Graphic Novel Hamlet: Reaching Beyond Stage and Page
Keywords:Hamlet, Adaptation, Graphic novel, Comics
The persistence, abundance, and diversity of Shakespearean adaptations across many media shows Shakespearean narratives to be “successful replicators,” the terminology proposed by Bortolotti and Hutcheon (2007). In the past decade, many graphic novel adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays have been produced. While graphic novels have their own affordances that allow the Shakespearean plays to be assembled for “performance” on the page, at the same time they open up connotations that would
not be available in a conventional stage performance. The conventions of the comic book allow storyworlds to be opened, worlds that reach beyond the page and stage, and that exist on different narrative, or diegetic, levels. At the same time, a graphic novel adaptation can highlight the ephemeral nature of performance and the fragile network of human and nonhuman elements that hold together a Shakespeare narrative in performance —whether this performance is on the stage or the page.
This article will examine and compare three graphic novel adaptations of Hamlet: Hamlet (Manga Shakespeare) by Richard Appignanesi and Emma Vieceli (2007) (hereafter referred to as Manga Shakespeare); Hamlet (No Fear Shakespeare Graphic Novels) by Neil Babra (2008) (hereafter referred to as No Fear); and Shakespeare’s Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg (2010). Together these texts show that graphic novels can use comic book conventions to tap into the “agency of adaption” that is inherent in dramatic pretexts. When creating a stage performance, a director must make creative decisions that move outside the explicit instructions of a dramatic text. There is a similar but more complicated agency at work when a dramatic text is brought together as a performance on a page. Shakespearean adaptations bring their own particular joy and complexity, as the pretexts themselves serve as invitations to partake
in an intense flux of meaning and mixed ontologies.