Here’s the problem with Shakespeare’s plays. If I choose to read them in print, I miss out on the energy of a visual performance. If I watch them on stage or screen, I miss out on basic comprehension. My Elizabethan English is abominable.
Now you should understand that I’m a big fan of Shakespeare, and I don’t like it when he is
dumbed down abridged or profaned modernized. This is why I had resisted graphic novel adaptations of his plays. I’d rather have no Bard than compromised Bard.
Fortunately, more and more publishers are kowtowing to us literature snobs. It’s getting easier to find graphic novel adaptations that introduce illustrations without sacrificing one word of original text. It’s a great idea, especially for someone as complex as Shakespeare: you get visual cues to help you follow the story, and you can linger over the words as long as necessary.
“As long as necessary” was rather a long time for me, I’ll confess, when I plunged into this version of Henry V. Even with pictures, unadulterated Shakespeare is hard. Take away the interpretive footnotes and you’re going to sweat a little.
But come on. It’s Henry V. This is, like, the best play ever. It’s worth it.
If you have not yet experienced Henry V, I invite you to crawl out from your joyless cave. The former rapscallion Prince Hal (remember him from Henry IV, part one and Henry IV, part two?) has matured into Henry V, King of England. War is brewing, and the untested king must thwart a conspiracy attempt as he prepares to attack France. Tension builds until the eve of the invasion; Henry delivers his St. Crispin’s Day speech; and the outnumbered, outclassed Brits instigate the bloody Battle of Agincourt.
I collapse into hiccuping tears every time I read or watch this play. It is drenched with honor and courage and loyalty, I mean it is absolutely sopping with lofty themes. There are lots of super-famous lines and passages to recognize, and the scene en français is a hoot.
Do try the graphic adaptation. I did not find the pictures to be all that impressive—they are perfectly serviceable, but more utilitarian than beautiful—but they were invaluable to me as I worked my way through the un-footnoted text.
Check the WRL catalog for Henry V: The Graphic Novel