Seventeenth century poet and playwright William Shakespeare penned some of the most well-known stories in the world. The conflict, romance, comedy, and wordplay have captivated audiences for over four hundred years, and Shakespeare's plays continue to be performed on stage and screen in both their original form and in new, adapted forms. The varying forms shed a different light on the stories, introducing them and making them more accessible to a new audience.
One popular way that authors have attempted to rework Shakespeare is by adapting the plays into short stories. The trend started with Charles and Mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare, an illustrated story book for children published in 1807. It has continued with other writers taking on the same task to varying degrees of success. One of best modern attempts at this type of artistic adaptation is Tina Packer's beautifully illustrated Tales From Shakespeare, published in 2010.
Why Tales From Shakespeare Works
It's clear from the amount of thought and detail that went into adapting the plays into short stories that Tina Packer has a deep love and appreciation for Shakespeare's original works. Packer works as president and artistic director of Shakespeare & Company, which is both a theater and outreach program.
Tales From Shakespeare is unique in that with her particular experience, Packer not only repackages the plays into a more accessible and digestible form for children who might be too young for the originals (or perhaps who are turned off by the unfamiliar vocabulary and playbook format), but she also provides enough resources within the text to foster a genuine understanding of the material.
The book includes short story adaptations of ten plays: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Hamlet, Much Ado About Nothing, King Lear, As You Like It, Macbeth, The Tempest, Othello, Twelfth Night, and Romeo and Juliet. The short stories are transformed with modern language. The retellings retain the heart of the stories, and in many cases remain similar enough that the most famous of Shakespeare's lines are easily recognizable. Packer does not stop there, though.
The book begins with an essay detailing the life and importance of Shakespeare. When she does launch into the stories then, readers have a sense of where the playwright exists within the English language literary canon. Each story is also accompanied by its own introduction in which the play is summarized and the themes discussed. Packer also gives readers a breakdown of all important characters. In this way, readers go into the story equipped with all the necessary tools for understanding.
Tales From Shakespeare: Meet the Illustrators
While the short stories and introductory texts are enough to make the book a desirable and worthy addition to both Shakespeare and children's book collections, the illustrations are what take it to the next level. Each story is accompanied by a full page color illustration at its beginning and is followed by an illustrated depiction of the ending. Packer gathered some of the biggest names in illustration to help bring her retellings to life.
For instance, most children will immediately recognize the artist behind Much Ado About Nothing. Mary GrandPré, best known for illustrating the American covers for J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, brings to life the story of Benedick and Beatrice.
Another well-known figure in children's literature, Mark Teague, known for his work on the Poppleton series and Dinosaurs series illustrates The Tempest.
King Lear is illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon. The Dillons are the only illustrators to win back to back Caldecott Medals. They won the coveted award in 1976 and 1977 for Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears and Ashanti to Zulu: African Traditions respectively.
Gail de Marcken brings the same level of detail and beauty to A Midsummer Night's Dream that she brought to The Quiltmaker series, co-written with Jeffrey Brumbeu and her stunning version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.
The tragedy of Hamlet is perfectly depicted by Irish illustrator P.J. Lynch, whose beautiful illustrations have earned him two prestigious Greenaway Medals, an award given to the most distinguished examples of children's literature illustrations by a British artist.
Printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser brings an air of solemnity with his Macbeth contribution. Much lauded for his prints for Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking, Moser is a recipient of the American Book Award and is the founder of Pennyroyal Press.
Renowned artist Kadir Nelson illustrates Othello. Nelson has illustrated two Caldecott Honor books: Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Henry's Freedom Box: A True Story from the Underground Railroad by Ellen Levine. He has won an NAACP Image Award and a Coretta Scott King Award.
Barbara McClintock's illustrations accompany As You Like It. McClintock has won several New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book awards and her 2003 book, Dahlia, earned a Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor Award.
Fashion and book illustrator Chesley McLaren brings Viola to life in Twelfth Night. McLaren is known for her fashion illustrations and for being the illustrator for the beloved Princess Diaries series, as well as her own children's books including Zat Cat.
Romeo and Juliet is illustrated by David Shannon, whose whimsical style highlights the romance of the story as well as the youth of the title characters. He is best known for his Caldecott Honor Book, No, David!
Overall, Tina Packer and her team of talented and respected illustrators have created a book that not only does honor to the timeless stories of Shakespeare, but also serves to promote a love and interest in those stories by readers of all ages. In this form, Packer and co. present complex themes in a way that is appealing and approachable for children who are not yet ready for the the full text of the plays. This beautiful book is perfect for Shakespeare lovers and children who are sure to love the Bard after digesting this impressive adaptation of his work.