Prince of Cats by Ron Wimberly – A Book Review

Set in Brooklyn, Prince of Cats lauds itself as The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet’s B-Side.  Though it uses Shakespeare’s classic work as the inspiration, Prince of Cats is its own entity, a graphic novel unlike any other, an adaptation, a reimagining, a twist on a story that was already a twist itself.

And though there have been many iterations of the source material, I’ve never experienced anything quite like Prince of Cats.  Sure, the idea of the Montagues being white and the Capulets black isn’t all that innovative, but setting the play in Brooklyn during the early 80s and mixing in a little kung-fu and hip hop with ample katana blades is a step in a daring, new direction.

Furthermore, Wimberly made a masterful move when he decided not to focus upon Romeo and Juliet, but instead gives the spotlight to two incredibly important but often underestimated characters – Tybalt and Rosalyn.  I believe these are two of the driving forces of the original play, and I’ve never seen anyone give them their due like Wimberly does in Prince of Cats.

As you have probably guessed, I’m a former English major and devote a lot of time even today to studying Shakespeare.  I can tell you that Wimberly weaves Shakespeare’s original dialogue into his own seamlessly, and at times I had to double-check what was true to the play and what Wimberly did on his own.  Also, as you know, there are quite a few times in the original work when we have no idea what Tybalt is up to.  This book gives you insight into those moments, and his connection to Rosalyn is titillating.

Now, right now, a few of you are probably thinking this would be a great book to introduce into your classroom as supplemental material to your Shakespeare unit.  There are a few warnings you should heed.  There is blood in this book – lots of it.  People lose limbs.  There is language in this book – lots of it.  There is nudity in this book, and while fleeting, it is still there.  To use this in a college class is pushing it, to use it in a high school class would be dangerous for your career.

Even with that being said, it’s now counted amongst my favorite adaptations of Romeo and Juliet.  And, because of it, because of this book and the gaps that it fills in concerning Rosalyn and Tybalt, I can never look at the two characters the same way again.  Before this book, Tybalt was always a stone cold killer in my mind, a man who loved trouble and adored violence.  In Prince of Cats, there is still that aspect to him, but there’s also something more, something much more, which makes him the deserving title character of this book.

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