Argentinean cultural history, as well as many other Latin American cases, is transcended by Shakespeare’s influence in ways sometimes unnoticed. After talking to Mercedes De La Torre (founder of the Shakespeare Foundation in Argentina) I began to see little, remarkable reflections of this author that could be recollected throughout our short history as a country, something that I would have never thought of a land in which Shakespeare is not even taught in public schools. I immediately went to investigate in the website of her Foundation –full resources- and found some of these appearances to be sparingly interesting and colorful. Hence, here is this tiny recollection:
The Taming of the Shrew, the Tango player and the Argentine leader.
Who would have thought that Enrique Santos Discépolo, one of the most remarkable Tango composers and artists of all times, was also a Shakespeare fan?
The truth is that, in his time, he was mostly recognized as being the man behind masterpieces such as Cambalache or Yira Yira. However, in 1950 he also decided to take the role of the director in the first representation of The Taming of the Shrew in Argentina. The play, one of the first Shakespearean pieces to be showcased in Buenos Aires, took place at the Cervantes theatre, and was attended by two of the most important figures in the political history of the country: Juan Domingo and Eva Perón.
Perhaps best-remembered by the movie starred by Madonna, these two characters (who are so politically complicated that could have been imagined by Shakespeare himself), are strongly instilled in the conscience of this country. It was for me a surprise to see them attending a play written by an English author, especially because they were the main promoters of patriotic, anti-imperialistic –and partially authoritarian- ideas. I personally saw this story as one of encounter, as a dialogue between the universal classics and some of the strongest traditions in a young culture.
The Memory of Borges
“His body fulfilled its destiny as body, the soul that dwelled in it was Caesar, failing to heed the augurer’s admonition, and Juliet, detesting the lark, and Macbeth, conversing on the heath with the witches”
“Nobody was ever as many men as that man” wrote Jorge Luis Borges in his beautiful, short story Everything and Nothing. Published in his book Dreamtigers (a small collection of personal wonders and essays and poems), it is a short story in which Borges pays homage to the author by diving into his skin and his history while trying to figure out how it must have felt to be so many characters and stories-all at once.
In the most poetic, introspective language, he narrates Shakespeare’s life with both admiration and depth, concluding with a dialogue between the poet and God which explores fantastically the angles of this controlled hallucination that Borges describes.
Afterwards, Borges kept on expressing his fandom by dedicating an entire edition of Sur magazine to texts written about Shakespeare. Not only his pieces, but also those written by Victoria Ocampo and Huxley took part in this edition to celebrate the 400 years of the author’s birth. Later on, he moved on to write another wonderful story, Shakespeare’s Memory, a kind of metaphysical adventure in which a scholar and Shakespeare devotee is offered the poet’s memory after meeting an enigmatic character, Daniel Thorpe. It is, too, a highly recommended, sometimes weird but fascinating story.
The Inspiration of Vivian Leigh
Just one more little, remarkable fact: in 1962, actress Vivian Leigh (perhaps best-known for her role in the eternal classics Gone with the wind and A Streetcar Named Desire) arrived in Buenos Aires with the Old Vic Company to play a couple of Shakespeare’s classics.
She and her Company set themselves in Corrientes Avenue (a third-world Argentinean version of Broadway) and performed two shows: Twelfth Night, in its original version, and Great Scenes By William Shakespeare, which gathered memorable moments from Midnight Summer’s Dream, Hamlet and Macbeth, among others. The British actress stayed for a brief period in Argentina, performed both plays in the theatre San Martín and then moved on to played other Shakespeare characters all over the world, such as Ophelia or even Lady Macbeth- if she had lived in his time, she could so easily have been one of Shakespeare’s greatest muses.