring comic book practices and appealing especially to young male readers.
Each scene in the play is set in a different place and Hinds creates each of them beautifully. The details in the opulent Capulet palace show their wealth and stature and the lush gardens outside Juliet’s window do the same. The town square where Benvolio and Tybalt meet their ends is sparsely detailed. In this scene, the action takes center stage, but the backgrounds contain enough architecturally accurate details to alert the reader as to the time period. The monastery where Friar Laurence resides is majestic in a simple way. Throughout the book, the characters fill a large portion of each frame, but the settings seen in the background are true to the time period and details help the reader identify revisited locations.
This tragic tale is definitely one of young love. The two main characters place their love for each other above all other things. The are willing to forsake their families and their lives of wealth in Verona to be together. Many obstacles stand in their way and they overcome one after another, giving the reader hope that they will be together. In the end however, they are not able to overcome the final obstacle. Hinds stays true to this theme of the original story with his rendition and his illustrations.
Soft lines and expressive faces in the illustrations are indicative of Hinds’ work. As mentioned before, Hinds uses the original text of the play, albeit abridged, which helps the reader to feel more immersed in the setting of the book. The author uses a few footnotes throughout the book to define particularly obscure words and these do not interrupt the flow from frame to frame.
This is a good treatment of a classic work and would compliment any unit on Shakespeare. The graphic novel form lends itself to encouraging reluctant male readers to venture into the Bard’s work.
“The Shakespearean language is abridged but not adapted into contemporary English; footnotes explain words that could be confusing to young audiences. The use of lines and colorful watercolors is striking, especially when illustrating action such as dancing and sword fights. The cover provides one of the best advertisements for the book, showing readers a multiracial spin on this classic play. And one of the most memorable panels illustrates how, when Romeo first sees Juliet, the image he had in his mind of Rosalind literally shatters.” — School Library Journal, November 2013
“…creates another splendid graphic novel, tracing each scene in taut, coherent, and expertly deployed dialogue. Hindss characters, in period array modified by a few more contemporary touches, are poignantly specific yet as universal as this tragic tale of young love demands. Romeo, African, is big-eyed, appealing, impetuous, innocent; Juliet, a patrician Indian, is as tall as her lover and a bit more mature, as thirteen-year-old girls are wont to be. Other characters are well differentiated (fiery Tybalt sports tattoos; Mercutio, dreadlocks)…This is not only a wonderfully accessible introduction to a full text or (better yet) theatrical production; its a visual delight for anyone.” — Horn Book Magazine, November 2013
The following review was too interesting not to print in its entirety. It begins somewhat positive and then takes a drastically negative turn. This is in stark contrast to the other reviews for the book.
“Romeo and Juliet is a graphic novel adaptation of the original play by William Shakespeare. Notes at the beginning and end of the story provide historical context and prepare the reader to understand the original language presented in iambic pentameter. Though not modernized with dialogue and setting, the story does attempt to show the universality of the story with race-House Capulet is an Indian family, and House Montague is an African American family. The artwork is not special and does not add to the magic of the ill-fated romance. Romeo is not handsome enough, nor is Juliet beautiful enough to captivate teen audiences. Graphic novels should use their illustrations to lend greater understanding to the story. Romeo and Juliet does not enhance appreciation for the original play or encourage a reader to seek out other plays by Shakespeare. Overall, the book lacks drama, and expectations for passion and tragedy are never met. For the price, libraries seeking to expand their graphic novel collection should not buy a book with such limited appeal. This book is incredibly accurate in its representations of period architecture and could be used in an art history class. This specialized usage would still relegate Romeo and Juliet to an optional purchase.-Laura Perenic. — Voice of Youth Advocates, October 2013
Read other graphic novel interpretations of classic literature by Gareth Hinds:
- Beowulf, ISBN 9780763630232
- The Odyssey, ISBN 9780763642686
- Macbeth, ISBN 9780763678029
- King Lear, ISBN 9780763643447
Read, compare, and contrast another graphic novel version of Romeo and Juliet, adapted by John McDonald, ISBN 9781906332624
Read, compare, and contrast with a text copy of the play.
Watch excerpts from a recorded stage production or film adaptation of the play.
Conduct a reader’s theater with the play.
Have students form groups and act out scenes from the play. Students can record the scenes and enter into an in-class contest.
Image from Amazon.com, accessed April 14, 2015. Cover art copyright 2013 by Candlewick Press and Gareth Hinds.