Tending the Ghosts: A Contemporary Adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth Through the Lens of Intergenerational Trauma and Transmission Within the Chinese American Community


The notion that the past never fully recedes into the past, and that memories and trauma can be passed on to another subsequent generation is one that is particularly relevant to second generation individuals, or the “post-generation” as Marianne Hirsch describes in her work. Cathy Caruth, a scholar in trauma theory, also notes how trauma is an event that cannot be entirely witnessed by one’s self nor fully integrated into one’s experience. Just as the idea that trauma can haunt a subject for generations is not new, neither are adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, nor the conversation about the role and place of adaptations in the Shakespearean literary realm. This project can best be thought of as one branch of the Shakespearean rhizome, a notion that adaptations are not completely beholden to the original text and its power, but have a life and creative force of their own. The goals of this project were to use fiction as a way of understanding the experiences of the post-generation as well as understand and contextualize the ways in which trauma is passed down between generations, particularly within Asian American communities. My aim in using a Shakespearean text to do this work is to also critique the “universal” white western audience that was Macbeth’s intended audience, as well as to use the themes of haunting and the supernatural to help contextualize the ways in which trauma and memory are transmitted. This project contains both a critical theoretical component as well as a creative component, though the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The theoretical portion of this project explores how memory and trauma are passed down between generations as well as understand how fiction can aid in interpreting and contextualizing those memories. The creative portion of this project consists of a full length play adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The adaptation explores how a young girl growing up in a Chinese American family navigates and understands her family’s history and the intergenerational trauma that grows from that. Much of the play focuses on the ways in which this young girl acts as witness to the effects of the trauma and memories of her parents and ultimately how this affects the ways in which she sees and understands herself.



Shakespeare, Intergenerational trauma and transmission, Asian American literature