HENRY_VIII“An untimely ague stayed me a prisoner in my chamber when those two lights of men met in the vale of Andren.”

I mentioned a while ago on here that I have very recently been to Stratford-Upon-Avon and, as such, Shakespeare was bound to turn up on the blog eventually. So, here he is, although perhaps not in the form that anyone expected.

Y’see, I’ve had continual issues with Shakespeare over the years. He’s the finest writer in history, sure, but he was not a novelist. He was a poet and a playwright, meaning that his work isn’t really supposed to be read, but rather seen. I’ve seen a few performances in the past, as well as some modernised adaptations, and I do generally enjoy them. So when in Stratford I stumbled upon a new way to enjoy the plays, I jumped at it. This is Shakespeare manga.

Manga, for those who aren’t aware, are comics made in Japan, conforming to certain historical rules. The style is often beautiful, alternating between simple and detailed, rarely coloured, and they cover a whole variety of genres. Manga is not just for children – it is read by most of the population. In recent years, the popularity of the format has spread globally and, with its bold designs and ability to tell any story, it seemed logical to put Shakespeare’s stories into this format. As far as I can tell, fourteen of his plays have so far been adapted for the style, and I have begun with his last play. It is one of the less well known of the canon: Henry VIII.

As you may have surmised, the play tells the story of the eighth King Henry of England and his dealings with his first two wives, as well as political figures like Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell. With Catherine of Aragon seemingly unable to provide him with a son, he moves to marry Anne Boleyn, although must first contend with the church and get a divorce. Meanwhile, Wolsey has gone crazy with power, so it seems, and many of the lords are plotting to remove him from his seat to further their own means.

While interesting and engaging, Henry VIII is not the Bard’s finest work. It is actually commonly suggested that collaborated with fellow writer John Fletcher on this one, although perhaps a collaboration with Andrew Lloyed Webber would’ve been more exciting. Otherwise, the play is notable for two other reasons. Firstly, the original has more stage directions than any other of his plays. And secondly, it was the play that was being performed when the original Globe theatre burned down in 1613, when a special effects cannon ignited the thatched roof.

Maybe this wasn’t the best one to start with – the other manga I bought are plays I know better, and will feature here in due course – but I didn’t dislike it, and the method of storytelling is a rather smart one, given that the medium is supposed to be visual. Just goes to show that you can’t keep a good bard down.

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