This simplified version of a controversial play leaves this reviewer cold. There is no mention of Shylock being Jewish, which certainly reduces the controversy over this character but also demeans Shakespeare’s words, characterization, and plot.
The graphic novel opens with an overview on William Shakespeare, mentioning that The Merchant of Venice is one of is most famous plays, followed by a pictorial introduction of the four main characters: Antonio, Shylock, Portia and Bassanio, before launching the reader into 16th century Venice. Each of the Acts and Scenes of the original play are demarked for the reader with flashbacks depicted in sepia tones and wavy panel frames. The same wavy panel frames, with coloured interiors, are used to illuminate action that takes place off stage of the two main settings: Venice and Portia’s house in Belmont. In fact, the highly romantic byplay of Portia’s fulfilment of her father’s wishes in gaining a husband outshines her accomplishments as the lawyer in disguise.
The rather static illustrations and characters are rather unemotional considering the life-and-death matter of the material. Portia, however, is easily recognizable by her revealing attire, displaying a great deal of her shoulders and ample breasts. (Perhaps this is why she is not immediately recognizable as the lawyer when she is completely covered by a cloak?) Their static nature, however, is matched by the textual reduction that renders Shakespeare’s prose into equally static contemporary English. There is no poetry within these covers leaving readers unfamiliar with the original play very little reason to acknowledge the rationale behind this being one of his famous works.
Two pages of “Riddles and Giggles” follow the conclusion of the story. “Many of Shakespeare’s plays have riddles that baffle the reader. The Merchant of Venice is one of them.” Equally baffling, therefore is the fact that none of the riddles asked in this section are from the play itself. All in all, a disappointing and dissatisfying reading venture.
The Merchant of Venice
by Willam Shakespeare, John F. McDonald
Art by Vinod Kumar
Publisher Age Rating: 12-14