Cuban Adaptations of Shakespeare

Donna Woodford-Gormley, New Mexico Highlands University

Shakespeare’s global reach is evident not only in the fact that Shakespeare’s plays and adaptations of those plays are now performed in countries to which Shakespeare never travelled, and indeed, countries which did not exist as countries during his lifetime, but also in the fact that the theatre troupes performing culturally and ethnically diverse adaptations have come full circle, by performing in Shakespeare’s native England and very own Globe Theatre. One example of this is the Cuban troupe Teatro Buendía and their global performances of Otra Tempestad, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Otra Tempestad was originally performed in Havana, Cuba in 1997; in 1998 Teatro Buendía travelled to London to perform the play as part of the theatre’s Globe to Globe season. Audiences unable to travel to Cuba or to London, or who missed the performances at the time, can still see both performances via the Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library.

Otra Tempestad is a very loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which also incorporates characters from many other Shakespeare plays and elements of Afro-Cuban culture and ritual. Structured in fifteen scenes, the play depicts Prospero and a shipload of Shakespearean characters setting sail from the Old World in search of a new land on which they can found a utopia. Prospero brings with him his daughter Miranda; Othello, who is to marry Miranda; Shylock; Macbeth; and Hamlet. The Shakespearean characters are caught in a storm, caused, in this play, by Sycorax and not by Prospero, and they shipwreck on the coast of Cuba. Once on the island they begin to encounter Sycorax’s daughters, who are orishas, afro-cuban deities originally brought to Cuba by African slaves and then syncretized with Catholic saints, eventually becoming multi-layered gods. In this play they have additional layers added onto them because the old world characters see in them what they want to see, and they generally see the people they lost or left behind. Hamlet encounters the many layered orisha, Oshun, a river goddess merged with the patron saint of Cuba, Caridad del Cubre, and Oya, Santa Teresa and the orisha of the cemeteries. Hamlet, however, sees them as Ophelia and Gertrude and is quickly driven insane by his inability to make them respond in the way he expects them to. Macbeth is seduced by Oya, whom he believes to be Lady Macbeth, and though he begins the play swearing loyalty to the king, he allows her to convince him to commit murder and treason. Prospero meets the trickster orisha, Elleggua, and though he claims to be in search of a land on which to found his utopia, he quickly falls into a master/servant relationship with the Elleggua, whom he calls Ariel. He is furthermore horrified to learn that his daughter, who he arranged to marry to Othello, has fallen in love with Caliban. He cannot accept what Elleggua/Ariel tells him, that Caliban will be king of the island, and his growing ambition drives him to destroy his utopian society before it is even begun.

Otra Tempestad depicts a complicated conversation between the old and new worlds, and between Shakespeare’s play and the Cuban theatre troupe reinterpreting it and creating a Cuban Tempest. The two performances available through the Hemispheric Institute’s Digital Video Library allow new audiences to join in the conversation, and to see the globalization of Shakespeare in action.