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  • Shakespeare and Contemporary Latin American Cinema
  • Mark Thornton Burnett (bio)

The discipline of Shakespeare and film has suffered from a widespread critical and pedagogical tendency to concentrate on Anglophone films at the expense of their non-Anglophone equivalents.1 As a result, a genuinely international sense of Shakespeare’s plays on film is lacking—worldwide depth and diversity have yet to be properly acknowledged.2 In part, the networks of distribution and exhibition through which films are identified are to blame: as Inderpal Grewal and Caren Kaplan state, all too often a “cultural flow” is unidirectional and travels only “from the ‘west’ to the ‘rest.’”3 Yet at a moment when our sense of the Bard as an icon performed in a variety of media is expanding, a more nuanced and ambitious sense of the multifarious ways in [End Page 396] which Shakespeare is screened inside and across nations and cultures is called for. As Ramona Wray notes, now is surely the time to welcome the “possibility of enfolding, integration or polysemy” and to enter a “global conversation” that enables a “knowledge transfer.”4 Taking notice of productions that endorse a more generous remit for Shakespeare studies would allow for revision of what has too quickly become an enshrined canon of screen versions of the Bard. And there would be other advantages, too. Margaret Jane Kidnie writes that “strongly motivated interventions in the politics of the canon” have the advantage of making “alternative critical practices potentially available.”5 Crucially, the examples I cite test the limitations of United States-based critiques of Shakespeare performance. They insist on the importance of assessments that eschew an Englishlanguage bias, drawing instead on locally situated paradigms, and indicate a route toward a responsibly capacious grasp of Shakespearean cinema that is for and of the world, that is “not the other, but . . . is us.”6

Such a reorientation must attend to relevant aspects of postcolonial studies.7 The last decade has seen the development of a body of work devoted to Shakespeare in Latin America, with the publication of two anthologies in English significantly opening up the field, although film is only occasionally addressed.8 This initiative has pursued a historical recovery of performances, prose works, and verse parodies and in the process has produced a plausible theoretical framework based on a concept of plurality. A “logic of multiplicity” is the formulation used by Rick J. Santos to capture a sense of Shakespeare’s many applications in Latin America, with the Bard being seen as both indigenized—he is part of the “mestiço’s blood,” writes Aimara da Cunha Resende—and “mixed”—reflective [End Page 397] of the parts that make up the whole.9 Commentators have shown how an attitude of “admiration” and “reverence” has marked the Bard as a type of “patron saint”: his are “sacred texts.”10 Overlapping this hagiography is a construction of Shakespeare’s plays as sites of “contestation”: the work has been subjected to “cannibalization” and deployed as a “political weapon” in the interests of assisting “covert . . . estrangement effects” and even “revolt.”11 The two films explored in this essay—Sangrador (2000), a Venezuelan adaptation of Macbeth, and Huapango (2004), a Mexican adaptation of Othello—are different in kind and from each other.12 Certainly, the films constitute an effort to make Shakespeare speak to discrete interests, but they cannot be easily straitjacketed to a single schema.

Building on emerging discussions in world cinema and postcolonialism, this essay places Sangrador and Huapango in dialogue to showcase a significant body of Shakespeare films deserving of further attention. Notwithstanding Walter D. Mignolo’s salutary observation that “‘Latin’ America is not an objective” phenomenon but a “political project formed by Europeans,” I use the term “Latin America” throughout to signal a geographical configuration and to indicate a descriptor established in film studies as an enabling device for discussions of cinema and the market.13 Engaging with the part played by national contexts in [End Page 398] the production process, this essay also argues for the vital contribution of the representational practices of the individual nation-state within larger arrangements. Both Sangrador and Huapango match Julie Sanders’s definition of “adaptation” as...


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pp. 396-419
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