Monday, 16 May 2016

Much Ado About Shakespeare Donovan Bixley

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Much Ado About Shakespeare (2016)          
The Life and Times of William Shakespeare – a Literary Picture Book
Donovan Bixley (text and ill.)
Upstart Press
Paperback, NZ$35
ISBN 978 1 927262 02 3

The drollest painting shows three Elizabethan gentlemen, splendidly breeched and shod, lounging on a bench in front of their “Members Only” University Club. Their faces are obscured by the news-sheets they are clasping. The titles they are reading range from “Tyme” to “The Sunne,” while the headlines have a familiar ring: “Who is Shakespeare? Bare-All on Bombastic Bard, Shake-Scene and Upstart Crow.” Shakespeare’s portrait not only appears in the tabloids; copies are also stuffed in a waste bin and pinned to the wall by daggers. It is an endearing and funny image of the playwright’s first brush with fame, and it is neatly matched by an apt Shakespearean quotation, “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; it is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Donovan Bixley has celebrated the four centuries since William Shakespeare’s death by creating four dozen splendid colour paintings depicting stages in the Bard’s career, and matching them with appropriate quotations. Also included is a fascinating ramble through the events (known or deduced) of Shakespeare’s life. The result is a superbly entertaining and enjoyable volume, a true celebration of Shakespeare’s genius.

Bixley is a talented artist with a good eye for the quirks of fashion and furniture, as well as a wicked sense of humour. He cheerfully nods towards a range of artists, from Van Eyck to Norman Rockwell meanwhile maintaining his own distinctive style and wit. (D.B.’s initials can be found anywhere from an inn table to an embroidered sleeve.) The strongest unifying feature is Bixley’s obvious admiration for Shakespeare. Interestingly, since Bixley is an amateur actor, most of the theatrical scenes are from the point-of-view of the performer.

Intriguing, impish, tragic, moving, reflective, kind and witty, this “literary picture book” gives an exciting glimpse into the world of Shakespeare, a world that contains every aspect of human life. As we follow the playwright’s progress from fidgeting schoolboy, through reluctant horse-holder and struggling playwright to literary success and worldly fame, we can also appreciate the power of his words.

Donovan Bixley has created the picture book of the year.    

Trevor Agnew
16 May 2016

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