Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Worthy tribute to Shakespeare

Much Ado About Shakespeare
The Life and Times of William Shakespeare – a literary picture book
by Donovan Bixley

   Two things immediately come to mind as I look at this book. First, what a beautifully presented volume it is. Second, what I’d give to be able to draw like Donovan Bixley, a man of varied artistic talents.
   Much Ado… is a work geared mainly for secondary school age students, and the way it is told will appeal to the age group.
   Will was a hip young celebrity in the hottest city on the planet. With money burning a hole in his purse he could keep up with all the trendy gimmicks.
       …London’s acting troupes were a volatile bunch of young drama queens. With their loud mouths, onstage swagger and sword training it’s no surprise that they were keen to show off their fighting skills whenever a public brawl erupted, and many of Will’s acting friends were killed, or killed others, in such fights.

   Even so, adults wanting to gain an appreciation of the great Bard will also learn more about the times, his life, and legacy to the theatre particularly. Anyone who thinks Shakespeare lived in repressive or boring times will quickly be otherwise informed. Donovan Bixley selects fascinating insights into the social fabric of Elizabethan society and weaves them into facts about the playwright’s life.

     Will was lucky to survive many outbreaks of the plague during his life, but there were plenty of other threats to worry about too. Diseases such as typhus, malaria, smallpox and syphilis were bad enough – and the cures could be worse than the cause.

   His story is told in very short sections of a paragraph or two, artfully organized around quotes from his plays, and each illustrated, mostly with a full-page colour picture. These are all a delight – the figures often being caricatures that accentuate the attitudes of the times.
  The author-illustrator, award-winning New Zealand artist Donovan Bixley’s, stated intention for the written text was to depict a side of Shakespeare, the man, that we are not usually presented. Not the sainted genius, but big brother, drunk and disorderly teen, young lover, husband, father, bar-room brawler, tax evader, even grumpy old man.
The artworks were intended to be presented in the same kind of theatrical fakery that his plays were presented at the Globe.

   In both of these aims, Donovan Bixley has succeeded well. Much Ado… will take its place among other offerings as a worthy tribute to Shakespeare in the year that commemorates his 400-year contribution to English literature.

A Flaxflower Review by J.M.

Title: Much Ado About Shakespeare.  The Life and Times of William Shakespeare – a literary picture book

Author: Donovan Bixley
Publisher: Upstart Press - $34.99
ISBN: 9781927262023
Available: Bookshops

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