Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg

cover image

Allen and Unwin 2010. ISBN 978 1 74175 8425.
Graphic Novel. Any reimagining of Shakespeare's Hamlet is sure to create opinions that are poles apart, and this one certainly will, having Hamlet portrayed as an ink blot, weaving his way through the morass of pressures that he has on his young life. Sometimes the plot is outlined as a graphic novel, in comic strip style, sometimes a full page takes up the story, but all is easily read and followed. Having a copy in the classroom where Hamlet is being studied will give inveterate students a different perspective on this most known of plays, while copies in the library will serve others well as they peruse the pages for images not usually seen on the black and white texts we are used to.
Imagined as a theatre on which these ephemeral actors 'strut upon the stage', the inkblots score a visual joke from the artist, all in black, of course, dropping like a blot upon the page but now adorned with faces, and in the end, return once more as blots to be removed with blotting paper. Sometimes the ink blot of Hamlet removes his face, a mask, not wanting to see what is happening around him, sometimes his face is happy, belying what is going on underneath. Other characters are imagined in different ways, Ophelia is a monkey faced creature with a voluptuous Mae West figure, dancing to the tune of her father; Polonius, a walking dead man, with a skeletal face and whiskers about his jaw line, using a cane to walk; the king and queen are seahorses; Hamlet's friends, Rosencratz and Gilderstern are a single being with two heads and so on, all making the reader think about why Greenberg has used such tantalizing images to portray the known characters.
Hamlet's sword, a fountain pen, sways around the place, emphasizing his impatience with his lot: 'oh cursed spite that ever I was born to make it right'. The pages all are heavily black, underscoring the deep tragedy of Hamlet's role as the agent for revenge for his dead father, while the stage actors who play a pivotal role in exposing the king's guilt, are in red. I love the clock innards used often on the pages, underscoring the time element in the play, 'the time is out of joint' but could as easily represent Hamlet's inner thoughts as he meets his fate. There is a myriad of images, of subtle puns, of visual jokes to be gained from this reimagining, and discussions with classes will further endear the play to the next generation of students who are endowed with a greater visual awareness.
Fran Knight