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Professor’s Book Examines Shakespeare in Cuba

Donna Woodford-Gormley

Las Vegas, N.M. — Highlands University English professor Donna Woodford-Gormley was awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities summer stipend to complete her book that explores Cuban cultural adaptations of Shakespeare.

Woodford-Gormley is the only Shakespeare scholar conducting research in Cuba.

The National Endowment for the Humanities award will allow Woodford-Gormley to complete her book in process titled Caliban’s Books: Shakespeare in Cuba by the end of 2014. Caliban is one of the primary protagonists in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The NEH supports projects like the English professor’s that responds to its Bridging Cultures initiative — including international projects like hers that seek to enlarge Americans’ understanding of other places, times, perspectives, and intellectual traditions.

“In Cuba, Shakespeare is frequently portrayed as revolutionary, making his characters seem less foreign and more sympathetic — someone Cubans can identify with,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She said Cuban adaptations of Shakespeare often evoke everyday life, including political tensions between the United States and Cuba that can lead to families separating.

“For instance, Romeo and Juliet may be separated not by a centuries-old feud, but because Romeo’s family chooses to immigrate to Miami. Or Othello may reach his tragic end not because Iago provokes his jealousy, but because his mother tempts him to abandon Desdemona and the revolution to come manage her estate in Florida,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She has been studying Shakespeare in Cuba since 2004. The Highlands Faculty Research Fund partially funded Woodford-Gormley’s research in the country in 2005, 2008 and 2013.

“While adaptations of Shakespeare are studied globally, there’s a big gap in Latin America in general and Cuba specifically. I hit a goldmine for research no one else is doing,” said Woodford-Gormley, who is fluent in Spanish.

Her book will include five chapters, including ones on Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Othello, and Hamlet. The last chapter will explore the use of Shakespeare as a means of bridging the divide between Cuba and the United States.

Two academic publishers are already interested in Woodford-Gormley’s Shakespeare in Cuba book. Her previous book, Understanding King Lear: A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents, was published in 2004. 

Woodford-Gormley joined the Highlands University faculty in 2004. She teaches courses such as global Shakespeare, women in Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s comedies, Shakespeare’s tragedies, and Shakespeare for non-English majors.

“This research on Shakespeare in Cuba informs my teaching because it gives me insight into how Shakespeare is alive and still being adapted globally. My book feeds into how I teach my Shakespeare courses, as well as courses in British literature and drama as literature,” Woodford-Gormley said.

She earned her Ph.D. in English from Washington University in St. Louis. Her dissertation examined English Renaissance literature, with a focus on William Shakespeare and foundlings — abandoned children raised by foster parents — in his works.

Woodford-Gormley has published numerous scholarly articles and book chapters, and presents often to organizations such as the Shakespeare Association of America and the International Congress on Medieval Studies.