From Colouring Shakespeare
Simon Callow’s foreword from Colouring Shakespeare, a new book from Modern Books featuring
stunning illustrations from Shakespeare’s most famous sonnets and speeches.
How well I remember, as a little boy, working my way through my grandmothers’ libraries, systematically colouring in all the illustrations with my trusty crayons: The Cricket on the Hearth, A Tale of Two Cities, and that scary cautionary tale, Eric or, Little by Little. By far my favourite was Peter Pan – the hours I lavished on Captain Hook and the crocodile! My grandmothers were kindly, encouraging women, and they could see that the colouring in made the books more my own – it made reading them an interactive experience. The books I thus collaborated on were mostly children’s books, the ones I had read. There was, however, a set of books that I longed to get my hands on – the plays of William Shakespeare.
I adored those books, four big volumes: Tragedies, Comedies, Histories and Romances and Poems. I read them out loud, weeping and laughing and orating. I hardly knew what I was saying, half the time, but the combination of the sounds and the illustrations on the pages brought the world of the plays vividly before my eyes. The pictures were rather brilliantly done, black and white engravings, each very different in character – clean lines for Rome, lovely florid ornamentation for Italy, an earthy sort of quality for the English History plays.
And there were all the towering figures from the plays – Richard III, Brutus, Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Bottom, Titania and her fairies, Shylock, Falstaff – all modelled, I now realise, on productions of the late Victorian period, revealing the acting styles of their epoch. Their great merit was that they were clear: they told the story. They seemed to be inviting me to flesh them out in colour. I was stopped from doing so – they were venerable volumes, and my additions would not have added to their market value – but I wish there had been Shakespeare colouring books then.
Colouring Shakespeare by Judy Stevens and Simon Callow, published by Modern Books, will be available to be in-store at the Globe Shop.
What’s more, we’re giving away a copy, signed by Simon Callow, on Twitter – so keep your eyes on our social media for the chance to win one.