From “West Side Story” to “Throne of Blood,” the works of William Shakespeare have for centuries been adapted and retold in many different cultural contexts – all adding to the timeless nature of the English playwright’s repertoire.
But a new collection brings the bard’s work closer to home – namely, to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. In “The Bard in the Borderlands: An Anthology of Shakespeare Appropriations en La Frontera,” readers are introduced to numerous retellings of Shakespeare’s works by Latino and Indigenous writers that place the stories in settings more familiar to the borderlands.
The project was spearheaded by a trio of Texas-based scholars who co-founded the Borderlands Shakespeare Colectiva, a project that in part aims to change the way Shakespeare is taught and performed using a variety of approaches.
Dr. Kathryn Vomero Santos, assistant professor of English and co-director of the Humanities Collective at Trinity University, and Dr. Adrianna Santos, associate professor in the Department of Language, Literature and Arts at Texas A&M University – San Antonio, are two of the collective’s co-founders and joined the Standard to talk about the new anthology and their work. Listen to the story above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: So along with Dr. Katherine Gillen at Texas A&M University – San Antonio, the three of you have founded this collective, the Borderlands Shakespeare Colectiva. How did the idea for this group first come about and can you tell us more about your mission?
Adrianna Santos: Well, it began when we put together a conference on Latinx Shakespeares at Texas A&M University – San Antonio and we invited Dr. (Kathryn Vomero) Santos to come and be a speaker at that conference.
And then what happened? Dr. Santos, did you pick up on this as a wonderful idea right away or what?
Kathryn Vomero Santos: Absolutely. I was doing similar work when I was a professor at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, and then I promptly moved to San Antonio to begin working at Trinity. So we were thinking about ways we could collaborate. And one of the ways that we responded to a need in our community was to edit these plays that had not been published and were largely unavailable to researchers and students.
I understand this organization was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation. How has that aided your research, Adrianna?
Adrianna Santos: Well, we’re looking forward to creating culturally responsive pedagogical materials for students, seeing as how we have an interest in Hispanic Serving Institutions and other academic institutions in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands that serve this population. And so we’re wanting to use those funds to not only create educational materials for them, but to also highlight the important work of Latinx playwrights and artists who are doing work to highlight issues on the border.
Kathryn, I think part of the mission that a lot of listeners are going to pick up on is to change the way Shakespeare is taught. Can you talk about what that looks like in practice?
Kathryn Vomero Santos: Sure. So Shakespeare has largely been heralded as a universal playwright who is immediately relevant to all communities. But what we’ve found in our teaching in the US-Mexico borderlands is that Shakespeare requires some specificity to be relevant and to resonate with communities. So we want to provide these plays as texts that can be read alongside Shakespeare, where our students can see their communities and their histories reflected, and to honor the art-making practices that borderlands artists have been engaging in for decades now. So we hope that these plays will create new points of access and new ways to understand how Shakespeare can, in fact, be resonant here in our communities.