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Soyinka and the dead dramatist.

The explosion of interest in international responses to Shakespeare has not, so far, led to much commentary on one of the most intriguing and distinguished of these responses, Wole Soyinka's essay, "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist." This is regrettable, since beneath several layers of irony, Soyinka presents a deeply serious reading of Antony and Cleopatra that challenges critical orthodoxies and, when understood in relation to Soyinka's other works, offers an alternative to the perspective of much postcolonial criticism. When Soyinka wrote his essay and for some two decades after, this criticism was dominated by a political turn that saw postcolonial cultural influence in terms of the stark alternatives of oppression and resistance and that focused on critical, even hostile, responses to issues of race and colonialism in plays like Othello and The Tempest; but in the last decade or so it has developed a more nuanced view of Shakespeare's relationship to global and local cultures. (1) Soyinka's essay anticipates this development, poking fun at some kinds of appropriation while slyly practicing others. His goal is neither to bury Shakespeare nor simply to praise him, but to locate him in a continuing conversation--a location that is neither wholly local and particular nor entirely global and universal. In this way "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" complicates simple choices between resistance and subservience and between global and local perspectives and illustrates dramas contribution to the challenging and rich hybridity of contemporary cultural identities.

"Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" began as a lecture to the International Shakespeare Conference at Stratford-upon-Avon on 17 August 1982, and was first published in Shakespeare Survey the following year. It is included in Soyinka's 1988 collection of essays, Art, Dialogue and Outrage, and in the 2000 Cambridge volume Shakespeare and Race, a collection of essays from Shakespeare Survey. (2) The essay's tongue-in-cheek premises are that Shakespeare's popularity in the Arab world is so great, and that Antony and Cleopatra in particular shows an understanding of Egyptian culture so profound, that Shakespeare is widely believed by Arabs to have in fact been an Arab named Shayk al-Subair, which, Soyinka notes wryly, "everyone knows ... is as dune-bred an Arabic name as any English poet can hope for" (149). (3) This is, to put it mildly, an unusual set of premises for an essay, and although the irony is obvious, it is not at first obvious what it conceals. Soyinka might be poking fun at the idea of Shakespeare's universality, or at those who seek to resist a Shakespearean influence they view as oppressive. In the latter group, he might be firing a shot at his own critics, who accused him in the 1970s of hindering the "decolonization" of Africa by borrowing from Shakespeare. (4) He might be targeting all of these--it is initially difficult to say.

Margo Hendricks attempts to untangle these ironies in her introduction to Shakespeare and Race, but has a hard time placing Soyinka's essay. She begins by suggesting that it "might be viewed as a precursor to post-colonialist readings of Shakespeare's drama" but has trouble making the label stick. (5) The reason, I think, is that postcolonial, as Hendricks uses it--and her use is not idiosyncratic--is too narrowly political a term to capture Soyinka's vision. In the first four sentences that address Soyinka's essay, Hendricks mentions "the politics of Shakespeare and race studies" "the politics of race inherent in his canon," "the politics of culture," "the politics of race and culture," and "colonialism and its politics" (5-6). This establishes an expectation that Soyinka's essay will throw light on such politics, but, after several paragraphs describing the essay's premises, Hendricks concedes that the essay does not contain the illumination she seeks. Soyinka, she notes disappointedly, "only hints at a traditional notion of race in relation to Shakespeare's works"; he "is less interested in the politics of race in Shakespeare's poetry than he is in the poetry of politics" (7). Here Hendricks's chiasmus gently accuses Soyinka of aestheticizing politics, but because she does not develop the point, it is unclear what it means in relation to his essay. Significantly, Hendricks refers only to the introductory third of the essay, thus avoiding its main argument. We need to consider the whole essay before we can judge the accuracy of her claim.

Soyinka begins the body of his essay by dismissing a number of possible reasons for the Arab fascination with Shakespeare. The first is "the historical causes. The experience of colonized North Africa," Soyinka observes, "has been one of a cultural struggle between French and English cultures--beginning with their educational systems--wherein the literature is always centrally placed" (149). Soyinka is on familiar ground here: many studies since have investigated the role of Shakespeare in the cultural and educational history of colonialism, particularly in Africa, India, and North America. The struggle Soyinka mentions, however, is not between native and colonizing cultures but between French and English cultures, which together, he suggests, may have had an influence far from repressive: "Then there is the history of Arabic literature itself on which Islamic culture placed a number of constraints from which the European culture became not merely a liberating force but, in certain aspects, even a revolutionary force" (149). But while he takes the opportunity to challenge the belief that the historical influence of colonizing cultures is always harmful, such a history is not Soyinka's focus. Nor is he primarily interested in a second possible reason, the attraction of Shakespeare's moral language and "limitless universal themes" (149) to users of an Arabic language that Soyinka terms "the conscious vehicle of Islamic piety" (150).

After remarking that he is less concerned in the case of Antony and Cleopatra with universality than "with a somewhat less usual particularity" (150), Soyinka next considers explanations for the Arab interest in Shakespeare that are "closer to the content of literature" (151). These are the most interesting from the perspective of postcolonial Shakespeare studies, for Soyinka quickly rounds up the usual suspects in such studies: Othello, Caliban, Shylock, Aaron. Soyinka's irony is at its heaviest when considering the grounds such characters furnish for the claim to find an Arab identity in Shakespeare: "it is claimed," he writes, "that only an Arab could have understood or depicted a Jew so 'convincingly' as in The Merchant of Venice. Similarly, the focus is sometimes placed on Othello--the Moor's dignity even in folly has been held up as convincing proof that no European could have fleshed out this specific psychology of a jealousy complicated by racial insecurity but a man from beneath the skin--an Arab at the very least" (151). This comment from a Nigerian writer on an Arab response to an English play about a "coal-black Moor" living in Renaissance Venice is dizzying indeed, but Soyinka dismisses the thought with a simple "No" This type of consideration, again, is not his focus.

Soyinka concludes these preliminaries by considering an Egyptian example of the empire writing back, poet laureate Ahmad Shaqui's 1927 revision of Antony and Cleopatra. Inspired by Egypt's newly achieved independence, Shaqui set out to fashion a more patriotic Cleopatra. Soyinka comments on the result: "The emendations are predictable; they are of the same political and historically conscious order as, for example, the reversal of relationships which takes place when the theme of Caliban and Ariel is handled by anyone from the colonial or slavery experience, most notably in the West Indies" (152). (6) Again, Soyinka shows his familiarity with postcolonial responses to Shakespeare, but immediately declares their inability to account for the phenomenon under consideration: "The case of the Arab world" he writes, "is however very different, owing its primary response not simply to politics or history, but to an order of visceral participation in the humane drama of its politics and history" (152).

By suggesting a different kind of response to politics and history, this formulation sets the stage for Soyinka's own reading of Antony and Cleopatra. The "humane drama of ... politics and history" involves, first, a conception of the local and particular in the play. Soyinka claims that the play is almost unique in the Shakespearean canon in possessing what he calls "local colour" (152). The "universally seductive property of the best dramatic literature ... has been drawn to the service of a specific terrain" (150)--not, Soyinka explains, "of an inert geographical terrain, but of the opposing and contradictory in human nature" (151). By transferring "the unstable mixture called humanity into the Elizabethan ... exotic crucible of the Middle East" (151), and by writing about "historical personages" (153) rather than "shadowy figures from legend" (153), Shakespeare makes the empires of Rome and Egypt "accessible, reduced to a human scale" (154). Paradoxically, this "reduction" to the "personal" (154) serves to "expand our realistic conception ... of the drama being waged for possession of the world" (154). The paradoxical interplay of reduction and expansion is central to Soyinka's idea of the human drama in Antony and Cleopatra. He argues that those "qualities that grace (or disgrace) humanity cannot be rendered in the abstract but must be invested in characters and the affective community" (160); so, for example, when Antony declares, "Here is my space," his generosity "imbues our space with a heroic grandeur, even when events are trivialized by the humane weaknesses of our kind" (160). Historical and political events, then, become manageable and comprehensible when represented through dramatic characters, but they also acquire scope and significance this way. To put it in a way that contrasts with Hendricks's chiasmus, it is not politics that gives meaning to people, but people who give meaning to politics.

This is only part of what Soyinka means by "the humane drama of ... politics and history," however. He also means an emphasis on physical existence that "visceral participation" hints at. When the essay turns to Cleopatra, Soyinka begins to focus on the "physical evocation" (154) of the language. He finds that the care Shakespeare lavishes on "preserving the smells [and] sounds" (159) of Egypt exceeds anything we find in his other plays, and he observes that "a people to whom land, fertile land, is both worship and life ... cannot be served by ... rhetoric of abstract morality" (160). By the "humane drama," then, Soyinka means that the play evokes a peculiarly embodied existence, one that must be grasped as a material reality. His central illustration of this fact is Cleopatra's death, beginning with the house of death speech late in act 4. Soyinka insists that the "house of death" is "more than a mere metaphor of language" (156). Instead, Cleopatra's phrase expresses the idea of "death as a place of physical habitation," "an abode in time" (156-57).

This physical or visceral emphasis contributes to the play's "local colour," but again Soyinka means something more. The heart of his argument is that this local habitation includes a type of religious "worship and life" that reaches from the physical to the metaphysical. He writes that "the awesomeness" of Cleopatra's lines "can only be fully absorbed by an Egyptian, or one steeped in the esoteric cults of Egypt and allied religions, including Islam" (155). He then cites parallels to the house of death in the Islamic Book of the Dead, noting that he knows of "no parallel echo in the Christian offices of the dead" (156). Such parallels, Soyinka argues, are more than chance echoes; they reflect a view of death that predates Islam, descending from "the 'Kafir' cults of Osiris and Isis" (156). The religious ritual here maintains Soyinka's physical emphasis, since Cleopatra "imbues the approach of death with a measured ritualism that is suffused with the palpable shadowiness of the crypt" (156). But it goes further, moving through the physical towards a "glimpsed after-world" (159), which Soyinka finds epitomized by Cleopatra's death scene. Cleopatra's robe and crown, he concludes, are "ritual transformation steps towards the mystic moment of transition" (157).

Soyinka makes clear that it is not only religious ritual that produces this result. Continuing his commentary on Antony's lines from the first scene--"Here is my space. / Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike / Feeds beast as man"--he puts the paradox of reduction and expansion into terms that convey the interdependence of the physical and the metaphysical: "Only Shakespeare could contract the pomp and panoply of love and royalty into a gastronomic experience, yet unfailingly elevate both into a veritable apotheosis without a sense of the ridiculous or the inflated" (160-61). "A moist land and visceral responses" he reiterates. "The transitions from the physical to the metaphysical are unforced" (161).

With these mentions of transition, Soyinka's ostensible argument about the tragic appeal of Antony and Cleopatra to Arabs comes squarely into line with his argument elsewhere about African, and particularly Yoruba, tragedy. In his important 1973 essay "The Fourth Stage" and in Myth, Literature and the African World, the 1974 book that elaborates upon its arguments, Soyinka describes an African metaphysics comprising four areas of experience: the worlds of the living, of the ancestors, and of the unborn, and the less understood fourth stage, "the immeasurable gulf of transition." (7) Transition, for Soyinka, is "the metaphysical abyss both of god and man" (149); it is a "continuum" where "the inter-transmutation of essence-ideal and materiality" occurs, and it "houses the ultimate expression of cosmic will" (26). It is, moreover, "the home of the tragic spirit" (149). The epic, for Soyinka, "celebrates the victory of the human spirit over forces inimical to self-extension"; but tragedy is "engaged with the more profound, more elusive phenomenon of being and non-being" (2). It is this phenomenon that prompts the "fundamental visceral questioning" (2) of tragedy. Thus Myth, Literature and the African World clarifies not only the importance of the term transition in "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" but also the particular weight Soyinka places on "visceral participation in the humane drama of ... politics and history." These parallels leave little doubt about what Soyinka sees in Antony and Cleopatra: he sees the essence of an African tragedy.

Further evidence of this appears in Soyinka's own creative work. Probably the play of Soyinka's that has most in common with Antony and Cleopatra is Death and the King's Horseman, which James Gibb calls "Soyinka's most obvious examination of the colonial encounter." (8) As Antony and Cleopatra is set, in Soyinka's words, at the "meeting point of the Orient and the Occident" ("Shakespeare," 151) so is Death and the King's Horseman about the meeting of Africa and the West. It is therefore significant that Soyinka's "Author's Note" to the play includes an impassioned warning against what he calls the "reductionist tendency" to apply the "facile tag of 'clash of cultures'" to his play. "The Colonial Factor" he writes, "is an incident, a catalytic incident merely. The confrontation in the play is largely metaphysical, contained in the human vehicle which is Elesin and the universe of the Yoruba mind--the world of the living, the dead and the unborn, and the numinous passage which links all: transition." (9) The resemblance of this to what we have seen in "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" is striking: again Soyinka insists on the human element within a political and historical situation, and again he sees that element largely in terms of the transitional encounter with the metaphysical abyss in death.

Soyinka points out in "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" that "Introductions and Prefaces are not ... the most helpful clues to an author's intentions" (148), but his note to Death and the King's Horseman is perfectly consistent with his writings elsewhere. The best example is A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), the volume of poems Soyinka wrote during his nearly two years in solitary confinement in 1967-69. From his cell, Soyinka could hear the sounds of the prison, including the construction and operation of a gallows. "Sounds acquire a fourth dimension in a living crypt," he writes, and the poetry's concerns are very much those of "The Fourth Stage." (10) Soyinka doesn't use the term transition, but the book's central metaphor--a shuttle passing through a loom--seeks to capture the same relationship between physical and metaphysical that "The Fourth Stage" and "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" explore. In "Procession" for example, "passage," a word linked to transition in the "Author's Note" to Death and the King's Horseman, is a recurrent term of punctuation; it refers both to the movement of prisoners on "Hanging day" (141) to "that travesty of looms, the gallows" ("Preface" 95), through which the prisoners pass like a shuttle, and, only somewhat more literally, to the weaving of "old women": "Through intertwine / Of owlish fingers on the loom, / They gave and wove a spell against this hour / And kept a vigil upon dearth and death" (143). The weaving gestures toward the metaphysical, since the shuttle, as Soyinka explains in the "Preface" is also a bird that he associates with creativity and new life: "In motion or at rest it is a secretive seed, shrine, kernel, phallus and well of creative mysteries" (95). The metaphor of the shuttle, then, refers both to the end of the gallows and to the new beginning of the bird, which are weaved together on the looms.

In addition, the language of poems like "Procession" shares the evocative power that Soyinka finds striking in Antony and Cleopatra. We find descriptions of a ripe and rotting fertility comparable to that of the Nile mud:
   Passage. Earth is rich in rottenness of things
   A soothing tang of compost filters
   Through yeasting seeds, rain-sodden
   And festive fermentation, a sweetness
   Velvety as mead and maggots


We also find hints of the "glimpsed after-world" as Soyinka follows the flight of the "sky-soul bird" (144):
   Ghost fires, loom whispers, indigo lines
   On the broad palm of the loom
   Web of air-roots falling into silence
   Watching the bird that drops as rain
   By a hermit's footfall on the wings


Fittingly, the poem ends "upon the dark threshold" (145) of death's passage or transition.

Just as Soyinka insists in the Stratford essay that the "house of death" is "more than a mere metaphor" so he asserts that the shuttle is "never a mere poetic conceit" ("Preface" 95). It speaks to a lived experience, a point of contact between physical and metaphysical that Soyinka regards as the place where he lived, his dwelling, during these years. Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that he writes of "the house of death" ("Conversation with a Cockroach," 110) and "the home of death" ("Chimes of Silence" 133) in A Shuttle in the Crypt. Commenting in the "Preface" on "Chimes of Silence" a poem he calls "central to the entire experience," Soyinka writes: "I listened to an enactment of death in the home of death, to the pulse of a shuttle slowing to its final moment of rest, towards that complete ingathering of being which a shuttle in repose so palpably is. It was, in this sense, both horror and consolation" (95). It doesn't matter very much whether, in writing A Shuttle in the Crypt, Soyinka adapted the house of death from Shakespeare or from the Islamic Book of the Dead, or whether he later found his own language duplicated in both places. The presence of the phrase in both Soyinka's prison poems and Shakespearean essay, as well as the argument of which it is a part, establishes that, for all its sophistication and ironic poise, Soyinka's is a deeply personal reading of Antony and Cleopatra.

What does this tell us about the function of irony in "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist"? Does the presence of a serious argument about Yoruba tragedy, itself an obvious appropriation of Shakespeare's play, mean that the Arab argument is entirely ironic, an illustration of a political type of appropriation to which Soyinka contrasts his own more personal and "humane" type? To answer this, it is helpful to consider Soyinka's argument in the terms of Shakespearean adaptation study, particularly in its postcolonial and global aspects. Of course, the essay is not an adaptation in the usual sense, but Soyinka's strong reading has much the same effect and raises many of the same issues as a theatrical adaptation. First of all, the essay can be regarded as a critical form of transposition, a term with a wide currency in adaptation studies. It can refer to specific shifts of genre or medium, as when Julie Sanders writes that "[a]daptation can be a transpositional practice, casting a specific genre into another generic mode," or when Linda Hutcheon writes of "intersemiotic transpositions from one sign system (for example, words) to another (for example, images)." (11) It can also be extremely broad and inclusive, as when Pascale Aebischer and Nigel Wheale write that all the essays in Remaking Shakespeare "address the question of how Shakespeare's plays affect and are affected by their environments as they are transposed into a variety of media, cultures and historical moments." (12) Aebischer and Wheale's use of the term in fact suggests that it is synonymous with adaptation when adaptation occurs across media, cultures, or history. In the last two cases, the purpose of transposition is often said to be to bring the work being adapted "closer to the audience's frame of reference in temporal, geographic, or social terms." (13) But while this may be true for the Nigerian publication of Art, Dialogue and Outrage, the lecture and its British and North American publications in fact do just the opposite, moving the play further from their audiences' frames of reference. At the same time, however, the essay brings the play closer to the author's frame of reference. For this reason, the most helpful definition of transposition, for our purposes, is Thomas Cartelli's in Repositioning Shakespeare. Cartelli's influential taxonomy of appropriation distinguishes five types: satiric, confrontational, transpositional, proprietary, and dialogic. Because it focuses on authorial intent and on argumentative content rather than on audience or form, Cartelli's definition of transpositional appropriation provides an especially good description of Soyinka's critical method: it "identifies and isolates a specific theme, plot, or argument in its appropriative objective and brings it into its own, arguably analogous, interpretive field to underwrite or enrich a presumably related thesis or argument." (14) Soyinka, then, transposes Shakespeare's dramatic rendering of an Egypt where physical and metaphysical are unusually close to "underwrite or enrich" his own argument about the importance of transition in African theater.

However, while transposition normally refers to a change from one form or context to another, allowing a new voice to be heard, Soyinka's transposition of Antony and Cleopatra involves at least three contexts, so might be called polyphonic. The Arab argument triangulates the relationship between English and Nigerian, or European and black African. For this reason it is not wholly ironic, but an illustration of the complex relations among local cultures, where the "local" is understood in Martin Orkin's sense as "what characterises each reader who comes to the text, in terms of her or his place and time, what is within that place epistemologically current, the particular institutional position or struggles within which she or he is situated or with which she or he is actively engaged or, again, the particular knowledges and ideologies she or he exemplifies or legitimates." (15) Such local readers, Soyinka implies, are marked by similarities as well as differences, and shared local knowledge can multiply: if Shakespeare knew something only Arabs know, then Soyinka knows it too. But Soyinka doesn't stop there. First, the Arab culture that he presents is itself a multivocal product of history. The ancient Egyptian cults were followed by Islam in a relationship that anticipates recent discussions of resemblance and difference in postcolonial transposition: "What Islam in fact opposes in the 'Kafir' cults of Osiris and Isis have [sic] merely been transposed from their elaborate structures with all their sacrificial rites to a mystic opacity of liturgical language--in the Islamic exegesis of death, the kinship remains blatant" (156). (16) Next, Soyinka complicates the idea of influence in postcolonial literature by casually noting the Arab influence on classical Western culture: "Their neighbours, the pagan Greeks, who borrowed from them much of their cults and religions in any case, would have no difficulty in identifying the Osiris-prowed Hadithic boat of death with Charon's canoe, scything through the River Styx" (156). Soyinka continues to expand the circle, noting that Shakespeare sometimes borrows "local colour" from India (152) and suggesting that the choice of Egypt as a locale "may be an accident--it could easily have been India" (161). And, he goes on, "It was nearly the Caribbean" (161). Soyinka's point in all this expands on the now common observation that postcolonial appropriations of Shakespeare's plays are "as much in dialogue with other adaptations as with the Shakespearean sourcetext": it is that a variety of local traditions and histories, not only the writer's own, may inform his or her response to Shakespeare, and that in some cases these traditions may themselves have informed Shakespeare. (17)

This nuanced view of the historical relationships between cultural traditions suggests an attitude toward the project of appropriation that needs further definition. Critics of postcolonial and global Shakespeare have proposed several similar sets of terms to describe the general stance of a writer or artist toward the work he or she appropriates. For Cartelli, this stance may be critical or emulative; for Reed Way Dasenbrock it involves contestation or imitation; and most recently Craig Dionne and Parmita Kapadia have named the alternatives opposition and celebration. (18) Of these terms, which are usually understood to be the ends of a spectrum, rather than mutually exclusive or binary, I find Dasenbrock's imitation to be the most useful for a consideration of Soyinka. Imitation does not mean a simple copying, in which an identity or aspects of an identity are adopted uncritically or subserviently, and it does not (as Dasenbrock notes mimicry does) assume that the imitation is inferior to the original. On the contrary, imitation involves a self-conscious and critically reflective choice of models, which, as the early modern metaphor of the bee that gathers pollen from many flowers implies, may produce a new, more flavorful honey. It is part of what we might call normal identity formation. In addition, because imitation may involve a plurality of models, it suits Soyinka's emphasis on complex, hybrid cultural relations. Although imitation is an unusual term for a critical essay, it usefully identifies the spirit or intent of Soyinka's unusual critical appropriation.

Dasenbrock proposes his terms in an essay on Derek Walcott's A Branch of the Blue Nile, a play about the problems and possibilities of producing Antony and Cleopatra in the West Indies, and Walcott provides a useful comparison to Soyinka. (19) Walcott has denied that the postcolonial situation should create a harmful contest between cultural and literary models and identities. Considering "whether a West Indian should write 'their' or 'our' when he is writing about English fiction and poetry" Walcott proclaims: "Rather than politicize the crisis into one of generic or individual identity, one should accept the irony or ambiguity or even the schizoid bewilderment of the drama as an enrichening process." (20) Irony here functions as it does in Soyinka's essay, by offering an alternative to a kind of political opposition to literary influence that Walcott sees as misguided. Such an opposition assumes a false hierarchy between colonizing and colonized cultures, and imagines that influence can run only one way between them. Walcott and Soyinka, on the other hand, imagine a postcolonial identity based at least partly on free imitative interplay. "For Walcott, the espouser of hybridity," Cartelli writes--and, we may add, for Soyinka--"the tension ['between the different and the same, the general and the specific, the global and the local'] is fertile and creative, and leads as much from margin to center as from center to margin." (21)

"Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" in this way illustrates what I will call ironic imitation. It is an imitation not because it copies an original, but because it establishes a dynamic relation to its primary model by means of its polyphonic critical transposition. It is ironic because it works against two expectations that were especially powerful when Soyinka wrote his essay and that supported the belief that "choosing to write on Shakespeare or Donne" meant "neglecting African needs to cater to European desires": the expectation that the colonizing power will dominate the colonized through Shakespeare, and the expectation that the colonized will be forced to adopt an oppositional stance towards Shakespeare in order to speak for themselves. (22) Against these expectations, Soyinka champions a cultural reciprocity he hints at when he allows Hamlet to ask what Shakespeare means to his "distant cousins": "'What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba?'" (149). Though critics from Chinweizu to Kwame Anthony Appiah have faulted Soyinka for an insufficiently political stance on issues of colonialism and race, his combination of irony and imitation pointedly replies that he is not rejecting politics, but embracing a kind of politics capable both of writing appreciatively about Shakespeare and of serving African needs: a pluralist politics in which local balances global, and in which the lived experiences of individuals ("the humanity of actors of a particular history") matter as much as ideology. (23) The individual and the political, the global and the local, speak constructively to each other on the ground of Shakespeare.

"Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" is therefore a particularly valuable gloss on Soyinka's work in the 1970s. From the use of Shakespeare's famously contested identity to contest identity politics with which it opens to the playful conflation of tomb-raiding and tome-reading with which it closes, Soyinka's essay is a tour de force that ironically illustrates and defends one model of cultural appropriation even as it exposes the logic of others. Hendricks is quite right that "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist" "distances itself from the other essays" (7) in the Shakespeare and Race volume, as it does from some postcolonial appropriations of Shakespeare. But it aligns itself with others, like Walcott's. Both Walcott and Soyinka reject the extremes that have sometimes dominated debates about Shakespeare's global influence: the Shakespeare of Western cultural hegemony, on the one hand, or the predatory appropriations of the empire writing back, on the other. Instead, they see global culture as a rich and multivocal mixture of local cultures, and Shakespeare as part of a continuing conversation within and between these cultures that brings the dead dramatist to life

University of Waterloo


(1) Warnings against seeing postcolonial literary influence in terms of such alternatives have become the norm in Shakespeare studies in the twenty-first century. A good early example is Daniel Fischlin and Mark Fortier's statement that "[s]implistic assumptions about the place of Shakespeare in relation to cultures of resistance or complicity are to be avoided, if only because they reproduce the reductive hegemonies ... they are seeking to overturn" (general introduction to Adaptations of Shakespeare, ed. Fischlin and Fortier [New York: Routledge, 2000], 1-22 [12]). In an essay first published in 1995, Jonathan Bate refers to "the New Iconoclast assumption that The Tempest must be read only in terms of cultural confrontation" ("Caliban and Ariel Write Back," in Shakespeare and Race, ed. Catherine M. S. Alexander and Stanley Wells [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000], 165-76 [172]).

(2) Shakespeare Survey 36 (1983): 1-10; Art, Dialogue and Outrage: Essays on Literature and Culture (Ibadan, Nigeria: New Horn, 1988), 204-20; Shakespeare and Race, 82-100. All references to Soyinka's essay are from Art, Dialogue and Outrage 2nd ed. (New York: Random House, 1993), 147-62, and are cited parenthetically are in the text.

(3) Soyinka did not cut these premises from whole cloth; he draws especially from M. M. Badawi, Modern Arabic Literature and the West (London: Ithaca, 1985).

(4) The last of these targets is suggested by James Gibb, "The Living Dramatist and Shakespeare: A Study of Shakespeare's Influence on Wole Soyinka," Shakespeare Survey 39 (1986): 169-78. Such critics include Chinweizu, Onwuchekwa Jemie, and Ihechukwu Madubuike, Toward the Decolonization of African Literature (Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension, 1980; repr. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1983).

(5) Margo Hendricks, "Surveying 'Race' in Shakespeare," in Shakespeare and Race, 6. Further references appear parenthetically in the text. Gibb, who attended the Stratford lecture, and Hendricks provide the only substantial commentary I have found on "Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist?' Biodun Jeyifo, who edited and introduced Art, Dialogue and Outrage, has more recently developed the general observation that "Soyinka has tended to approach other playwrights, writers and artists with the paradigm and values of what he calls the 'ritual matrix?" He notes that this has "produced extraordinarily fresh readings of ... Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra, among other plays" but says no more about the essay; see Wole Soyinka: Politics, Poetics and Postcolonialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 124. Natasha Distiller, who heard an early version of the present essay in 2002, mentions Soyinka's essay as a point of comparison to the "ironic density and complicated rhetorical maneuvers" of Can Themba's essay "Through Shakespeare's Africa"; see "'Through Shakespeare's Africa': 'Terror and Murder'?", in Shakespeare's World/World Shakespeares, ed. Richard Fotheringham, Christa Jansohn, and R. S. White (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 2008), 384.

(6) For a recent consideration of this play, see Rafik Darragi, "Ideological Appropriation and Sexual Politics: Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra and Ahmed Shawky's Masra' Cleopatra", in Shakespeare's World, 358-70. Darragi does not mention Soyinka's essay.

(7) Wole Soyinka, Myth, Literature and the African World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 148. Further references appear parenthetically in the text.

(8) Gibb, 176. Gibb compares the plays and adds that "Soyinka's play, like his Stratford paper, compliments Shakespeare for his perception of an African attitude to death and invites contrast and comparison" (177). This is an excellent insight, but Gibb doesn't refer to Myth, Literature and the African World or otherwise develop the point.

(9) Wole Soyinka, author's note to Death and the King's Horseman (London: Methuen, 1975).

(10) Wole Soyinka, A Shuttle in the Crypt, in Selected Poems (London: Methuen, 2001), 132. References are to the page numbers of this edition. For critical studies, see Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, "The Song of the Caged Bird: Contemporary African Prison Poetry," Ariel: A Journal of International English Literature 13, no. 4 (1982): 65-84; Jeff Thomson, "The Politics of the Shuttle: Wole Soyinka's Poetic Space," Research in African Literatures 27, no. 2 (1996): 94-101; and Aderemi Bamikunle, Introduction to Soyinka's Poetry: Analysis of "A Shuttle in the Crypt" (Zaria, Nigeria: Ahmadu Bello University Press, 1991).

(11) Julie Sanders, Adaptation and Appropriation (London: Routledge, 2006), 19; Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Adaptation (London: Routledge, 2006), 16.

(12) Pascale Aebischer and Nigel Wheale, introduction to Remaking Shakespeare: Performance across Media, Genres and Cultures, ed. Pascale Aebischer, Edward J. Esche, and Nigel Wheale (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003), 1-17 (3).

(13) Sanders, 21.

(14) Thomas Cartelli, Repositioning Shakespeare: National Formations, Postcolonial Appropriations (London: Routledge, 1999), 17.

(15) Martin Orkin, Local Shakespeares: Proximations and Power (London: Routledge, 2005), 2.

(16) On similarity and difference, see especially Craig Dionne and Parmita Kapadia's discussion of Gerard Genette's theory of homodiagetic and heterodiagetic transposition in their introduction to Native Shakespeares: Indigenous Appropriations on a Global Stage, ed. Dionne and Kapadia (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), 1-15 (4-5).

(17) Sanders, 62.

(18) Cartelli, 15; Reed Way Dasenbrock, "Imitation Versus Contestation: Walcott's Postcolonial Shakespeare," Callaloo 28 (2005), 104-13; Dionne and Kapadia, 9. Cartelli uses his terms to distinguish between appropriation and adaptation, but this distinction has rarely been followed in the last decade, and indeed Cartelli's own discussion of the varieties of appropriation works to break it down.

(19) Until recently, Walcott's play had received little attention, but a trio of essays published in 2005 is indicative of the critical shift away from an earlier focus on examples of contestation in postcolonial adaptations of Shakespeare. In addition to Dasenbrock, see Joyce Green MacDonald, "Bodies, Race, and Performance in Derek Walcott's A Branch of the Blue Nile," Theatre Journal 57 (2005), 191-203; and Tobias Doring, "A Branch of the Blue Nile: Derek Walcott and the Tropic of Shakespeare," in World-Wide Shakespeares: Local Appropriations in Film and Performance, ed. Sonia Massai (London: Routledge, 2005), 15-22. For Doring, "A Branch of the Blue Nile exposes the limitations of both uncritical appropriation and absolute rejection of Shakespeare's global legacy" (21). See also Bruce King, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

(20) Derek Walcott, "A Frowsty Fragrance," New York Review of Books 47, no. 10 (15 June 2000), 57-61; cited in Peter Erickson, Citing Shakespeare: The Reinterpretation of Race in Contemporary Literature and Art (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 41.

(21) Cartelli, 13. Similarly, MacDonald observes that "the later Walcott seems unconvinced that he acquired his training in the classics and Shakespeare at the expense of his birth culture's erasure or devaluation" (191).

(22) Chinweizu et al., 289.

(23) See Kwame Anthony Appiah's "Myth, Literature and the African World," in Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, ed. Adewale Maja-Pearce (Oxford: Heinemann, 1994), 98-115. Appiah finds Soyinka's prefatory remarks about Death and the King's Horseman "strained" and "disingenuous" (105), and disagrees with the argument of Myth, Literature and the African World, which he believes relies upon an illusionary pan-African metaphysics and avoids the unifying African fact of colonization. For Appiah, it is a shared sociohistorical situation and a shared sociohistorical perspective, not a shared metaphysics and a shared mythic and ritual heritage, that must form the basis for an African community.
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Title Annotation:Wole Soyinka
Author:Graham, Kenneth J.E.
Publication:Comparative Drama
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2010
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