Tag Archives: theatre

Shakespeare’s Storybook

Ryan, Patrick & Mayhew, James. Shakespeare’s Storybook: Folk Tales that Inspired the Bard (2001). 80 Pages. Barefoot Books. $19.99

We all know that it’s only recently that plagiarism really became “bad,” and that playwrights and novelists borrowed liberally from folk tales, novels, and reality to create a lot of their works. I’m sure any of us who have studied any of Shakespeare’s work are aware that he did not think up everything. Rather, he took what was available and adapted it into the very special plays which we know (and mostly love) today.

What this novel does is summarize the barest details of the play, and then introduce a folktale which it was likely (or is known to have been) based off of. It’s illustrated, and explained in terms that your average elementary schooler could understand. My sister Kim said “Hey, that’s cool, I guess.”* The illustrations aren’t bad, either. (They’re really done in a very nicely stylized way.)

We’ve got several stories: “The Devil’s Bet” for The Taming of the Shrew, “The Hill of Roses” for Romeo and Juliet, “A Bargain is a Bargain” for The Merchant of Venice, “Snowdrop” for As You Like It, “Ashboy” for Hamlet, “Cap-o-Rushes” for King Lear, and “The Flower Princess” for The Winter’s Tale.

The stories are nothing special, and most of them are at least passingly familiar. Several of them are Cinderella variations (something I’ve spent quite a bit of time reading) and a few are your standard folktales. A little is said about the origins of each of them, and it is a very cute book. (One which I will be donating to the library, since I don’t need to re-read a children’s book about Shakespeare when I have my massive Norton anthology of Shakespeare anyhow.)

I could explain the contents of the folk tales, but I’ll resist the urge. I’m sure most of you know most of them anyhow. The biggest issue I had with the book was the last story (“The Flower Princess”) in which a “wisest wise woman” calls a King and a Prince “You stupid idiots!” which just doesn’t seem very wise to me. Aside from the fact that her grammar is atrocious, and her vocabulary is hardly child appropriate, there is the fact that she just called two fairly powerful men “Stupid Idiots” to their faces. Before she leads them to “a painting” of their dead loves, only to find out that it’s not a painting when they start to sing. I mean, really. They couldn’t figure out they weren’t a painting? I realize that I’m obsessing over something which by fairy tale conventions I should be willing to ignore, but I’m just not sure I can ignore this one. (And Kim, said sister agreed with me.)

The Quick Version:

If you’re looking to introduce an elementary schooler to some Shakespeare, or want a light fluffy folk-tale read with some heavier literature relationships, then this is the book for you. It’s not terrible, actually. It gets a 3.5/5 and will be donated to the library when I have the time to drop it off.


* She’s 10 next month, so “cool, I guess” is about as enthusiastic as she gets right now. She’s in her “whatever” phase.


Filed under Book Review, Children's Fiction

Eyes Like Stars

Mantchev, Lisa. Eyes Like Stars (2009). 368 Pages. Feiwel & Friends. $16.99

Theatre Illuminata: Act I

Some books, you just have to leap in and keep going, because they take their sweet time revealing themselves. You’re thrown into a new and interesting world, and it takes some time to get it figured out, and as you search for explanation you find yourself in the middle of a book you don’t really want to put down. This strategy is risky; you either grab your audience, or you alienate them. Being a bit of a Shakespeare geek, and a fan of theater (though never an actor), I found myself enjoying this book, once I started to sort it out.

Within the Theatre Illuminata* all the characters of every play ever written exist for the sole purpose of performing their plays. They aren’t actors, they are the characters, allowed to mingle within the confines of the Theatre. The characters from Hamlet appear most frequently– Ophelia and Gertrude have quite a few lines apiece– but there is also Nate, a sailor from the play The Little Mermaid, who is the young, handsome Love Interest. There are only six people who are not characters, though in their own ways they are; five of them are the managers, one is Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, a seventeen year-old girl who is not from any play.

When she was young, Bertie was left on the Theatre’s doorstep, a child in need of a home. The denizens of the Theatre opted to take her in, and she has caused chaos and wrought havoc ever since. She’s not crew, and she’s not an actor, she’s just Bertie. When she turns seventeen, they decide they’ve finally had enough of her and her chaos, so she is told that she must leave the Theatre forever. Distraught at the idea of leaving behind everything (and everyone) she’s ever loved, Bertie fights for a chance to stay, and makes a deal. If she can sellout the theatre, and get a standing ovation with her directorial debut, she will prove that she has something to give back to the Theatre, and can thus stay.

Of course, nothing is ever as simple as it seems, especially when we’ve got characters like Ophelia and Gertrude (to name a few) strutting around. There is a lot going on, and it at times can be overwhelming, but there were a few moments where I found myself laughing out loud;

“I am the queen!” bellowed Lady Macbeth.

“No, I’m the queen. You merely have aspirations for him.” Gertrude pointed at Macbeth, who was holding up a cruller and muttering, “Is this a doughnut I see before me?” Then he noticed raspberry jam on everything and started to shriek. (128)

I cackled. It perhaps says a lot about the quality of my education that I find jokes about Shakespeare hilarious. Or there’s a gem of a scene with Ophelia;

Ophelia followed him, wringing the water out of her clothes while talking to puppet-Laertes. “I spend far too much time toweling off, dear brother.” But the oven mitt didn’t answer, as its mouth was full of her skirt. (135)

And then, there’s Gertrude (again), throwing a dramatic fit about The Ghost of Hamlet’s Father shedding his flowery sheet:

“So, unless Hamlet was an immaculate conception, there’s nothing going on there that you haven’t seen before. Stop playing the dewy-eyed virgin.” Claudius jabbed a finger in Ophelia’s direction. “That’s her job!” (166)

Bertie has a strong voice, and is an interesting (if vaguely described) character. We know more about her hair color (Cobalt Flame), her footwear (Mary Janes) and her socks (Black and Red Stripes) than anything else about her. I don’t feel like I demand all that much of my protagonists, but when it’s in third person, I really don’t feel like I’m asking too much if I ask for description. Anyway, she manages to be a teenage girl without driving me crazy, which is saying something.

I have a bit of an issue, however. There’s not a lot I can say on the subject without spoiling a lot, but Bertie is part of a love triangle with Nate the Pirate, and Ariel the air spirit (from The Tempest, though in this case he’s a very, very handsome young man). She seems in love with Nate, but spends an awful lot of time kissing Ariel, for all she says she doesn’t like him. I have a very, very strong feeling that this only gets worse in Book 2 (Perchance to Dream).

The Quick Version:

You have to be pretty well versed in Shakespeare’s more popular works to get most of the characters and references this book makes. However, if you’re at least mostly familiar with Hamlet, you’re going to be alright. The book starts abruptly, and it feels like you spend the first half trying to figure out what is going on, but it manages to hook you, and keep you reading so you keep going to find out what is going on. Aside from a few issues with the way Bertie’s lovelife plays out, this book is good. It’s not a standalone, and it leaves you needing more, as a rather large story arc is just beginning. It gets a 4/5 for originality and fun.


* Which is marked with some rather pretentious accents that I will not bother replicating… (Théâtre Illuminata)


Filed under Book Review, Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult Fiction