Aimé Césare’s A Tempest: Context, Subtext, Intertext
CONTEXTS: the circumstances that inform the setting of the play
- Aimé Césare was born in Martinique, a small French island colony in the Caribbean, in 1913.
- In Martinique, there was a tendency toward a phenomenon called “self ‘whitening’” in which the more power or money a person had, the ‘whiter’ they became (Rix, 236).
- As Rix stated it, “...the black man would associate this idea of freedom with resemblance”(Rix, 236).
- In Martinique, there was a large mulatto population. This had a great effect on racial relations because the Mulattoes continually tried to separate themselves from the ‘Blacks’, but the whites saw them as the same. Therefore, there was tension between the ‘Blacks’ and Mulattoes and tension between the ‘White people’ and everyone else.
- Une Tempête was written with the particular political situation of Martinique in mind; specifically, it concentrates on the debates over colonialism and master-slave relations at the time.
- Ultimately, Césare wrote Une Tempête for a festival in Tunisia in 1969. He used the adaptation to probe the issues of the time. Une Tempête was especially interesting because it “protagonized”(Rix, 236) the colonized so their “...voices were heard loud and clear from the hushed citadel of Western culture”(Rix, 236).
- Césare wanted to expose the reality of racism that lay underneath the mask of “‘colour-blind literature’” (Rix, 240).
SUBTEXTS: Underlying and often distinct themes in a work
- Racism and Negritude: the concept that black Africans reject assimilation and cultivate conscious of their racial qualities and heritage.
- On page 60 Caliban renounces Prospero’s “white” magic; Cesaire is directly commenting on racial stereotypes and white supremacy.
- Page 21, where Prospero states that he would forgive those who usurped them merely because they are men of his race and rank. It’s worth noting that Prospero never forgives Caliban throughout the play.
- On page 47, Eshu, a black god of the Yoruba people of Nigeria bursts into the Greek Gods’ festival (Myths Encyclopedia). It is hinted that the observers are disgusted more by his color, than his appearance, especially when Miranda says, “But who is that? He doesn’t look very benevolent!”
- Page 7, “It takes all kinds to make a world”. In the prologue of the play, Césare asserts his theme of racial equality and inequality. This quote in particular showcases that the world is made of all different kinds of people and that each of those people serves a purpose; their purpose is not determined by the color of their skin.
- Throughout the play, Caliban mutters “uhuru” very frequently. Stunningly, after the first time the word is uttered on page 17, Prospero comments, “Mumbling your native language again! I’ve already told you, I don’t like it”. Because of this, the reader may easily assume that the word is fictitious. However, Uhuru does have a real world meaning, one that is incredibly important to understanding the text.
- According to dictionary.com, Uhuru is a word in Swahili that means freedom or independence. Therefore, in the play, Caliban is really muttering that he wants to be free and Prospero is saying that he doesn’t want Caliban to think that way ("Uhuru").
- This is really a commentary on Master-Slave relations and the idea of the slave wanting freedom more than anything and the master doing anything he can to keep the slave from gaining that independence.
- Page 17, Caliban and Prospero have a confrontation over intelligence and indebtedness. Prospero says that he educated Caliban, taught him to speak, and “dragged [him] up from the beastiality that still clings to [him]” and thus Caliban is in his debt. However, Caliban refutes this argument, saying that he actually taught Prospero many things about surviving on the island and the only reason Prospero took the time to ‘colonize’ him was so he could give him orders.
- Page 29, Gonzalo reveals his plan to “colonize” the island but keep the “noble and good savages” free to be savages. This is not the standard model for colonization and it is interesting that Gonzalo, the honorable and reliable character in the play, wants to allow the “savages” to retain part of their culture.
- Page 43, Stephano reveals his plan to try to Civilize Caliban with liquor so that “...he can be of some use”, which he calls his, “...civilizing mission”.
- Masks in Une Tempête:
- Page 7, the actors enter and chooses a mask for himself. The Master of Ceremonies allows each actor to be whichever character he wants, regardless of race.
- In this passage, Césare comments on the arbitrariness of race. His allowing each character to choose his own mask shows that the race of the actor, and even the character, is irrelevant and what is truly important is the function of the character in the play.
- Slavery and the state of persons in servitude.
- Page 50, Prospero states that he will make an example out Caliban for his crimes. This was not uncommon for masters to do to his slaves.
- Page 60, Prospero is unable to see that holding Caliban in servitude against his will makes him tyrannical.
- Page 31, When prospero takes away the food from the shipwrecked crew, Alonso comments “It’s a cruel way to make us aware of our dependent status.” This is a direct commentary on exactly how dependent slaves were on their masters as often times they were illiterate, uneducated, without rights and possessed limited skills.
- Human condition, being human, applies to everyone regardless of race or status.
- Page 30, Gonzalo mentions that the company is tired and hungry and Alonso responds, “I have never pretended to be above the human condition,” yet throughout the play Caliban is seen as inhuman, and therefore can suffer more hardships simply because of his race.
- Religion and religious conversion.
- Page 53, Stephano and Caliban are talking about the sea and Caliban directly compares the sea to baptismal water.
- Page 60, Gonzalo tries to save Caliban from Prospero’s reprimand, by offering to christianize him.
INTERTEXTS: The relationship between texts, especially literary ones
- Page 20 directly references Malcolm X and namely his autobiography the Autobiography of Malcolm X.
- Malcolm X was an outspoken African-American Civil Rights activist. He changed his last name from “Little”, which he considered to be a slave name, to “X”. Césare clearly references this text when Caliban tells Prospero to call him X and that he will no longer respond to the name “Caliban”. Furthermore, this intertextuality is emphasized when Caliban says, “You talk about history… well, that’s history, and everyone knows it!”.
- Cesaire’s previous plays namely “Cahier d’un retour au pays natal”and “Et les chiens se taisaient” are also set in the Caribbean and address the issues of colonization and racism.
- Cahier D’un Retour au Pays Natal is considered Aimé Césaire’s masterpiece. It focuses on the cultural identity of black Africans in a colonial setting (Goldsmith).
- Et les Chiens se Taisaient was one of Césaire’s first plays. It comments on the politics of racism, colonialism, and decolonization. The play also focuses on the isolation of the Rebel (Goldsmith).
- Caliban, like the rebel from Et le Chiens se Taisaient is equally isolated when Ariel refuses to help him overthrow Prospero. This happens again when at the end when Caliban is ultimately left alone to live with Prospero on the island until they die.
- Page 23 references the Odyssey.
- The Odyssey is one of two major ancient greek poems by Homer. It focuses on the hero, Ulysses and his journey home after the fall of troy. Ulysses is shipwrecked where Nausicaa finds him and helps him. In this passage, Ferdinand equates himself to the shipwrecked Ulysses, asserting that Prospero is his guide, like Nausicaa.
Goldsmith, Meredith. "Aimé Fernand Césaire." Poetry Foundation. Web. 24 Sept. 2014.
Hulme, Peter. "Maintaining the State of Emergence/y: Aimé Césaire's Une Tempête." ‘The Tempest and Its Travels’. London: Reaktion, 2006. Print.
"Malcolm X Biography." The Official Malcolm X. The Estate of Malcolm X. Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <http://www.malcolmx.com/about/bio.html>.
Myths Encyclopedia. Advameg, Inc. Web. 24 Sept. 2014. <http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Dr-Fi/Eshu.html>.
"Uhuru." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 24 Sep. 2014.