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Aime Cesaire's Revision of "The Tempest" with Caliban as a Heroic Rebel Against Colonial Rule Stephen Murray Stephen

Murray, Yahoo! Contributor Network Feb 13, 2009 "Share your voice on Yahoo! websites. Start Here." MORE:Caliban FlagPost a comment Last April, while I was in France, the Martinique-born French poet/politician Aim Csaire died and was given a state funeral. I was a bit surprised by the state funeral attended by French President Nicolas Sarkozy whom while alive Csaire had refused to meet. I was more surprised that Csaire had not already died, as had the other founder of the Negritude movement, Lopold Sdar Senghor (1906-2001), president of Senegal for the first two decades after its independence was. (Csaire was born seven years later than Senghor was and died seven years after Senghor did.) I have a copy in French of Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to My Native Land, first published in 1939), though I'm fairly sure that I read it in translation. I definitely read Discours sur le colonialisme (Discourse on Colonialism, 1953) in translation. I knew that Franz Fanon had been a student of Csaire in Martinique and that Csaire had been a communist - not just a stooge of Stalin's French branch, but a Communist Party member of the French parliament, until the invasion of Hungary in 1956, when he very publicly left it.

In 1969, after France had withdrawn from its occupation of Algeria and colonies further south in Africa, Csaire adapted Shakespeare's (1611) The Tempest "for a Black theatre" as A Tempest. I was reminded of that by the middle section of John Edar Wideman's Philadelphia Fire in which the autobiographical protagonist writer recalls mounting something of a black power version of The Tempest when he had been a Philadelphia ghetto schoolteacher.

I have to say that I find the part of Shakespeare's play involving the connivings of Antonio and Sebastian not very interesting, and the condensation of Shakespeare's play to something like a cartoon version of it somewhat works for me, though Csaire also much condensed the parts of everyone other than Caliban and jettisoned the poetic language Shakespeare gave Prospero, Miranda, and Ariel.

Although Prospero remains the deposed duke/ruler of Milan, Csaire has moved the island Prosper rules considerably south, where the ancestral spirit is sub-Saharan East African. Csaire's Caliban rejects Prospero's claim to have turned him from a beast into a speaking being. Rather than having been without language, Caliban had not spoken the language in which his enslaver gives order. He

had to learn the master's language, but had an indigenous mother-tongue (though he is the only indigine on the island. Csaire has made Ariel a Creole (house n___ rather than field n___.).

Caliban is a rebel not a revolutionary. The rebellion with Stephano and Trinculo is too sketchy to be sure that Caliban is not a Leninist, but he rails at length at Prospero at the end of the play:

For years I bowed my head for years I took it, all of ityour insults, your ingratitudeand worst of all, more degrading than all the rest, your condescension. ... You lied to me so much about the world, about myself, that you ended up by imposing on me an image of myself: underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetentthat's how you made me see myself! ...

This is not notably subtle, but is a major message that Csaire's former student Fanon made in his critique of the colonialism of subalterns' minds.

Caliban also predicts that Prospero will not leave the realm he has dominated "just like those guys who founded the colonies and who now can't live anywhere else." Sententiously, Csaire's Prospero maintains his self-image as civlizer: This isle is mute without me. My duty, this, is here, and here I shall stay.

Ariel will ensure that Miranda and all those shipwrecked make it safely home. Prospero stays to dominate, rather as if Robinson Crusoe had refused rescue to stay to dominate Friday. (Another French revisionist version of canonical English literature is Michel Tournier's Friday (Vendredi ou les limbes du Pacifique, first published in 1967, i.e., before A Tempest), telling the story from the native perspective. I'd also throw in the (Creole) first Mrs. Rochester in the Dominica-born Jean Rhys's (1966) Wide Sargasso Sea with its mostly Caribbean setting.)

Although not likely to supplant Shakespeare's play on the boards (either in French or English), giving the subaltern the eloquence can be interesting and Csaire's play requires little time to read, even with the biographical introduction by Robin Kelley.)

Published by Stephen Murray San Franciscan from rural southern Minnesota, I have traveled widely and have done fieldwork in Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Thailand, Taiwan, and the US View profile Caliban in The Tempest Issues of race are present in many of Shakespeare's plays. Racial difference is a central issue in several of his works, most notably "The Tempest." Much debate about this issue has centered on the character of Cali...

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