Performing Race: Interrogating Gareth Hinds’ Graphic Novel Adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet


  • J. Katherine Burton



Graphic novel adaptations, such as Gareths Hinds’ Romeo and Juliet, are a popular way to introduce audiences to Shakespeare, however focusing on a young audience obscures the fact that these are sophisticated interpretations integrating graphics and text, providing opportunities for adapters to reinterpret classic texts.  The combination of visual and verbal resembles performance media (film and stage) and many of the analytical processes used for performance can also be applied to graphic novels. Recent studies of 20th and 21st century film and stage adaptations of Shakespeare critique the practices of directors and others involved in the selection process of actors of color for Shakespeare productions where race is not indicated in the original play text.  These practices offer different approaches to, and understandings of, the semiotics of race in performance and the critiques identify issues associated with these various approaches. Applying these studies to graphic novel adaptations provides a more detailed understanding of the impact on audience reception of how adapters represent the characters and story lines of Shakespeare’s original texts. This paper interrogates Gareth Hind’s graphic novel adaptation and argues that, contrary to his stated intent of emphasizing universal themes, by racializing the Montagues and the Capulets, he introduces themes such as differential racialism and colorism into the story that problematizes readers’ interpretations of this classic Shakespeare text. This interrogation applies an understanding of the semiotics of race and performance in terms of non-traditional types of casting of characters, with a close reading of the interaction of graphics and text, comparing this reading to similar film and stage performances and how that reading may be interpreted/misinterpreted by readers/viewers.