"Everything thickens"

Ngaio Marsh and an Intermedial Macbeth from New Zealand


  • Megan Murray-Pepper


This paper explores the Shakespearean intersections in the works of New Zealand theater director and detective writer Ngaio Marsh (1895-1982) in the context of adaptation strategies within "settler cultures" and with Macbeth as a focus. Archival records of the New Zealand theater demonstrate the similarities between Marsh's productions of Macbeth in 1946 and 1962; the dramaturgy of the witches in particular distinguishes her stagings in the wider landscape of Anglophone production. Subsequently, Marsh reproduces and magnifies these productions in her final novel Light Thickens (1982). In reading closely the elements of montage, sensory crossover, and lexical repetition in Marsh's prose, I elaborate the precise formal relations of the intermedial approach that is at the heart of her aesthetic practices of adaptation. Where Marsh's multiple Shakespearean works appear to pursue a kind of inert repetition that reveals the play's essence, the play that "is," I argue that her work is characterized by a distinctive and interconnected accretion of Macbeth "performances." Culturally speaking, her multifocal engagement with Shakespeare is symptomatic of a settler culture that frequently experienced — through the complex dynamics of British affiliations — a sense of entitlement to or ownership of the Shakespearean canon.

Author Biography

Megan Murray-Pepper

Megan Murray-Pepper completed her Ph.D. at King's College London in 2014, and also holds an M.A. in Shakespearean Studies from King's. Her thesis focused on the formal and cultural dynamics of Shakespearean adaptation in New Zealand, across the genres of prose, poetry, and playwriting. She now teaches English while pursuing research interests in Shakespearean adaptation and heritage culture, and has published in the edited collections Teaching Shakespeare Beyond the Centre: Australasian Perspectives (2013) and The Writer on Film: Screening Literary Authorship (2013).