Article Title

Macbeth and Regimes of Reading in Francoist Spain


Keith Gregor


If, as now seems clear, Shakespeare’s Macbeth is not an unambiguous reflection on contemporary notions of tyranny and their relation to James’s own conception of absolute rule, what might be its significance for subsequent tyrannies in other parts of the globe? Would it have the same impact? Could it be performed at all under such regimes? The case of Francoist Spain may prove illustrative here. In 1941 the newly “nationalized” Teatro Español in Madrid (Spain) staged a spectacular production of Macbeth. Directed by Cayetano Luca de Tena, the production took as its play text a specially commissioned rendering by Nicolás González Ruiz, a writer known and trusted for his sympathies towards the new pro-fascist regime headed by generalísimo Francisco Franco. Contemporary praise for the translation, which matched that for the performance, conveniently occluded the fact that certain passages of Shakespeare’s text had simply not been translated, while others had been re-written to strike a more congenial note with Franco’s ever-vigilant censorship boards. Among the more problematic passages was the new king Malcolm’s last speech to the assembled armies of Scotland and England. Coming just two years after the end of a civil war which had caused some 500,000 deaths and an indeterminate number of injuries, forced migrations and exiles; which had introduced mechanisms of surveillance and restriction of freedom not seen since the days of the Inquisition, the references to “exil’d Friends,” “watchfull Tyranny,” “cruell Ministers” and “dead Butcher[s]” were, it was felt, safer removed. As well as examining this and other passages in González’s playscript, together with the production as a whole, the paper considers the adaptation of Macbeth by the exiled Spanish poet León Felipe, whose dramatic paraphrase, The Murderer of Sleep (1954), seems designed to realize some of the play’s subversive power and so expose the limits of such regimes of reading as existed in Spain and other parts of continental Europe. That it was premiered in Mexico and never performed in Spain does not detract from its significance as an attack on the tyranny – both political and aesthetic – still prevailing in the artist’s homeland.

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