Someone needs to tell me how I feel about this.
Well, actually, no. I know how I feel about this, and I like it. I know I’m not supposed to like it, as I’ve got a degree in Theater and I had to read tons of Shakespeare in its original form and so should you, dammit. The stuffier theatrical academics, with their cravats (male) and their ridiculous jade earings (female) and purple scarves (both), will no doubt decry this as if one had gone to Holy Trinity Church, unzipped one’s fly, and proceeded to relieve oneself upon the corpse of the Bard himself. I think, however, they’re missing the point, because Shakespeare wrote plays.
He wrote plays. He wrote words that were intended to be accompanied by a visual. You can sit at home and read what the actors are supposed to say and do, or you can get up off your duff and go watch some actors say and do those same things. A comic book (or graphic novel, a term meaning “a comic book with sex and violence and Themes and Issues that costs more”; or Manga, a term meaning “a Japanese comic book that looks like a paperback read by awkward teens who actually say ‘OMG!’ out loud”) presents a visual representation of what’s happening in the play.
In other words, the kids who read it will probably get a lot more out of Romeo and Juliet in Manga form than in any other format, save a live performance. There’s something to be said for exercizing your brain by figuring out Medieval English, but the problem with just reading Shakespeare in the classroom is that if you can’t get past the “weird” way the characters talk, you’re never going to understand how beautifully the language is parsed, or how most of the stories and character types we see today on TV or in movies are descended from Shakespeare’s works, and those things are just as important. Teaching kids to recognize archetypes and the various methods of presentation and characterization is the first step towards reading and writing on an advanced level, in the same way that you move from addition to multiplication to square numbers.
So, no, this isn’t “dumbing down”. Especially in a world where they keep cutting arts programs and field trips, it’s neat to be able to show a visual representation of Shakespeare to kids who might otherwise not get how amazing it is if they’re forced to slog through page after page of forsooths and bodkins. (As much as some of us love a good bodkin.)