The Australian: ‘Hamlet’ by Nicki Greenberg

Posted by on November 21st, 2010 at 8:10 PM

The Australian‘s Cefn Ridout takes a look at the recently released 427 page graphic novel adaption of Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg:

WHEN it comes to Shakespeare, little is sacred. And there can be few plays in English that have been as routinely reinterpreted as Hamlet.

In recent years the tragic prince of stage, screen and Twitter has also attracted the attention of graphic novelists.

Purists may groan at Hamlet being variously refashioned as a futuristic manga antihero, a surprisingly expressive stick figure, an emo teen rebel with a cause or even faithfully following the (abridged) letter of the lore. However, educators and librarians keen to engage contemporary readers with the Bard’s plays have readily enlisted many of the better examples to the cause.

To these efforts we can now add Nicki Greenberg’s daring and often dazzling take on this standard-bearer of high Shakespearean tragedy. A Melbourne-based artist who seems to delight in radically reconstituting literary classics, Greenberg’s bold makeover of The Great Gatsby, in her 2007 graphic novel debut, recast F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ensemble of lost souls as a bizarre menagerie whose bestial appearance exposed their true nature. Realised through elegant linework, sepia-toned hues and incisive storytelling, the effect was as compelling as it was unique.

With Hamlet, as befits Shakespeare’s longest and arguably best known play, Greenberg unleashes her narrative ambitions on to a sprawling, stylised, 427-page canvas bristling with colour and imaginative brio. And, as with Gatsby, she makes the work her own while honouring the source material, creating a sad, striking and richly layered adaptation.

On stage or the page, and at a distance of 400 years, it takes a while to attune to Shakespeare’s venerated verse. It doesn’t help that his plays carry the baggage of dimly recalled school essays or the sense that, as Fintan O’Toole observes in his 2002 book Shakespeare is Hard, But So is Life, “they are good for you . . . a kind of mental muesli that cleans out the system and purges the soul”.

Recognising these inherent challenges, Greenberg raises the bar, wholly reimagining the players, staging and action to elucidate the drama and rhetoric. It’s a high-wire act that largely pays off.

Read the full review here.

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