Back to All Events

Shakespeare in New Mexico and the West

  • New Mexico Museum of Art • St. Francis Auditorium 107 West Palace Avenue Santa Fe, NM, 87501 United States (map)

Two lectures and a panel discussion.

Lecture 1: “The graveyard and the frontier: Hamlet among the buffaloes.” This lecture emphasizes the roles of Shakespeare’s Hamlet and performance history in art of the American West. It is a truism in art criticism that 19th-century Western art celebrates the westward passage as a triumph of “manifest destiny” and the “translation of empire.” By contrast, this lecture traces the opposite story of the doubts, scruples, and premonitions that many artists experienced as they recorded scenes of the conquest of the West.

Rather than viewing the American frontier as a blank slate and promised land, awaiting fulfillment by eastern colonizers, some artists worried that the frontier was destined to be a graveyard, in which native species as well as the native Indians were doomed to be displaced and replaced by the plants, animals, and peoples of the Old World.

The lecture brings together Shakespeare, Western art, theater history, and natural history to demonstrate the complex legacy of the past as it continues to bear on the cultural and natural environment of the American West. Lecturer is Heather James, Associate Professor of English, University of Southern California.
Lecture 2: “The Very Large Shakespeare Array.” This lecture examines the regional investments of Ramón Flores and Lynn Butler's The Merchant of Santa Fe, a radical New Mexican adaptation of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice set in colonial New Spain. This play was written and performed in the early 1990s amid a flurry of interest in New Mexico's "hidden Jews," the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who fled to this northern outpost of the Spanish empire to evade the Inquisition. Flores and Butler's use of a regional dialect of Spanish and references to local history invites inquiry into the community-building function of local theater. The play also reveals the different kinds of work—literary, cultural, ethnographic—that an adaptation of Shakespeare's play may do that a new drama about New Mexico's secret history might not. Lecturer is Marissa Greenberg, Associate Professor of English, University of New Mexico.
Panel Discussion: Bruce Smith, Dean’s Professor of English, University of Southern California, chairs a panel of local theater and film people who have been involved in Shakespeare productions and set up a panel discussion about Shakespeare’s texts—the Folio text in particular—and explore how directors, actors, and designers have turned those texts into live performances. Panelists include Martin Andrews, Associate Artistic Director of the New Mexico Shakespeare Festival on the Plaza; Ariana Karp, Director of the NYC Ducdame Ensemble; Robin Williams of the International Shakespeare Center.