With Ray's beautiful, Indian-inspired illustrations, it is difficult to look away from her vivid depictions of the play - from the picture of the apothecary, surrounded by symbolic elements, including animals and stars, to the bloody and gruesome image of Juliet stabbing herself in the final act. Even the cover of the book alludes to the ultimate destruction of the two young lovers, as they appear motionless with closed eyes, while also representing their sensual connection as their heart-shaped lips come together See figure 3. Ray offers morose and emotionally fraught visual statements, demonstrating the most tragic elements of Shakespeare's play and illustrating death and violence in graphic detail.
In the scene where Romeo finds Juliet in a deathlike state, he intimately holds her head and a tear drips down his cheek. Unlike some illustrators who either portray Romeo as stoic or Juliet as physically distant from Romeo, Ray shows an intimate connection between the two. She focuses solely upon their faces, and they appear as if they are about to kiss See figure 4. Ray sends a visual message about the intensity of the two lovers' relationship; Juliet appears beautifully posed and pristine when a distraught Romeo finds her, but when she wakes up, she looks disheveled and in great pain.
Unlike Ray's intense visual statements depicting the crazed and passionate nature of the couple's relationship, the characters in Burdett's book are often illustrated as removed from other characters and without much emotional depth. Eleven-year-old Kimberly Brown illustrates Juliet smiling in her death-like sleep as Romeo lays his head upon her bed, placing the focus on Juliet's state and only subtly indicating to the child reader that Romeo is upset, for one cannot see his facial reaction See figure 5.
The visual statements in Burdett's texts are much lighter, as Juliet and Romeo are often presented smiling, even in death. Ray, on the other hand, pushes the reader to interpret the scene by focusing on Romeo's intense grief, not on his ignorance of the ironic twist that Juliet is alive. Several other recent picture book adaptations of Romeo and Juliet also present unique visual adaptations of this scene. Like Burdett, Bruce Coville has also published a series of children's books based on Shakespeare's plays, but a different professional illustrator provides the drawings for each of the adaptations.
Coville's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is illustrated by Dennis Nolan, who offers 28 pastel-hued illustrations of the play. In Nolan's depiction of the same scene, Romeo peers over Juliet, with little emotion except curiosity on his serious face. Half of Juliet's placid face is shown as she lies beneath Romeo's gaze. The image does not encourage much of an emotional response from the reader, nor does it make any sort of argument for how the reader should interpret Romeo's feelings during this instance See figure 6. Instead, the moment is glazed over, as the reader is given a relatively passionless scene compared to either Ray's or Burdett's visual interpretations.
The illustration is lifelike, but the forms are colored in such muted tints that the images are not as attention-getting as some bolder color choices used by other authors. For instance, Nina Laden uses primary colors, including bright blues, golds, and greens, throughout her animal-themed adaptation, Romeow and Drooliet In the book, which is both illustrated and written by Laden, dog Drooliet Barker and cat Romeow Felinis fall in love, fighting against the inherent rivalry between their species. Laden's lighthearted tone helps deliver an anti-bullying message, overshadowing any message of Shakespeare's importance.
Compared to the other picture books, this adaptation takes the most liberty with Shakespeare's text and cites his name the least, indicating that Laden's use of the original play is more about deploying a culturally infamous story than necessarily educating children about Shakespeare, as Burdett and Coville try to do.
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Instead of poisoning herself to escape marriage, Drooliet pretends that she is hit by a car and lies in the street. This is the most striking, morbid image Laden illustrates, even though a pristine-looking Drooliet smiles with her eyes closed, while Romeow worriedly holds her See figure 7. When her faked death excites sadness in all of the animals, she comes back to life on the next page and peace is quickly restored among the rival families. While the story maintains certain elements of Shakespeare's plot, like the secret marriage and the first mock death of the Juliet character, Laden's text diverges far from Shakespeare's, especially as the dogs and cats find a way to live in peace and the two lovers end up vacationing on a beach for their honeymoon.
By illustrating the characters with dramatically expressive faces and bold, colorful illustrations, Laden appears to be making a visual statement sending the message that despite how angry and sad the animals appear in one scene, they can quickly and successfully overcome their difficulties through the power of friendship and forgiveness.
After all, at the end the book, they all look exuberantly happy. Ladin's illustrations show children that despite experiencing conflict and sadness, a peaceful resolution is sometimes possible, even between sworn enemies dogs and cats. Kindermann's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet , illustrated by Christa Unzner, shares more similarities with Rosen and Ray's text than with Laden's or Burdett's, but Unzner is also selective in what she chooses to represent pictorially.
Unzer's illustrations are visually intricate: they are filled with splotches of paint covering her delicate sketches, all in a neutral color palate. She also hides additional images and words taken directly from Shakespeare's play in her sketches, offering veiled textual messages amongst her deeply symbolic images for those who closely study her drawings. For example, when Friar Laurence gives Juliet the vial of poison that will make her appear dead, Unzner illustrates Juliet at the center of the page, holding a chalice with a slight smile as Friar Laurence, looking concerned, stands at a distance.
While the water-colored image portrays a confident Juliet, a subtle pencil sketch on top of the central image shows a close up of Juliet's face as she drinks from the overwhelmingly large cup. This sketch presents Juliet with a sense of unease juxtaposed with the main picture of a smiling, confident Juliet See figure 8. The pencil sketch on top of the main drawing complicates the central image, giving the characters visual and symbolic layers. These sketches also appear in the scene in which Romeo finds Juliet, as Unzner illustrates both Romeo's pencil-drawn panicked motions as he rushes towards Juliet, as well as his shocked facial expression as he views her deathlike face up close See figure 9.
Unzner's work provides a key example of how beneficial conducting a close reading of visual statements can be, for each one of her elaborate drawings elicits a particular reaction, all building upon one another without making a single claim. The illustrated worried expressions surrounding Juliet prior to her drinking the vial bring a sense of unease to the scene, even when the central figure looks happy, and the condensed and hurried brushstrokes that create Romeo's motion symbolize his panic and urgency when he finds her poisoned body.
Uzner's illustrations are similar to Ray's in her visual creativity and ability to visually promote a negative emotional response, but Unzner is conservative when illustrating violence and death, for her focus is more on the unstable romantic relationship between Romeo and Juliet than the brutal outcomes of their union. Her approach towards adapting this text requires one to study the images and look carefully for the hidden visual statements among the main illustration. Even though each of these adaptations could easily be further studied for their unique visual statements and the ways in which their illustrators interpret Shakespeare's weighty and challenging stories for their immature audience, both Rosen and Ray's and Burdett's picture books maintain the closest allegiance to Shakespeare's plot, though the illustrators visually represent the story in completely divergent ways.
Analyzing Rosen and Ray's and Burdett's works alongside each other demonstrates the large rhetorical disparities between how one can illustrate an adapted work for children. While both would likely define their books as educational and as successful in adapting Shakespeare's play for a younger audience, their visual statements are incredibly different.
By allowing her school-aged students to illustrate the book, Burdett's graphic choices help other children relate to the stories and see themselves in the text.
Rosen and Ray, on the other hand, use more mature and more graphically violent and sexual images in their book, creating a much more complicated tone by keeping some of Shakespeare's sophisticated and adult themes. When analyzing the illustrators' visual statements and rhetorical moves guiding a child reader's response to their characters, it is helpful to employ some of the same theories used by those who study other forms of graphic fiction, including comic books.
The visual statements seem to operate as interpretative devices, encouraging certain readings and not others. In order to understand how this works exactly, I will conduct a closer examination of Burdett's and Ray's adaptations. And to do this type of visual rhetorical analysis, I will turn to Scott McCloud's discussion of visual modes. McCloud's definition of visual modes and icons relates to visual statements, for he believes that the ways an illustrator uses particular icons help readers pick up on visual cues that in turn change their relationship to a particular character or act. McCloud argues, "when you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face—you see it as the face of another.
But when you enter the world of the cartoon —you see yourself " The more lifelike the character is drawn, the less the viewer will see him or herself and the more the viewer will see someone else. Furthermore, he states: "I believe this is the primary cause of our childhood fascination with cartoons […] The cartoon is a vacuum into which our identity and awareness are pulled …an empty shell that we inhabit which enables us to travel in another realm. We don't just observe the cartoon, we become it!
When children watch animated cartoons or read comics, they begin to identify with the characters, even projecting themselves into a particular character's place in the narrative. Thus Burdett's students' drawings, with their simplistic and cartoonish semblances, are more relatable than Ray's illustrations. Since Burdett has a different child illustrating each page, the characters' appearances change; sometimes Juliet's hair is long and brunette, while other times it is short and blond.
The images' inconstancies themselves lend to a child gravitating towards the image they relate to the most, ultimately choosing the image that reflects how they see themselves or how they themselves would illustrate the work. Ray does not allow for this affordance; her characters are drawn in more lifelike detail than Burdett's students' simple drawings and are given particular stylized features that lead viewers to a particular interpretation. And while Ray's characters still retain more cartoonish features than a photograph would, they appear to be racially distinct: Romeo's skin color is much deeper than Juliet's, and this difference is more pronounced in some scenes than others.
These racial and facial characteristics lend to a different visual statement: Ray alludes to the fact that the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets may come from discrimination based upon culture or race. An illustrator's application of lines, whether clear and bold or broken and thin, also changes one's ability to find connotative meaning in a work McCloud Even though both Burdett's students and Ray draw clearly outlined figures, the ways in which they use lines speaks to the visual statements that they are making.
Burdett's students all use thick black lines around their images, which provide rigidness to the characters' movements and constrain their facial features, also limiting the characters' emotional responses.
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This adds a very rational and calm mood to the chaotic story. Burdett's images also often lack backgrounds; the characters and their props are typically the only images set upon the white page. Ray, in contrast, uses shading and vibrant backgrounds.
Even though her characters and settings are often clearly sketched and outlined, she adds vividly colorful backgrounds that add both depth and detail to the scene and the character's state of mind, similar to the multidimensional quality of Unzner's water colored images overlapped by additional pencil sketches.
Prior to drinking the vial that will put her in a deathlike sleep, Juliet is drawn by Ray as appearing to be on the brink of insanity: her hair appears tangled and wild, and her eyes have deep brown lines beneath them, showing that she is both restless and deranged. These demonic images are disturbing and scary, but Ray's use of them reaffirms her visual statement throughout the text: these characters are making risky, often senseless and destructive decisions while playing with their own mortality, and the viewer should feel a sense of fear and anxiety over what might happen next.
Blair states that artists who make visual statements "wish us to feel or identify with the terror or fear or horror their paintings convey" Ray's illustrations are gripping because of her candor in representing the violence present in Shakespeare's play. While she adds partially-hidden, demonic background details, like the skull, to otherwise calm illustrations, she also adds explicit images of death and destruction.
She draws Romeo holding Mercutio after he is stabbed, complete with bright red blood dripping from Mercutio's nose and mouth. It is clear that Ray wants the viewer, even if the viewer is a child, to be confronted with the consequences of the characters' actions, even if they appear as bloody and disturbing. Burdett's students, on the other hand, do not show this same degree of destruction or mortality. There is little blood, and characters are only shown as being dead through their eyes being closed.
In fact most of the children's illustrations show the characters smiling, even when they have died, are involved in violent fights or are making solemn decisions. Eight-year-old Anika Johnson illustrates the scene after Mercutio has been stabbed by Tybalt, drawing Romeo holding Mercutio's stab wound with one hand—covering any sign of injury—and embracing Mercutio's head with the other. Mercutio leans stiffly towards Romeo with open eyes and a small smile.
By eliminating the blood and anger from this scene, Burdett clearly edits and limits what she wants her child reader to see. The ways in which the illustrators approach the morning after Juliet and Romeo are married and have sex for the first time is also very different.
None of the children's books that I mention above show any full body nudity, and most completely rid their text of this instance of sexual intimacy. Even though this moment is significant in Shakespeare's play, the authors and illustrators often skirt around the morning scene, likely because of the difficulty in depicting any allusion to sex to an audience of small children.
Burdett's student, eight-year-old Elly Vousden, draws Romeo and Juliet kissing, while fully dressed, on the balcony See figure Not only are they outside of the bedroom, but they also appear in long-sleeved outfits and are merely hugging and kissing. Ray, on the other hand, maintains her more mature illustrative style and shows Romeo and Juliet in a nude entanglement; instead of omitting their first night together as a married couple, she portrays Juliet intimately lying on top of Romeo while caressing his face See figure Ray, instead, focuses upon the intense lust that exists between Romeo and Juliet by featuring the two in a close embrace and by placing their intense mutual staring in the middle of the page.
Shakespeare's plots are not only filled with sexual affairs and immodest puns; they are also thick with violence, murder, and suicide, all of which are not typically present in contemporary children's picture books. Like the instances of sex, some authors omit images of violence, physical altercations, and death.
Romeo and Juliet
While Laden alone removes all death and violence from her book, most of the authors keep Romeo and Juliet's suicides in their texts. Whether they choose to illustrate these events or not creates distinct visual statements, for visually depicting bloodied dead bodies as Ray does instead of illustrating a happy-looking, golden couple as Burdett's student Anika Johnson does affects how the child is brought to feel about the ending the play, even if the textual adaptation presents a similar conclusion. As I mentioned previously, all of the authors show Romeo finding Juliet in a deathlike state.
Sign Up. See Inside Characters Reader reviews Read the following reviews or write one of your own. It's exciting but a very sad ending - but that's what Shakespeare wrote. Jana Costa was very good at drawing the pictures or illustrations. I don't mind reading the book again and again. I wish it was my own book,but it's the book I borrowed from the school library. Description But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
Romeo and Juliet
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun A beautiful retelling of Shakespeare's most famous love story. The tales have been retold using accessible language and with the help of Tony Ross's engaging black-and-white illustrations, each play is vividly brought to life allowing these culturally enriching stories to be shared with as wide an audience as possible.
Other books in this series. Add to basket. Review quote "An excellent introduction to Shakespeare for the junior reader. The text is full of the rhythms of spoken language and begs to be read aloud. About Andrew Matthews Andrew Matthews is a celebrated children's author, who has written over fifty books and has twice been nominated for the Smarties prize. He has worked as a cartoonist, a graphic designer, as the Art Director of an advertising agency, and as Senior Lecturer in Art at Manchester Polytechnic.
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