Macbeth. The ELT Graphic Novel


As I was ordering easy readers for our English section at the bookstore, I was unsure whether I wanted to have graphic novels as well. The representative of Helbling Languages, which distributes the readers in Austria, kindly offered me a sample copy. This does in no way affect my opinion of this book.

At the moment Helbling Languages has stocked four different graphic novels, all of them for levels B1/B2. I was torn between ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Macbeth’ but in the end I settled for the story with the witches and daggers.

Synopsis: King Duncan would have a united Scotland but it has been divided for centuries. In order to have peace, he sends his armies to subdue those clans who would not pledge their loyalty to him. Amongst the noblemen leading Duncan’s army, is Macbeth, Thane of Glamis. Three witches predict that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor, then king. This promise slowly drives the power-hungry yet loyal Macbeth insane.

What a dragon thinks: Have I read the English original? No. Should I? Absolutely! Or go see the play. That would be great, too. I think that visuals are important when you dive into a play. Reading plays at school without going to see them afterwards was pretty dull. I really enjoyed the graphic novel, however.

The art style is nice: clear, clean lines and even colouring. At the same time it’s grim and slightly gritty, some panels bordering on gory. Especially fight and murder scenes – whoops, am I spoiling already? (The play premièred in 1606, what could I possibly spoil?). What I think was really well done, were the expressions of the characters: madness, wrath, fear, shame, distrust, you could distinguish them just fine. Sometimes, they went overboard with the expressions, as in too much drama. Then again, with Shakespeare it’s all drama …

I didn’t like the lettering as much, though. Usually, in comics, if you want to put emphasis on a particular word or phrase, you change the font, use italics or bold. With this being a reader for immediate English learners, the only words in bold are the ones that are explained in the glossary. This lead to some oddly stressed words in dialogues, which were – in my opinion – a bit easy for level B1/B2. I might not be the right person to judge this, however. My first ventures into the English language took me straight to words that had to to with knights, swords and armour.

Macbeth’s inner struggle between greed and loyalty to his king is portrayed really well. He is haunted by his own doubts and his guilt threatens to eat him alive. It’s Lady Macbeth who ruthlessly pushes her husband towards the murders of Duncan, and Lord Banquo whose sons were promised the throne as well. When Macbeth is overcome by fear, it is Lady Macbeth who takes control of the situation. I like her get-a-grip-attitude.

Hail Macbeth! You will be king! Hail!

Once Macbeth wears the blood-stained crown of Scotland, he is tormented by nightmares, the ghost of Banquo and paranoia. Malcolm, son of Duncan, has fled after his father had been murdered. Together with the nobleman Macduff he seeks the help of King Edward of England to overthrow Macbeth. Fearing for his future as king, Macbeth seeks out the witches once more. At this point he has succumbed almost entirely to madness and I think the artist did a great job portraying it.

Nobody who was born of a woman will hurt you.

No one will beat you until Birnam Wood moves to Dunsinane Hill.

Joke’s on Macbeth. As we all know, the prophesies come true in what is one of my favourite parts of the play.

At the beginning of the book the reader is blessed with a list and small pictures of all the characters. If one wants to know even more before they get into the story, they will find a short description of the main characters in the back. Actually, there is quite a lot of cool stuff in the back: a short biography of the bard himself, a biography of the real Macbeth, along with his family tree, quotes from the original play (with explanations) and – my personal favourite – a link map of characters in ‘Macbeth’ (who killed whom and for what reason). There is also an audio-CD with the entire novel read by different voice actors. You definitely need the book as well because otherwise you will be confused as to who is speaking at the moment and what is even happening. I was super excited to listen to it because I thought the characters would speak with a Scottish accent. I was quite disappointed to learn that only Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (and some minor characters like messengers) spoke with the slightest accent.

Favourite characters: Lady Macbeth, Macbeth, Malcolm, the witches

Conclusion: I really enjoyed this graphic novel, the characters were portrayed quite nicely and the art style was to my liking. The lettering was on the boring side and the way the emphasis was used to identify words you would find in the glossary was confusing. I think it would be a cool and modern way to bring students closer to ‘Macbeth’ and I enjoyed working my way through the additional material. No Scottish accent on the audio-CD which was disappointing. Overall, I really like this adaptation and will gladly recommend it to immediate English learners.

Details about the book:

  • Adapted for ELT by Brigit Viney
  • Script: John McDonald
  • Artist: Jon Haward
  • Colouring & Lettering: Nigel Dobbyn
  • Level: B1/B2
  • Pages: 144
  • Publishing House: Heinle CENGAGE Learning
  • Binding: Paperback
  • Date of publication: August 1st 2008
  • ISBN: 978-1-4240-2870-2

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