Manga Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night's Dream. Illustrated by Kate Brown. 2008.
Last Wednesday, I reviewed Manga Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. I liked it. I did. As much as I ever could like Romeo & Juliet anyway. This week, I'm happy to be reviewing Manga Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. This has always been more of a favorite of mine. Not my absolute favorite Shakespeare mind you, but near the top at least where comedies are concerned. There is a certain playfulness, a whimsical flavor that is light and fun and more joyous. Love isn't deadly in A Midsummer Night's Dream. It's playful, fun, silly, fickle, whimsical. It's the anti-Romeo-and-Juliet play.
A Midsummer Night's Dream is the story of multiple lovers, multiple couples. There isn't one main story--there are many teeny-tiny stories that are all woven together into a delightful mix. There is Oberon and Titania, Theseus and Hippolyta, Hermia and Lysander, and Helena and Demetrius. And then there is the playful mixing of Lysander and Helena and Titania and Nick Bottom (the Ass of a man). There is much angst in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Much. Angst. You've got father-daughter conflict. You've got thwarted, forbidden love. You've got unrequited love. You've got secrets. You've got betrayals. You've got angry little spats. And at the heart of the whole mess is Puck. Puck is such a wonderful and delightful little fairy-type character. He is a prankster. Someone who takes enjoyment out of playing and interfering with mortals.
In Romeo-and-Juliet, love is taken too seriously. Here, one might argue that love isn't taken seriously enough. You've got these two men, Lysander and Demetrius, making all sorts of foolish speeches...but the reader is in on the inside joke this time around. The reader knows that all this talk of love is just foolish magic-talk. The reader knows that such talk isn't to be taken at face-value. Each of our characters is flawed. There isn't one among them that doesn't have something that keeps them just short of perfection.
Helena, lovable though she may be, is a bit too clingy, a bit too desperate, a bit too go-getter. As a modern reader, you want to tell her to show some pride, hold on to some dignity, to not be so obviously lovesick. And, Demetrius, well, he seems a bit too full of himself. Although the text doesn't necessarily come right out and say it, he comes across to this reader as thinking he's God's gift to women. In other words, he needs a comeuppance, to be put into his place. The work of Puck on Demetrius can only be a good thing that we hope can last. Oberon, same thing, he's arrogant; he's proud; he's got this whole domination thing going on...but I can't really dislike the guy because he has a heart when it comes to Helena. He sees the poor girl in need and sets out to help her. It's not his fault Puck helps a little too much.
The language, the style. It's Shakespeare. It's beautiful. It's memorable. It just works. Again, there is nice adaptation in this Manga edition.
The artwork. I love the colored illustrations of the beginning. But there were certain sequences that just didn't work for me with this one. I liked certain pages, certain spreads. But I can't really say that the ENTIRE book was utterly fantastic or anything. But look at this color spread? Isn't it wonderful?
I pray you all, stand up.LYSANDER
I know you two are rival enemies:
How comes this gentle concord in the world,
That hatred is so far from jealousy,
To sleep by hate, and fear no enmity?
My lord, I shall reply amazedly,EGEUS
Half sleep, half waking: but as yet, I swear,
I cannot truly say how I came here;
But, as I think,--for truly would I speak,
And now do I bethink me, so it is,--
I came with Hermia hither: our intent
Was to be gone from Athens, where we might,
Without the peril of the Athenian law.
Enough, enough, my lord; you have enough:DEMETRIUS
I beg the law, the law, upon his head.
They would have stolen away; they would, Demetrius,
Thereby to have defeated you and me,
You of your wife and me of my consent,
Of my consent that she should be your wife.
My lord, fair Helen told me of their stealth,THESEUS
Of this their purpose hither to this wood;
And I in fury hither follow'd them,
Fair Helena in fancy following me.
But, my good lord, I wot not by what power,--
But by some power it is,--my love to Hermia,
Melted as the snow, seems to me now
As the remembrance of an idle gaud
Which in my childhood I did dote upon;
And all the faith, the virtue of my heart,
The object and the pleasure of mine eye,
Is only Helena. To her, my lord,
Was I betroth'd ere I saw Hermia:
But, like in sickness, did I loathe this food;
But, as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it.
Fair lovers, you are fortunately met:
Of this discourse we more will hear anon.
Egeus, I will overbear your will;
For in the temple by and by with us
These couples shall eternally be knit:
And, for the morning now is something worn,
Our purposed hunting shall be set aside.
Away with us to Athens; three and three,
We'll hold a feast in great solemnity.
[Reads] 'The battle with the Centaurs, to be sung
By an Athenian eunuch to the harp.'
We'll none of that: that have I told my love,
In glory of my kinsman Hercules.
Reads'The riot of the tipsy Bacchanals,
Tearing the Thracian singer in their rage.'
That is an old device; and it was play'd
When I from Thebes came last a conqueror.
Reads'The thrice three Muses mourning for the death
Of Learning, late deceased in beggary.'
That is some satire, keen and critical,
Not sorting with a nuptial ceremony.
Reads'A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisbe; very tragical mirth.'
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is, hot ice and wondrous strange snow.
How shall we find the concord of this discord?
A play there is, my lord, some ten words long,
Which is as brief as I have known a play;
But by ten words, my lord, it is too long,
Which makes it tedious; for in all the play
There is not one word apt, one player fitted:
And tragical, my noble lord, it is;
For Pyramus therein doth kill himself.
Which, when I saw rehearsed, I must confess,
Made mine eyes water; but more merry tears
The passion of loud laughter never shed.
No epilogue, I pray you; for your play needs no
excuse. Never excuse; for when the players are all
dead, there needs none to be blamed.
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber'd here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend:
if you pardon, we will mend:
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck
Now to 'scape the serpent's tongue,
We will make amends ere long;
Else the Puck a liar call;
So, good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews