Review: Much Ado About Shakespeare – Shakespeare Day 23rd April

Much Ado About Shakespeare – The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book by Donovan Bixley

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April 23rd is Shakespeare Day so it seemed fitting that our ‘What We’re Reading Wednesday’ for this week should be Shakespearey. This is in fact a book that I wanted to nominate for this year’s Greenaway Award but the fact that it is a New Zealand import made it disappointingly ineligible. It is, however, a corker of a book that deserves some shouting about!

The subtitle says it all: ‘The Life and Times of William Shakespeare: a literary picture book’. Bixley says his aim is to offer a new interpretation of Shakespeare’s world: a play on words and pictures that attempts to draw back the curtain and shed light on the bright and exuberant world of Shakespeare’s life and times.

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Double page spreads combine words from the plays and map them on to historical fact/context. The fact that the known details of Shakespeare’s life are pretty sparse allows Bixley some fun with his interpretations (Macbeth’s ‘double, double toil and trouble’ accompanies the birth of Shakespeare’s twins). It is a work of speculation but a joyous one at that that allows us a gateway to this world.

The illustrations humanize the history – make real the ‘character’ of Shakespeare for us and through them we see Shakespeare the man: big brother, drunk, disorderly teen, young lover, husband, father, bar-room brawler, tax evader and even grumpy old man.

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They are packed with visual jokes as well as nods to famous works of art (Arnolfini portrait anyone?) and there’s plenty of Easter eggs for the Shakespeare scholars among you with hidden references and cameo appearances aplenty.

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There’s a definite filmic quality to the book – though making the most of the spartan white space Bixley’s illustrations are beautifully stage lit and the amazing use of perspective (I particularly relished those scenes where we’re with the toffs in the best seats in the house or gazing down through a trio of traitors heads at a bustling street scene) means that many of the pages read like a film still.

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I’d love to include even more images here – there’s just so much to be discovered among the pages – but with such a wealth to choose from it becomes increasingly difficult deciding which to include. Instead I’ll simply advise you to get your hands on a copy – I don’t think you’ll be disappointed – and whilst you’re waiting you can see some of the illustrations in a little more detail here .

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