How to Use Shakespearean Graphic Novels

Updated on March 8, 2018
prairieprincess profile image

Sharilee obtained a degree in secondary English education from the University of Calgary. She has taught in Canada for ten years.

Always Pre-Teach the Story Line

For those of you teaching Shakespeare, you know that making the text accessible is the greatest challenge. The language of Shakespeare creates a barrier that many students feel incapable of crossing. As teachers, we often feel, "if only they could see what a great story this is!" It is difficult, however, when they shut down before they can appreciate the beauty and mastery of Shakespeare's craft.

As a major in English Education, and a teacher for over five years, I found that once students started to "get" the story, and start to empathize with the characters, they could plow through the language, and reap the benefits. I always recommend some kind of summary, or that the plot line be pre-taught, before getting into the actual script, so that the student does not have to expend all of his energy just trying to make a little sense of the text, and can enjoy it, at least some!

A bit intimidating?


Shakespearean Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are an excellent tool for helping students "get the story," and they do so in a very fun students can really relate to. What may have once been simply termed as a comic book, the term "graphic novel" is now defined as: "a narrative work in which the story is conveyed to the reader using sequential art either in an experimental design or in a traditional comics format." (Wikipedia)

The distinction between the comic book and the graphic novel is that they are considered more serious and literary. Graphic novels tend to be stand-alone pieces of literature, as opposed to simply part of a series.

That being said, students still see them as comics, and that is to your great advantage. When I was teaching the play Romeo and Juliet to my grade ten class, a student from grade eleven came in, saw the graphic novel sitting there, and asked to see it. He was smitten, and got into it right away. By the way, this student was about as non-academic as they come, and showed very little interest in school. He read that book, however. Devoured it, in fact.

A Boy and His Comics

Image by Uwsunev, shot in Hong Kong
Image by Uwsunev, shot in Hong Kong | Source

How to Use Graphic Novels

Graphic novels can be used in a few different ways within the classroom. Here is a list for some ways that Shakespearean graphic novels might be used to help teach a Shakespeare work:

  1. To be given as free reading material, for students to pick up on their own. This has the advantage of introducing Shakespeare in a way that does not threaten a student, because they do it on their own.
  2. As an introduction to the play. Let students read the graphic novel a couple of weeks before you do the actual play. These books tend to be expensive, though, so you may have to share between students, or try to share the book set with another class.
  3. As an alternative for a student who cannot handle reading all of the written text of the actual plays, but can still benefit from what Shakespeare has to offer. This student could perhaps be exempt from reading the entire text, but would still benefit from hearing the discussion and the language. This student may have a learning disability, may simply be too low in reading score, or may be an ESL student. Which brings me to the next point ....
  4. For the ESL student. ESL students of any age could benefit from a graphic novel. These are an especially good tool because the pictures give a context for the language used. They are also an excellent way to introduce immigrant students to some culture, which they may or may not be familiar with, in their own country.
  5. As a supplement to regular teaching. You also might want to have a few copies of graphic novels on hand that students can pick up as you study the play. You could give them the option of looking at certain parts of the book, which you think might help to aide in your explanation of the scene. It offers a way for visual learners to access the text, and is an wonderful adjunct to the lessons you are already offering. 

These are five ways to use these wonderful books. You may have another way to use them, that I have not covered.

They Add Another Layer

Graphic novels can add one more layer unto your teaching experience. They are something that many students can relate to; they are considered a new media, like Facebook, or computer games. They are especially appealing to boys, who traditionally read less, and they offer a way to "get in" with your students.

I recommend getting at least a couple of the play you are studying, when you are planning for your next Shakespeare unit. They are expensive, as mentioned earlier, so start saving!

© 2011 Sharilee Swaity

I Love To Hear Comments!

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      7 years ago from Canada

      Iheartkafka, it really does allow entry into the text for some kids that might not otherwise read Shakespeare. Thanks for the comment and have a great night!

    • iheartkafka profile image


      7 years ago

      This is such a unique approach to traditional Shakespeare instruction! Thanks for posting such a useful hub!

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Yes, Vision, they are great! The graphic novels really translate well to a new generation who are so visual. I agree that the BBC shows look pretty dated now. PBS actually just did a version of Hamlet last year that was thoroughly modern. Thanks for coming by!

    • visionandfocus profile image


      9 years ago from North York, Canada

      I had no idea there are graphic Shakespeare novels! But I agree that reading Shakespeare plays (which, after all, are meant to be watched, on stage, and not read, on a page)is a chore for many. I used to enjoy watching the BBC series of Shakespeares' plays, but they haven't updated those in several decades, and they really do look very dated now. However, you can see Helen Mirren in her prime as a very sassy Rosalind, so that's a plus. Luckily, there's Kenneth Branagh. Love his Hamlet. *sigh*

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      Mrs. J.B., thank you so much! Yes, these are fabulous tools for getting into Shakespeare, or any literary work. Take care!

    • Mrs. J. B. profile image

      Mrs. J. B. 

      9 years ago from Southern California

      Wow what a fabulous method. I know that I am going to learn a great deal from you! I love it.

    • prairieprincess profile imageAUTHOR

      Sharilee Swaity 

      9 years ago from Canada

      wheelinallover, thanks for a wonderful comment! That's so cool that you were encouraged to write your own books, with pictures! That reminds me of the Bronte family, who made up little books before they wrote their actual novels. It sounds like you had a very rich childhood. Blessings!

    • wheelinallover profile image

      Dennis Thorgesen 

      9 years ago from Beatrice, Nebraska U.S.

      Loved it, anything that helps someone learn is a good thing. As a boy reading was always more fun when there were pictures. We had over a thousand books in the house most of the time when I was growing up. Once I could read and write we (my older brother and I) were encouraged to write our own, always with pictures, for the younger ones to read or have read to them. There is only one college graduate in our family and its not me, it's the youngest child. She had the benefit of seven older siblings teaching her more than each of us (separately) knew.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)