Manga Shakespeare Twelth Night – If music be the food of love…..

Published On October 28, 2009 | By Richard Bruton | Comics, Reviews

Manga Shakespeare: Twelfth Night

By William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi, illustrated by Nana Li

Self Made Hero


Another entertaining exploration of the world of Shakespeare using Manga stylings from Self Made Hero’s Manga Shakespeare line – but I knew what to expect this time, having only recently reviewed The Merchant Of Venice and really a lot of what I said there can be assumed to be true here. It’s yet another very classy adaptation that stays very true to the original whilst updating the styling and storytelling for a modern audience. It’s as wonderful and entertaining as Twelth Night always was, just this time with a different style and a different setting. If you already enjoy Shakespeare you’ll find much to enjoy here and if you don’t like Shakespeare (and let’s face it, that’s normally because you were turned off him at school), then this is a great opportunity to approach this wonderful comedy from a different perspective.

Twelfth Night is one of Shakespeare’s comedies, and like most of his comedic work relies on a good deal of wordplay, a goodly collection of fools and that old staple; the mistaken identity, cross-dressing unrequited love triangle. The greatness of Shakespeare’s comedy, at least as I’ve always seen it is that essentially he’s often just telling what we’d immediately recognise as a good, funny screwball romantic comedy. If he’d been writing in the last century he would have made countless Cary Grant films and managed to work the Marx Brothers in as an extra.


(“Disguise, I see thou art a wickedness”, Viola/Cesario ponders the tangled love triangle she’s in the middle of. From Twelfth Night. The books full of these lovely, inventive panel arrangements by artist Nana Li.)

Countess Olivia is in mourning for her brother, her castle is a cold, joyless place even in the run up to Christmas and she has no time for thoughts of love. Yet Olivia’s neighbour; Duke Orsino is madly in love with her and desperate to find a way to make her fall for him. Enter identical twins Viola and Sebastian, washed up on the shores of Illyria, both thinking the other dead. Viola disguises herself as a boy and, going by the name Cesario quickly lands a job with and immediately falls in love with Duke Orsino who sends Cesario/Viola to convince Olivia of his love, but Olivia meanwhile falls in love with Cesario/Viola. The triangle is made, unrequited love is all around. But don’t forget Sebastian, Viola’s twin brother – could he be the solution to all this and allow everyone to get their own Merry Christmas with the love they want? It’s Shakespeare – of course they do! All’s well that ends well after all.

In addition to this, we have the other Shakespeare staple, the fools and a great comedy villain, played here in delightfully pompous fashion by Countess Olivia’s puritanical, hated butler Malvolio. The fools consist of Olivia’s Jester Feste, her drunken uncle Toby Belch and his rich friend Sir Andrew Aguecheek, whom Toby has convinced has a chance at Olivia’s hand. This trio, along with feisty maid Maria hatch a plot to humiliate the hated butler Malvolio. In true Shakespeare style this plot is calculating and funny, a wonderfully silly subplot to offset the romances of the main players.


(Nana Li’s artwork – a lovely steampunk 19th Century update to the tale of Twelfth Night)

As with Faye Yong’s work on The Merchant Of Venice, Nana Li’s artwork here is lovely. Her pages have all the required style and dynamism for a Manga page but still maintain a relaxed pace more suited to this gentle romantic comedy. One inspired touch, as seen in the illustration above, is the decision to tranfer the action to some imaginary steampunk influenced point in the 19th Century, allowing Li to go wild with those retro-futurist clothes and the steampunk tech on display all the way through the book.

Like Merchant Of Venice, Twelfth Night does exactly what it’s intended to do; brings Shakespeare out into the modern world, giving it a very stylish update and, hopefully, opening it up to an entirely new readership who’ll find a real and genuine love of his work in these pages.

Richard Bruton

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About The Author

Richard Bruton
- Started in comics retail aged 16 at Nostalgia & Comics, Birmingham. Now located in Yorkshire, he's written for the Forbidden Planet International Blog since 2007. Specialising in UK Comics and All-Ages comics, Richard's day job in a primary school allowed him to build the best children's graphic novel library in the country.

5 Responses to Manga Shakespeare Twelth Night – If music be the food of love…..

  1. Richard says:

    Robert – “whatever works” is absolutely how I came to it as well. But once I was reading all cynicism dropped away. It’s a great version and although it makes the work accessible it does so not by simplifying the story or the language, but by presenting it in a style with a youthful appeal.
    I’m looking forward to reading more.

  2. Kevin says:

    Looks verrry nice.

    As a teacher I could…nope, a shame about the beautiful, brief nudity.

    Sorry, parents would not approve.

    I’ll pick it up though!

    • Richard says:

      brief nudity? oh, you mean the images of the twins.

      We were shown the Zeffirelli film of Romeo & Juliet when I was at school – including the scene we all remember with Juliet’s breasts.

      See the wiki for details:

      But this is the relevant section: “The film was once rated G in the United States, but was later re-rated PG (which, during 1968, was the only rating below R) primarily because of a nude scene featuring Hussey. Zeffirelli had to get permission for Hussey to appear nude in the film as she was only 15 years old at the time. Hussey later recalled that she was initially not permitted to view the film because it displayed her own breasts”

      Now granted, this was back in 85.

      But the non-nudity in the book above is surely alright. I’m assuming you’d be doing this with KS4? 14-16 year olds?

      There’s no more nudity here than in your average Timotei advert or in the pages of Loaded, Heat and certainly less than in The Sun.

      And if you’re not allowed to show the Manga Twelth Night because of the non-nudity then I imagine you have a difficult time explaining some of the coarser bits of Shakespeare’s language and the wonderful innuendos (Shakespeare was never shy of throwing in the occasional knob gag for the crowds after all).