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Shakespeare & Beyond

Play on! Q&A: Migdalia Cruz on translating 'Macbeth'

Migdalia Cruz
Migdalia Cruz
Migdalia Cruz

Migdalia Cruz

Over the next few months, the Folger is doing a series of Q&As with some of the playwrights and dramaturgs involved with Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Play on! project to translate all of Shakespeare’s plays into contemporary English.

This month’s Q&A is with Migdalia Cruz, the playwright who translated Macbeth. There are plans for productions by the Actors’ Shakespeare Project of Boston in fall 2018 and at the African-American Shakespeare Company in San Francisco in summer 2019.

⇒ Read an introduction to the Play on! project by Lue Douthit, the project director at OSF

Read previous Q&As in the series:

⇒ Q&A with Kenneth Cavander about translating Timon of Athens

⇒ Q&A with Caridad Svich about translating Henry VIII

⇒ Q&A with Elise Thoron and Julie Felise Dubiner about translating The Merchant of Venice

What made you pick the Shakespeare play that you translated? What were your first impressions of the Shakespeare play you translated?

Macbeth has always been my favorite Shakespeare play. I was attracted to the story of a good man becoming an ambitious man becoming a monster. I was intrigued by Lady Macbeth, whose ambition at first surpasses her husband’s, but then transforms into guilt and madness under the weight of her betrayal of King Duncan. Also, I wanted to explore the witches, which have never seemed like old crones to me but rather strong, psychic beings with overwhelming sexual attraction—and that’s why men are so afraid of them. As a woman of color, I wanted to make a place in the Shakespeare canon for my sisters, and the sisters that seemed most underexplored were the witches. I also think that women of color can be terrifying to some men because of their direct and unapologetic sexuality—which seemed perfect for my witches. I also saw an opportunity to write songs for them; since Shakespeare took his songs from Thomas Middleton, I felt that gave me license to create my own musical landscape for the witches and for the play.


My ‘Talkin’ Blues Macbeth’, devised in about 1960. ‘Gonna tell you the tale o’ the life’n’death/Of a real bad badman who was called Macbeth/Alias Thane o’ Glames, Thane o’ Cawdor an’ King o’ Scotland….//Now once he worked fer King Duncan, and/Was known as the fastest sword in the land/Killed a whole heap o’ Scandinavians, single-handed/Them days he was a good guy….//But comin’ victorious back from the wars/He meets a bunch o’ squawkin’ squaws/Who set ‘im a-gapin’ an’ a-gawkin’ ’cause/They reckon ‘e’ll soon be King!/(Kinda like President o’ the Scotch Republic….)//His buddy Banquo ain’ impressed/But Macbeth IS; an’ I guess you’ve guessed/That a woman’s the reason fer ‘is interest/An’ she’s ‘is wife, no more nor less./!!//She’s tired o’ the ranch that they got at Glames/So durn tired that she’d durn insane/Sufferin’ from a kind o’ tire-o-mania….//Sh’invites King Duncan to the ranch fer a spell/An’ the deed that she does is terrible to tell:/She makes Mac stab ‘im at the toll of a bell!/Well, I jist don’ think that’s NICE; usin’ her husband like Pavlov dawg….[Time for a pause. If anyone’s interested, let me know, and I’ll continue in due course! FR.]

Frederick Robinson — July 26, 2018

(./.) So the squaws was right, an’ Mac makes king/But squaws’ an’ scorpions’ tails have a sting/An’ the sting in this tale was Banquo – Buddy Banquo//He’d bin tol’ that HIS progenee was to be the kings-to-be/So the next step’s purty plain to see/ – Remove the sting! (On’y thing was, they missed Sting Junior…)//By now, Macbeth’s gettin’ zanier ‘n’ zanier/He catches ‘is wife’s insomnomania/They go from sane to insane to insanier/An’ nary a psychoanalysist in town!//The streets all empty an’ the bar-rooms clear/Whenever black Macbeth comes near/An’ folks set in leavin’ town in fear/Includin’ one Lord Plum Duff….//Now he was a friendly kind o’ guy/So Macbeth jist don’ savvy why/He’s gone: an’ he’s PEEVED…//He sees the squaws, who warn him off Plum Duff/An’ tell ‘im a heap o’ other stuff, like/’Not-to-fear-o’-man-o’-woman-born-nor-less’n-Birnam-Wood-do-come-to-Dunsinane….(Phew!)//Plum Duff’s wife’s killed, an’ that makes him cross/So him an’ some other guys in England form a posse….//Mac hears they’re a-comin’ an’ shores up the ranch/But to hide their approach, they’ve taken each a branch/As camouflage, an’ that makes Mac blanch:/He thinks they’re Birnam Wood!//While he’s a -starin’ an’ a-rubbin’ his eyes/His wife walks around with a candle an’ dies/She ain’t bin sleepin’, so it’s no surprise:/She was TIRED to death….//Plum Duff breaks in for the final showdown,/Tells Macbeth he thinks he’s ‘a lowdown coward’/An’ Mac laughs – ‘Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Now listen, Duff, you better be warned/I can’t be killed by man o’ woman born! So cut the corn, an’ let’s go…!’//’Ho ho!’ says Duff, all bold ‘n’ daryin’:/’I wasn’t born, I come in by Caesarean/So you had better start a fearyin’, pal….!!’//….Wal, needless to say, the Good Guy sends/Macbeth to death/ – An’ the story ends…..(FINIS)

Frederick Robinson — July 29, 2018

I have just – with great patience – written into this Reply, the second (and concluding) part of my ‘Talkin’ Blues Macbeth’, ‘submitted’ it, and was told it ‘looked as though I had already done so’. Misreading: I hadn’t; it was a continuation. I’d be grateful if – assuming you can – you retrieve and restore said second part!

Frederick Robinson — July 29, 2018

Ah! I see it has now been restored, above. Thank you!

Frederick Robinson — July 29, 2018

I cannot think of a more ghastly activity than ‘translating’ Shakespeare. Why do it? do you think it is going to ‘improve’ the works of Will? I think it is a dastardly activity, not worth the candle. Please stop it.

Rachel Bowen — August 17, 2018