We all know the story of Romeo and Juliet. Young lovers from warring families cannot be together in life, united only by untimely death. Many famous lines from the play have entered our general lexicon: “a rose by any other name,” “parting is such sweet sorrow,” and “a plague o’ both your houses.” Most retellings of this tragedy preserve its plot, but they don’t always include the original language, often updating or simplifying the text in the name of accessibility. In this regard, Gareth Hinds’ version is a great compromise.
As he explains in the author’s note, Hinds’ Romeo and Juliet does not contain the full text of the original play, but retains its best-known phrases and a great deal more of the Bard’s beautiful prose. Confession: I didn’t even realize the text had been abridged until I read Hinds’ note. Though I’m no Shakespeare scholar, I think this says something about the smoothness of Hinds’ editing and the sense of authenticity in this tremendously accessible graphic novel.
Hinds’ detailed full-color drawings lay out the events of the play, making them easy to follow. While the art is an effective storytelling device, it’s also fun to look at; its colors are bright and lively with a watercolor feel. The background of each scene adds richness to the story, whether it is couples dancing at the Capulets’ ball or the herb gardens of Friar Laurence. The setting remains period Verona, its architecture elaborate and beautiful. Hinds admits to tweaking the city’s geography—notably, bringing architectural points of interest closer together in order to produce more dramatic landscapes.
Hinds depicts the Capulets as Indian and the Montagues as African, noting that he drew the characters this way to reflect the racial diversity of our world, not to explore any specific real-world conflict. The families also dress in different colors: the Capulets wear red, the Montagues blue. The characters are distinctive, their appearances reflecting their personalities: tough-guy Tybalt is heavily tattooed, while playful Mercutio wears his hair twisted into peaks reminiscent of a jester’s cap.
The characters’ actions, expressions, and postures support the text, most of which is spoken by the characters as befits an adaptation of a play. An occasional footnote clarifies a potentially confusing word, but otherwise, the images provide all the context necessary to follow the story. Even metaphors and flights of fancy are illustrated, such as Mercutio’s description of Queen Mab visiting dreamers in her chariot. Not only do the drawings clarify the meaning of the text, they add to its emotional power and the excitement of the action scenes.
Hinds has clearly put a lot of thought into this adaptation. The author’s note provides full context for his decision-making, discussing everything from anachronisms like Tybalt’s tattoos to small details like the species of plants in herbalist Friar Laurence’s garden. I would happily hand this book to any middle or high school student who is studying Romeo and Juliet or anyone who is a fan of Shakespeare.
Romeo and Juliet
by Gareth Hinds, William Shakespeare
Candlewick Press, 2013