“My most painted word”: Illustrating Hamlet in the Digital Age

Abstract: The new transmedial ecosystem, which includes screen versions, cartoons, computer games, infographics, manga, etc., has engaged and affected the practice of reading Shakespeare. In the spirit of the time, the Ukrainian publisher A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA answered the challenge by releasing Yurii Andrukhovych’s unorthodox and ironic translation of Hamlet (2008), the first one made in independent Ukraine. The master coup of the edition is the idiosyncratic artwork by Vladislav Yerko, which is introspective, heavily symbolic, metatextual, and visually mesmerizing. My argument is that Yerko’s artwork, both a manifestation of the materiality of the book and the semantic complexity of the artist’s outstanding visual imagery based on Shakespeare’s metaphors, has the power to harness the hyper-attention of the readers and to switch it into the deep attention mode. In this manner the artwork inveigles the recipient into the dangerous realm of the ‘undersurface’ reading, which otherwise might have been evaded. If in the earlier print versions of Hamlet the illustrations played mainly a secondary role, in the age of the intermedial shift, they have come to play a major part in the ‘drama’ of the reading act, guiding, but also questioning and challenging, the interpretation. The clash and the subtle interplay of text and image provide an opportunity for interactivity and quick changes of focus, which effectively integrate this edition into the contemporary reading paradigm that seeks new ways to empower the reader and meet the demand for visuality.

Keywords: illustration, conceptual imagery, visual metaphor, bi-literate brain, digital skeptics, digital defenders, interactivity, visuality, transmediality, metatextuality

Darya Lazarenko, PhD is a research fellow of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre, a joint project of the Institute of Literature of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine, Classic Private University (Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine) and Zaporizhzhia National University (Ukraine), as well as a co-editor of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Portal. From 2007 to 2014 she taught a range of courses at Zaporizhzhia National University (Ukraine). Currently, she teaches Introduction to Comparative Literature at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski.” Her research focuses on the metatextual character of Shakespeare’s works, their literary projections, translations, intermedial interpretations, and strategies of teaching Shakespeare in the wider cultural context.


Darya Lazarenko – “My most painted word”: Illustrating Hamlet in the Digital Age (pdf)

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