Manga Shakespeare: Othello
written by Richard Appignanesi and William Shakespeare
illustrated by Ryuta Osada
Othello, one of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedies, is presented in this graphic novel version both as a learning tool for students and as a new vision.
It follows the familiar story: evil, backstabbing Iago, angry that Othello promoted Cassio instead of him, plots his revenge. Through trickery and a silver tongue, Iago gets Othello to turn against and eventually murder his own wife, Desdemona.
The dialogue used is a mixture of word-for-word what Shakespeare wrote, sometimes edited down for fewer words, and slight rewrites. It’s kind of the bare bones, but it still does what it can to keep with the original language, and getting it down to the bare bones works for this. I don’t think of the Manga Shakespeare series as any sort of a replacement for the original; instead, I think these books are more like a graphic novel version of Cliff’s Notes. It can be used as an aid in reading the original play.
The art is where the new vision happens. Perhaps it’s done to make it stand out, but the characters are given mythological and animal-like appearances. Othello, for instance, has wings, while Cassio has dog ears and a tail. The only character design I had trouble with was Cassio’s; besides the dog qualities, he was drawn to look very boyish. Throughout the story Iago is convincing Othello that Cassio is sleeping with Desdemona, but Cassio looks way too childish to fit the bill.
The art is styled after manga, though it doesn’t look like manga exactly. At times the art can seem plain; indeed, it never gets very detailed or ornate. However, it still does a good job at expressing characters’ emotions and actions. That’s important, because that can help readers understand what’s going on even if they don’t follow all the dialogue. It’s the art in particular—showing the actions, that is—that I think makes Manga Shakespeare a good study aid for students. At the end, there’s also a page-long description of the play, to make sure readers didn’t miss any key parts.