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Killing Shakespeare?

A Toronto comic book gives students a fresh introduction to Shakespeare’s plays, but some scholars may not be amused

by Erica Mojzes

Kill Shakespeare is a comic book series by Toronto-based writers Anthony Del Col and Colin McCreery. Don’t let the title fool you; the comic book is not meant to incite rage toward Shakespeare, but rather it is a respectful tribute to the great Bard. The comic pulls famous characters from different plays and puts them together on stage for the first time. The heroes, Hamlet, Juliet, and Falstaff, take on the villains, Richard III, Iago, and Lady Macbeth, in a race to find the mythical creator: William Shakespeare.

The comic, which uses a mixture of contemporary language and direct quotation, is certainly no replacement for the great classics of English drama, but it may prove to be an accessible introduction to Shakespeare that encourages students to read on and find out more about their favourite characters. According to Del Col, the series was written primarily for an audience with little-to-no experience with, or love for, Shakespeare’s works. McCreery adds: “We hoped that our series could serve as a gateway to Shakespeare’s characters and tropes, and help some students get pulled in when they might otherwise resist the plays.”

The Bard's greatest heroes and villains lead the adventure of Kill Shakespeare (Credit: Images: Kill Shakespeare Entertainment, Inc. Illustration: Renae McCann)

Rob Charpentier, owner of the Danforth’s Comics & More shop, has seen students getting interested in Kill Shakespeare. He remembers one customer who bought the comic book for his niece, who was reading it for a school literature course. Many educators are now bringing Kill Shakespeare into the classroom, as a resource to help get students engaged in Shakespeare’s works.  Charpentier adds, “I’m just glad that teachers and librarians have finally started to appreciate the graphic format and its ability to reach even the stubborn reader.” If Kill Shakespeare can help create more young readers it should be embraced in the classroom, rather than dismissed for its lack of iambic pentameter.

Some scholars may ask how useful Kill Shakespeare can really be when it takes so many liberties from the original plays. Writers Del Col and McCreery chose not only to adapt the language, but also to create plotlines unimagined by Shakespeare. The comic sees the Bard’s characters acting rather uncharacteristically: Othello forgives Iago, and romance blossoms between Hamlet and Juliet. For Shakespeare purists, this may seem like high treason. McCreery and Del Col defend their choice, stating that for many people the biggest obstacle to getting into Shakespeare is that dense Elizabethan language. “We wanted to remove that obstacle while trying to be true to the spirit of the characters,” McCreery says. Del Col adds that those who criticize their method “are missing the point of the project: trying to make Shakespeare’s characters and stories as accessible as possible to new audiences.”

For more information about the comic series, check out this CBC video interview with the Kill Shakespeare creators. For further reading on creative Shakespeare education, check out The Guardian: “Re-styling Shakespeare for children.”

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