Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Celebrating Shakespeare

Much ado about Shakespeare by Donovan Bixley (Upstart Press)

I'm the proud owner of Donovan's first book in the series 'Faithfully Mozart'. I had originally bought it for my mother but couldn't part with it - it is a collector's-piece. (I'm still on the look-out for a copy for my mother - so if you know where I can get one ...) In the meantime - I was really looking forward to the next book in the series. (He hopes to write/illustrate about another 'great' sometime in the near future, too.)

Two weeks ago, I went to the launch of Donovan's new book 'Much ado about Shakespeare' at the Pop-up Globe Theatre. It was a real treat to see behind the scenes and listen to Donovan talk about his new book with the Shakespearean stage just behind him.

The book is a feast of illustration, quotes and snippets about Shakespeare's life. Donovan had to piece together Shakespeare's story from biographies, and academic articles, and what was going on during that era. Donovan cleverly pairs famous quotes from Shakespeare's plays with events that were occuring and what Shakespeare was doing at that time. For example: 

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air." (Macbeth) Donovan tells us about the stink of London during its period of growth. The rich paraded their wealth while the poor lived amongst open sewers in houses built on top of graveyards. It is in this setting that Shakespeare first came to the city. Donovan figures that Shakespeare's fascination with juxtaposition and contrast in his plays could well have stemmed from what he saw in the city.

The book begins with Shakespeare's birth, his learning years, his early marriage, his apprenticeship in the theatre business, hi-jinks, fame, and lastly death. Donovan hasn't written a critical, high-brow, or academic book on Shakespeare - he's approached it with a sense of fun. Donovan is familiar with the front and behind the scenes of the stage and it is with this knowledge, his own love of Shakespeare, that he's brought Shakespeare to the page in vibrant colour with a touch of humour. At the back of the book you'll see a timeline and a bibliography of Shakespeare's plays.

Donovan has illustrated each double page spread with full-colour A4 scenes or half-page pencil drawings. The illustrations convey Donovan's cheeky sense of humour. For example, one page has a bare-chested barmaid carrying beer jugs that just so happen to hide her breasts. You will find that each time you look at a picture you will see something you hadn't noticed before. He drops references to plays, artists, and other historical events throughout each scene. 

The book is another collector's item. Buy it for High School students with a penchant for drama or for adult friends or family who have always loved Shakespeare, literature, or art. They'll treasure this book!

ISBN: 978-1-927262-02-3
RRP $34.99 
Pages 120

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