Manga Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice
written by Richard Appignanesi and William Shakespeare
illustrated by Faye Yong
Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice has gotten a new perspective in an OEL manga. Some things are changed—like the fact that the characters have elfish looks with long ears—but more often than not, the graphic novel sticks with its source material.
When I first saw the elfish look, I thought this version might have tossed out the religious aspects in order to avoid the play’s anti-Semitism, and instead showed the differences in characters through mystical means. That’s not the case. It’s never said why the characters look the way they do. It still takes places in Venice, and Shylock is still Jewish.
The dialogue is not modern. It lifts directly from the Shakespeare, or it trims down lines, or it slightly reworks it. For instance, the play opens with Antonio saying, “In sooth I know not why I am so sad./ It wearies me, you say it wearies you./ But how I caught it, found it, or came by it,/ What stuff ’tis made of, whereof it is born,/ I am to learn.” The graphic novel opens with Antonio saying. “I know not why I am so sad. How I came by it, I am to learn.”
It’s the same story, of course. Antonio agrees to borrow money from Shylock so he can help his friend Bassanio have the funds to court Portia. Portia deals with her other suitors, and Shylock’s daughter, much to his anger, elopes with a Christian man. When Antonio loses his ships (and therefore money), Shylock wants a pound of his flesh in return, and Portia saves the day in a courtroom scene.
This is not meant to be a replacement read for the play, but a guide to help readers understand it. It doesn’t get into all the nitty-gritty details or explain the meaning of every word and phrase. There are different books for that. It does, however, give a good overview and feel of the story. I think it could be especially helpful as a side read in high school English classes.
Shakespeare’s work is meant to be visual, but oftentimes these days people just read it out of a book. That’s what makes the graphic novel idea interesting. Even if readers don’t understand every word, they’ll get the gist from the actions and expressions of the characters. Since manga tends to be expressive, it makes it very easy to understand what characters are thinking and feeling.