Sunday, September 8, 2013

Shakespeare Must Die: A Thai Appropriation of Macbeth

Shakespeare Must Die - Official Preview

The 2012 film Shakespeare Must Die tells the story of a fictional theater group that defies authorities by performing Shakespeare's Macbeth. The film has sparked controversy in Thailand due its political allusions. While the film is set in a fictional country, its dictator Dear Leader resembles former Thai leader Thaksin Sinawatra, and its murderer wears red - the same color as pro-Sinawatra demonstrators. Although the Ministry of Culture initially funded the film, the Thai government censored the film due to "content that causes divisiveness among the people of the nation." The film's producers have since responded with the documentary Censor Must Die, which follows the Thai government's censorship of political expression. (Watch the preview here)

Two aspects of Shakespeare Must Die and the surrounding controversy particularly interest me. First of all, director Ing Kanjanavanit's application of Macbeth to a modern Thai political scene demonstrates the universality of Shakespeare. Such universality is further demonstrated by Kanjanavanit's response to the Thai government's argument that her dictator symbolizes Sinawatra, for Kanjanavanit replies that Libyans would see him as Qadaffi, while Cambodians would see him as Hun Sen. On another note, the portrayal of a theater troupe performing Macbeth makes use of the "play within a play" technique frequently employed by Shakespeare. Kanjanavanit even acknowledges her use of this technique in an interview:

"The film's use of the Shakespearean play within a play device is appropriate as well as being affordable. It would've been delicious to have tanks in the streets, helicopter shots of Macbeth on a penthouse terrace over the Bangkok skyline at sunset etc, but that is not within our reach, so I couldn't write that script. Cheap swords on a stage would have to work somehow, and the only way for that to work is to stage such scenes on a theatrical stage."

Interview - Interview of Ing K, Director of Shakespeare Must Die, by Colleen Kennedy (PhD candidate in English, Ohio State University) -


  1. Nice! Do you think this shows that Macbeth is "universal"? Is it more universal in some countries than others? (E.g., in places where the government is perceived as a dictatorship?)

  2. While I have not yet read Macbeth, I think that this shows that some themes from Macbeth are universal, particularly in countries where the government is perceived as a dictatorship. The Thai government's reaction to Shakespeare Must Die demonstrates this phenomenon. In a country like the United States, where the government is generally viewed as a democracy or a representative republic, such a film would most likely be presented without obstacles. In Thailand, however, themes in Macbeth so closely resemble popular sentiments towards the Thai government that the government felt compelled to take action and ban the film. If this adaptation of Macbeth occurred in other countries controlled by dictatorships, such as North Korea, it is likely that the government would have a similar reaction.