Narco-Capitalist Macbeths in TV Series: Shakespeare’s Archive in The Wire (David Simon, 2002–2008) and Breaking Bad (Vince Gilligan, 2008–2013)




narco-capitalism, archive, Macbeth, reenactment, trace, sources, source text, Adaptation, transmedia


I will tackle serial appropriations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth in The Wire (David Simon, 2002–2008) and Breaking Bad (Vince Gilligan, 2008–2013). Both complex TV series recast Macbeth in the context of narcocapitalism. Rather than constituting an alternative to mainstream capitalism, narco-capitalism maintains the American and global socioeconomic orders as depicted in both series. Paying attention to what will be defined as Shakespeare’s archive, it will be shown that traces from Macbeth are reactivated in The Wire and Breaking Bad. Shakespeare’s archive is formed by traces of Shakespeare’s dramatic and narrative sources, quartos, folios, later editions and adaptations. This corpus displays verbal and non-verbal features of Shakespeare’s oeuvre. Taken together, traces and reenactments of Shakespeare highlight the multifarious and competing ways in which Shakespearean appropriations sail through the depth and length of complex TV. To illustrate this, I will use archive theory, transmedia theory and narcocapitalism as lenses of analysis. This framework helps explain archival strategies employed for Shakespearean appropriation within the social context of both series. The results reveal that Shakespeare’s archive in both works leads to an ambivalent ethical assessment of the potentialities of narco-capitalism.


This article is one of the outputs of the Research Project "CIRCE: Early Modern European Theater on Screen" (CIGE/2021/086), financed by Conserlleria d'Innovació, Universitats i Ocupació of the Generalitat Valenciana. It was written during a research stay at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (April–June 2022). Acknowledgements are owed to Arturo Mora-Rioja, Reto Winckler and Ben Alexander for their feedback on the manuscript Additionally, this publication is inscribed within Research Project "Archivos en transición: Memorias colectivas y usos subalternos" (programa MSCA-RISE de la Unión Europea, acciones Marie Skłodowska-Curie, ref. 872299).


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How to Cite

Huertas, Víctor. 2024. “Narco-Capitalist Macbeths in TV Series: Shakespeare’s Archive in The Wire (David Simon, 2002–2008) and Breaking Bad (Vince Gilligan, 2008–2013)”. Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina De Estudios Ingleses, no. 40 (January):179-98.