To be or not to be dumb

Shakespeare’s plays will soon get a makeover in the form of comic strips to make the Bard’s work more interesting for students. The eternal literary figure’s renowned works like Macbeth are to be re-written to condensed his well-crafted verses into short phrases. However, the Queen’s English Society has cautioned that "dumbed down" comic strips will help students escape dealing with the language and theme of Shakespeare’s plays.

The National Association for the Teaching of English is supporting classical Comics’ venture each play will have three versions, Shakespeare’s words, plain text and quick text, to cater to students of different literary capabilities. The unforgettable lines of Henry V, in which the king calls his troops "once more unto the breach, dear friends" will be re-written as "take a deep breath and fight" and "get a fierce look in your eyes" in the quick text version.

Critics have said that the cartoon strips won’t contribute to education. "Pupils may just enjoy the cartoons and not connect it with Shakespeare and they won’t be much of a contribution to education," the Daily Mail quoted Dr Bernard Lamb, Chairman of the London branch of the Queen’s English Society, as saying, "I am sure they are already well-versed in cartoon characters and comic strips, so it would be good for them to get away from the heat and study something a bit more serious. A lot of the beauty of Shakespeare is in the language more than the plot." "There is probably limited use for such things, for example with lower streams who may show some interest in simplified cartoon versions but I would certainly not want to see these generally introduced. There is so much dumbing down all round. Students are unaware of what language is appropriate in different circumstances. I have had students in degree exams using ‘eight’ for ‘ate’."

However, Clive Bryant, chairman of Classical Comics, said that the new idea will give students "leg up" to take pleasure in reading the originals. "We want to make Shakespeare as energetic and colourful as Spiderman" Bryant told the Times Educational Supplement. "Teachers tell us they are desperate for something exciting to use in the classroom, but if you ask kids about Shakespeare the word they usually come back with is ‘boring’. We’re trying to break down the barriers so they can get interested," he said. Ian McNeilly, director of the National Association for the Teaching of English said that the venture will be fruitful since plays are meant to be seen. "This is a fun way of getting into the stories. Plays are not meant to be read, but to be seen. The illustrations in these books are an easy way of following what is going on," McNeilly said. "The genius of Shakespeare is in the language, but for some students understanding it can be a struggle. It will be useful for teachers to have three different versions of the text`85 It is a nine-month project for the artists—it is a big commitment," he added.—ANI