Just Shakespeare! Adapting Macbeth for children’s literature

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference paperChapterpeer-review


This chapter examines a twenty-first century adaptation of Shakespeare for children, Andy Griffiths’ latest addition to his Just! series of children’s books, Just Macbeth! Just Macbeth! began life as a stage play produced in collaboration with the Bell Shakespeare Company (in September 2008). The stage play was then adapted by Griffiths and his frequent collaborator, illustrator Terry Denton, into a children’s book (published by Pan Macmillan in 2009). The focus of this chapter will predominantly be on the printed version of Just Macbeth! However, reference will be made to the Bell Shakespeare stage production. Just Macbeth! transplants the characters Andy, Danny and Lisa from Griffiths’ well known children’s books, the Just! series, into Shakespeare’s tale Macbeth. The story follows Andy, Danny and Lisa as they have to present the witches’ scene from Macbeth to their English class. They become preoccupied with making the prop for the scene: the witches’ cauldron. Unable to resist the temptation to taste the potion, they find themselves magically transported into the world of Macbeth where they play the starring roles. Andy is Macbeth. Danny is Banquo and Lisa is Lady Macbeth. This chapter will explore how Andy Griffiths adapts a canonical performance text for a twenty-first century audience. I contend that there is a synchronicity between Shakespeare and Griffiths in how they both entertain and subtly educate their audience. While the nuances of Early Modern language are often out of reach of young children, the stories of Shakespeare’s plays are well within their grasp. Modern children often have difficulty relating to Shakespeare’s narrative form and language. They instead demand something more immediate, where they can enter the world of the text, (literally) see the settings, hear the characters speak (in a voice they understand), and feel their emotions. I will examine Griffiths’ motivation behind and process of adapting Shakespeare (and especially Macbeth) for children, and his decision to set this adaptation in the world created in his Just! series of books. In particular, this chapter will focus on the interplay of methods used by Griffiths to help the young audience relate to and understand the story of Macbeth. Just Macbeth! takes a different form to Griffiths’ other books in the Just! series, and is not a collection of short stories, but rather an example of metafiction for children. The book inhabits several media and temporalities at once, including the novel, playtext and picture book form, and plays self-referential and cross-referential games with readers. Characters are self-aware and draw attention to their presence in a Shakespeare playtext. For example, they comment on what is supposed to be happening in the text, correct other character’s misquotation of Shakespeare, and explain the proper procedure for delivering a soliloquy. Furthermore, characters take charge of the story and cobble together a new version of Macbeth, where Banquo learns his fighting moves from the film Kill Bill, Macduff is an angry garden gnome, and Macbeth kills puppies, kittens and ponies instead of people. This chapter will conclude that Just Macbeth! is structured in such a way that it demystifies Shakespeare’s unfamiliar language, wordplay and theatrical conventions. This book aimed at children outlines the action and motivations of Macbeth using simple, clever and humorous terms and devices. Through his collaborative engagement with Shakespeare’s text Griffiths’ gives new shape to a long familiar play and presents Macbeth in such a way that young readers gain an appreciation of Shakespeare and his works.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLocating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century
EditorsGabrielle Malcolm, Kelli Marshall
PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
ISBN (Print)1-4438-3787-3, 978-1-4438-3787-3
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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