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Decoding Shakespeare

December 23, 2008

Sometime in the last few weeks, while Christmas browsing on Amazon, I discovered that one of my favorite authors, Christopher Moore, has a new book coming out in a few months. Fool is the story of Shakespeare’s King Lear, told from the tale of the court Jester (a minor character is Shakespeare’s original script).

I’m a big fan of Christopher Moore, but also of Shakespeare, humorous novels, and particularly of literary parodies; so it would be difficult for any book to be more up my alley. It would be a bit of an understatement to say that I’m looking forward to it, but before the books release in February, it seems I have a little homework to do.

You see, King Lear is one of the few Shakespeare plays I haven’t read. After Books like The Eyre Affair and To Say Nothing of the Dog, I’ve learned my lesson that literary parody is so much richer if you’ve actually read the work being lampooned (Also, once you’ve read the parody, it’s too late to read the original, because you know how the story unfolds).

So while at the bookstore for a last minute gift, I headed over to the Shakespeare section, for a copy of King Lear. And once there, I found an array of new versions of Shakespeare, written with the intention of making Shakespeare a little less intimidating.

Having read most of his plays, and seen many in movie and play form, I don’t find his work all that confusing. But I can remember a time when that wasn’t the case. So looking forward to a time in the not very distant future, when my kids will be looking for help understanding the Bard, I started browsing what was available.

I’d be shooting for dramatic understatement if I said that I was impressed with what I found; particularly with the recent additions by Spark Notes. Spark Notes started out with study guides along the lines of Cliffs Notes, generally used as a substitute for reading whatever work they summarized.

But it seems there are more robust choices now. I picked up two books, both from Spark Notes No Fear Shakespeare collection. The first is King Lear (No Fear Shakespeare) which presents the original text of the play, coupled with a line-by-line modern day translation on the facing page. This is great for anyone who wants a little help with the text, without loosing all the structure and nuance that is layered into the Bard’s plays.

The second book is Macbeth (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels). This version keeps the original text but presents it as a graphic novel. This one has the advantage of preserving the wonderful language of the Bard, but presenting it with some visual context—and I know seeing the play in addition to reading it was always helpful to me. Plus it comes packaged in a graphic novel format, which many kids already enjoy.

I like the fact that these newer entries into the genre are trying to help raise the reader up to Shakespeare’s level, instead of trying to dumb him down to our’s.

2 Comments
  1. December 28, 2008 10:11 am

    I really enjoyed your post about Shakespeare and the study guides associated with it. You seem to be an expert on the subject. Take a look at Shmoop Lit (www.shmoop.com). Shmoop wants to make you a better lover of literature, history, poetry…

  2. Amanda permalink
    January 13, 2009 3:51 pm

    could you help me decipher some lines of Romeo and Juliet??

    82Cank’red with peace, to part your cank’red hate;

    88 To know our farther pleasure in this case,
    89 To old Free-town, our common judgement-place.

    Thank You!

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