(Note: This review focuses on Twelfth Night (ISBN 9781784930028) and Hamlet (ISBN 9781784930004))
QED publishing’s Tales from Shakespeare series is not the first to rewrite Shakespeare’s plays for a young audience, nor will it be the last. While these are not the most innovative of such adaptations, there is enough originality to make them a worthwhile read, and Twelfth Night in particular is among the strongest adaptations in the series so far. What sets these adaptations apart from other recent attempts is Knapman’s ability to capture small but significant moments of emotional connection between characters, such as Viola’s empathy with Olivia upon discovering that they have both lost a brother or Horatio’s concern over Hamlet’s depression. Simony’s deceptively simple line drawings likewise subtly highlight these interpersonal moments; rather than focusing on setting or theatrical trappings, almost every illustration depicts an interaction between characters with minimal background details. Text and image work together to humanize Shakespeare’s characters in a way that few prose adaptations manage to achieve.
Like in most contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare for young people, Knapman retells the plots of the plays in modern English (including rewriting lines of dialogue in simple prose). There are some nods to the theatrical origins of the source material: the adaptations are divided into acts rather than chapters, the Dramatis Personae are listed on the first page, and a few of Shakespeare’s lines are presented in scroll-shaped text boxes throughout. However, these are short stories rather than play texts and they are at their most satisfying when they follow the conventions of this medium.