Originally published on July 24, 2018 by Migdalia Cruz in the Shakespeare and Beyond blog by Folger Shakespeare Library.
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 previous Q&As in the series:
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.
What did you learn about your Shakespeare play through the translation process? Do you see it differently now?
I finally understand ACT IV. Malcolm and MacDuff’s very long scene about loyalty—which is often cut to shreds because no one quite understands all the rhetoric between them—is a very interesting scene when you understand all the levels of testing that Malcolm puts MacDuff through to prove his loyalty to Malcolm as the rightful heir to Scotland. It is a long scene at a crucial point in the play, and I found it difficult to unpack—but unpack we did—we being myself as writer/translator, and my colleague, Ishia Bennison, as actor/dramaturge.
What is your favorite line (or set of lines) from the Shakespeare play you translated?
One of my favorite scenes is the PORTER scene. It was quite a puzzle trying to work out all the jokes, puns, and sexual innuendo of this scene, so besides being a challenge, it was fun!
ACT II, SCENE 3
Outside the South Gate of MACBETH’s castle.
A PORTER enters.
Knocking from offstage.
PORTER: There’s a knocking, indeed! If a man were porter of Hell Gate, he should have plenty of key-turning to do here. (Knocking.)
Knock, knock, knock. Who i’th’name of Beelzebub is there?
Here’s a greedy farmer, who tripled his prices, then hanged himself when the grain became cheap: come in, Father Time; have hankerchiefs about you for here you’ll sweat like hell.
Knock, knock. Who’s there, i’th’devil’s other name? Faith, here’s a lawyer, who could swear against the scales of justice on either side who lied enough for God’s sake, yet could not lie to God: O! come in, Father Equivocator.
Knock, knock, knock. Who’s there? Faith, here’s a dodgey English tail-or come hither for stealing the crotch from a French panty: come in, tailor; here you may cook your carrot.
Knock, knock. Never stays quiet! What are you? But this place is too cold for Hell. I’ll devil-porter it no more: I had thought to have let in some from all professions, that go down the primrose path to th’Devil’s everlasting bone-fire.
Anon, anon: Let me…come!
(Holding out a hand for a tip as HE opens the gate for MACDUFF & LENNOX.)
I pray you, remember the Porter.
(Enter MACDUFF and LENNOX.)
Can you describe your process for translating Macbeth?
First, I did as much research as I could about the history, culture, and political climate at the time Shakespeare wrote Macbeth, particularly the politics of England and Scotland at the time. I read about bawdy language in Elizabethan times, about King James as a descendant of Banquo, the slang and curse words, the sexual innuendo, etc.
Then when I felt I could understand all the historical references in Shakespeare’s play, then I taught myself iambic pentameter and the other poetic forms he used. I scoped out all the places he did not follow his own rules and took license in those same places to go off meter. I also decided that Duncan and Hecate should both speak in couplets—so the “royals” spoke simply and directly in their poetry.
Then I went to visit the real King Macbeth’s grave on the Isle of Iona in the Hebrides. Of course, once I got there, I was told that maybe he was in the mass grave/burial mound, since 24 kings of Scotland are buried there—but no guarantees! I decided he was definitely there. Iona was full of all kinds of magic.