Friday, January 20, 2012

The Merchant of Venice

One of William Shakespeare's better known "comedies," The Merchant of Venice follows storylines involving romance, commerce, and racial discrimination. Antonio is the merchant from the title and he borrows money from the Jew Shylock, a stock villain portrayed in an Antisemitic manner. Antonio lends some of the money to his friend Bassanio who wants to marry the rich, beautiful, and clever Portia. In the interim, Shylock's daughter Jessica elopes with a Christian. When news of shipwrecks seem to threaten Antonio's fortune, the persecuted and wronged Shylock seeks to take his debt from Antonio in the form of a pound of flesh. The play's resolution plays out in typical Shakespearean fashion, through cross-dressing, a trial, and a few major speeches.

This adaptation was done by Gareth Hinds, who has a number of other beautiful adaptations under his belt, including Beowulf, King Lear, and The Odyssey. He chose to set this story in a more modern Venice and included a handy key for the characters up front to help readers out. He modernized the language a bit, though not on the major speeches, and he did a great job of not playing up to stereotypical depictions for theatrical effect. This adaptation retains a lot of ambiguity about personal relations and social dynamics to spark good discussion and inspire thought.

Nominated by YALSA as a Great Graphic Novel for Teens in 2009, this book has been praised widely. Kirkus Reviews called it "a captivating, smartly executed work." The Graphic Classroom's Michael Schofield wrote that Hinds' "attention to the original work and his artistry is just top notch." Publishers Weekly concluded that it was "an intriguing adaptation." From a slightly contrary position, Ladyrhian wished more of the original language appeared in the early portions of the book but still recommended it.

This graphic adaptation was first published by Candlewick Press. A preview is available from Random House. A few more preview pages are available here from Hinds' website.

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