The plays of William Shakespeare are, undoubtedly, the bright examples of how the performing arts can retain their immeasurable value through centuries. Thus, King Lear is one of those works that is being widely discussed and sought after by the major part of literary researchers and scholars of today. The tragedy is known to be staged on a regular basis in practically all of the famous theatres across the world. Yet, if a theatre genre is limited by the established canons and cannot go beyond the conventional norms of performance, a genre of painting is not subject to the same restrictions. Therefore, Ian Pollock’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear represents a combination of classic interpretation and a modern approach to the description of events that take place in the play.
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Naturally, whenever Shakespeare’s works are performed on stage, the same play can be viewed differently depending on a setting. Surroundings, decorations, costumes, and direction nearly always come as unique elements and do not repeat one another in the manner they were previously staged. Also, intonation tends to vary depending on actors’ capabilities and personal vision of a situation. Delivering a key message to the audience has always been a matter of high-level professionalism and vocational aptitude, meaning that a human factor has always been the reason for one and the same play to be accepted differently.
Performative writing, however, has gone even farther in the matters of events depiction (Conkie 2). Written in accordance with comics’ canons, King Lear in Ian Pollock’s adaptation represents a symbiosis of classic Shakespeare and Pollock’s dystopic vision of the plot structure. Normally, a graphic novel has much in common with performing arts, but operates with inexhaustible resources and is not limited by a place of strict time frames.
In this particular work, the artist casts the story in the form of dialogue that attempts to cover every relevant moment of the play. The panes are arranged in a way that helps to quickly and intuitively follow the major events and receive a clear picture of those before the actual reading of the utterances. By changing the perspective, Pollock usually focuses attention on particular characters and stimulates a reader to share his/her own view of a situation. Referring to such a method assists him in accentuating attention on the most prominent facts.
Regarding the painting style, it is noticeable that the artist was, to a greater extent, inspired by abstract art since its presence is clearly tracked in the usage of unusual forms. Thus, the illustration of the first scene of the very first act contains a tall building of unknown shape, regular features of which, in combination with straight lines and foldaway doors, draw an analogy with a modern elevator. Also, addressing to futuristic models is inherent in a dystopia genre, mainly “because of the prominence of the illustrations” (Miller 134).
The building was intentionally placed in the center of the picture and given a large size to contrast with the tiny figures of Gloucester and Kent. By analyzing this fact, one might suggest that in such a manner, the painter tried to emphasize the insignificance of these two characters in this particular scene, for Shakespeare paid all of the attention to King Lear and his three daughters. Nevertheless, the secondary characters are still mentioned by the writer, and Pollock could not leave them uninvolved.
As to the themes raised in this play, Shakespeare quite often appeals to such notions as human misery and deterioration. These concepts are frequently referred to in his other works, such as Hamlet, Othello, and Macbeth. Having captured the author’s key message, Pollock represents his characters as disproportionate and blurred figures that carry little value in terms of affection. The very approach to picturing leads one to the thought that the artist expressed no signs of sympathy for the characters he illustrated and simply attempted to make “the invisible dramatically visible” (Miller 134). One may advance a hypothesis that in such a way, he tried to sensitize a reader to the fact that human misery would be a predominant factor influencing the development of the events.
Concerning the methods the artist uses, McCloud’s concept of closure finds its implementation in practically all of the illustrations. The unfinished lines are tracked throughout the panes, yet, they cause no difficulty for a human brain to conceptualize an illustration and accept it as a ‘complete’ drawing. As a part of sequential art, this method is predominantly used for picturing faces and facial expressions.
When one looks at King Lear, he/she sees a large round-shaped head, despite the fact that there are no visible lines framing it. As to backgrounds, those are usually illustrated using straight lines and regular forms. Nevertheless, the effect of closure is sometimes present as well since the surroundings are, in the majority of cases, inexpressive and often lack details. Strange square-shaped geometrical figures underpinning each other are usually the only decorations one sees in blank backgrounds.
Another McCloud’s concept used in Pollock’s adaptation of the play is the usage of the four-color scheme, which is known to be a landmark of the art of comics. Of course, this method does not presuppose a strict use of the four-color array, i.e. cyan, magenta, yellow, and black only. There are traces of red, brown, and white found in the pictures as well. However, the four initially mentioned colors form a prevailing palette, which is tracked in every single pane of scene 1.
Their mixture sets the pace for illustration of an entire book and gives enough room for picturing the events’ development without referring to an extensively bright and contrastive color scheme. The background is either pictured yellow or cyan, while characters are usually given additional tones to have more prominent looks. All the key canons of comics’ depiction are strictly observed in the work of Ian Pollock and perfectly reflect the fundamentals of Shakespeare’s times and a gloomy “atmosphere of the theatrical event” (Conkie 2).
As was mentioned above, the properly placed panes help the reader to build a logical chain of events and follow the plot structure without the slightest confusion. Shakespeare’s text is being delivered through the use of dialogue markers that usually determine what size of a pane will be used. This picture/word correlation comes as the main aspect of proper events reflection, for the larger, is the pane, the less space is left for adding the remaining illustrations (Conkie 3).
Expectedly, some of the panes tend to be smaller than others and contain less detail. In the meantime, the artist manages to embed all the relevant information in those, skipping the background and focusing attention on characters and their emotional expressions. Such an approach allows an original text to be used completely. Thus, the artist emphasizes that this is still Shakespeare’s work, which has undergone a visual transformation.
Speaking of the text, as soon as one starts reading the dialogues, it becomes clear that an original language and its characteristic archaisms have been retained. Despite the fact, it is a comic story, which is supposed to be read by children and teenagers, Pollock intentionally refers to the text origins for the great bard’s of Avon fame not to be faded. As Miller states, “although Shakespearean adaptations for children almost always sacrifice Shakespeare’s language in favor of a distilled essence”, such texts also contain a third dimension – visuals (130). Thus, through visuals, one gets the impression that an introduced dystopic society has chosen the Elizabethan language as the main source of communication and starts treating it with proper respect.
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All in all, the source is cognitive and perfectly reflects the reality and environments of an Elizabethan epoch. The usage of color, in combination with the unusual painting technique, helps to form a specific comprehension of the events’ development and still focus attention on the most relevant parts of the plot. It is evident that the relationships between Lear and his youngest daughter Cordelia come forth in this scene. One can clearly track it in Pollock’s manner to change the palette and use larger panes as the conflict starts to occur.
Thus, Lear’s decision to deprive Cordelia of her right to inherit one-third of the kingdom is followed by the use of darker backgrounds and skipping the rest of the details. This way, the artist accentuates on a very central part of the plot – Lear’s arrogance and unjust decision regarding his daughter. This fact serves as the major evidence to the statement that classic Shakespeare has found a worthy interpretation in the work of Ian Pollock.
Conkie, Rob. Writing Performative Shakespeares. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Miller, Naomi. Reimagining Shakespeare for Children and Young Adults. Routledge, 2013.