Recently I learned that there are a couple of canadians who think it necessary to retell the plays of William Shakespeare in a comic book format. This is surely not something that hasn’t been tried before — while I don’t know for certain I would nonetheless be hugely surprised if Hamlet didn’t exist in a manga format in Japan already for a long time. However, what Conor McCreery and Anthony Del Col attempt to do is something else — their aim is to create a “a mash-up of heroes and villains from a dozen plays [of Shakespeare] flung together in a new, supernatural adventure.”
Translating poetry , let alone that of Shakespeare, is a tricky endeavor in its own — be it to another language or to a new medium. However, what is being attempted here is something else, and a cue to this is the line that compares the Bard to James Cameron. I might of course be completely off the mark here, but to my mind there is snowflake’s chance in hell that 400 years from now, people would still watch “Avatar” or “Titanic” — or indeed remember James Cameron for anything else than becoming filthy rich by making junk food on cellophane. Shakespeare, however popular his plays might have been in his own time, did something well beyond providing mere entertainment. He didn’t treat his medium simply as a blunt tool to get the storyline and characters across to his public, he redefined what poetry meant and changed the English language in process — and compensating the utter flatness of his characters in “Avatar” by rendering them 3-dimensional on screen does not qualify Cameron for anything similar.
What makes Shakespeare great is not that he was popular — he was popular because (or perhaps despite of) his being great. He could tell his stories in a way that was at the same time accessible as well as sophisticated, and this is truly a rare feat that is hard to match. One can no doubt take the accessible part and retell “Macbeth” in another format, be it a movie or a comic book — but to leave the sophistication of Shakespeare’s verse aside as something insignificant would amount to a major loss. And I for one am struggling, trying to come up with a contemporary name, be it a poet, writer or movie director, who could stand in comparison to that.