Intercultural Theater and the Local Context of Reception: Lady Macbeth 2016 and the South Korean Presidential Scandal

Seokhun Choi

Abstract

This essay investigates the relationship between intercultural performance and the sociopolitical context of reception by drawing parallels between Tae-sook Han’s 2016 changguk adaptation of her own Lady Macbeth and the recent presidential scandal of South Korea. The discourse of intercultural performance has focused on directorial vision and the political dynamics between the source and target cultures, while the local context of reception and its impact on the overall meaning of the work have relatively been overlooked, particularly from a diachronic perspective. Lady Macbeth revolves around the court physician’s psychotherapy sessions for the eponymous heroine, who is haunted by the memories of her past crimes and eventually choked by guilt. While major critics of the play have interpreted the play as a feminist or humanist drama, the scandal challenges such sympathetic views of the heroine due to the play’s strong evocation of allegations brought against then-President Geun-hye Park and her confidante Soon-sil Choi. Previously understood as a woman or Everyman that the spectators could identify with, now the queen seems to have become a symbol of corruption and immorality. The play’s political subtext is amplified by the play’s changguk form whose satire and traditional music contribute to the audience’s purgation of han. Holding more immediate relevance and broader appeal to the local audience than before, the new version of Lady Macbeth demonstrates how an extraordinary socio-political context can transform an intercultural performance into a national drama for the local audience.

Keywords

Geun-hye Park; han; intercultural performance; Lady Macbeth; scandal; Sewol; South Korea; Soon-sil Choi; Tae-sook Han

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/3059