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The Morals of Macbeth and Peace as Process: Adapting Shakespeare in Northern Ireland's Maximum Security Prison


Filmed in Maghaberry, Northern Ireland’s maximum security prison, the 2006 film Mickey B involved forty-two personnel, with parts mainly assumed by prisoners, all of whom were well into lengthy sentences. Central to the production was the overseeing role of the Educational Shakespeare Company (ESC), a charity with branches in Northern Ireland and the United States, which works with socially excluded groups, including prisoners; those on probation; the homeless; and youth at risk. As part of its mission, the ESC operates not only in relation to a reformist agenda but also with the aim of achieving successful aesthetic effects. That an adaptation devised by prisoners might have a purchase beyond the therapeutic has been generally neglected in Shakespeare studies. While considerable interest has been generated by the “prison Shakespeare” phenomenon, the genre is invariably approached by way of a drama therapy model. An unwillingness to challenge the precise meanings that Shakespeare has for prisoners results in vital context being lost and issues of cultural specificity overlooked. In contrast to some of the trends in prison Shakespeare criticism that the Bard can be regarded as a species of bible or companion, this essay argues that Mickey B points up a more variegated model, one premised on social and cultural contexts, institutional connections, participation and collusion, performative aspiration, and collaborative experiment.

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