Essay Sample on Aime Cesaire's A Tempest: The Mirror Up to Colonialism

Published: 2022-05-09 03:53:43
Essay Sample on Aime Cesaire's A Tempest: The Mirror Up to Colonialism
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories: Literature Theatre
Pages: 6
Wordcount: 1445 words
13 min read

In Hamlet, the Black Prince instructs the actors to keep the mirror up to nature. In Shakespeare's age this advice sounded fresh, innovative and timely, yet nowadays in the age of postmodern relativism and mistrust for the metanarratives, it is getting harder and harder to say if the mirror is true or false and distorting. Aime Cesaire's "A tempest" is an exploration of the way art works as a mirror reflecting the world but also the one looking into it. Cesaire claims that Shakespeare's play "The Tempest" has always been offering the audience a realistic and functional image of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized, it is just that the perspective has been wrong. In a 1972 interview, he says, "I was trying to "de-mythify" the tale. To me Prospero is the complete totalitarian. I am always surprised when others consider him the wise man who "forgives." What is most obvious, even in Shakespeare's version, is the man's absolute will to power" (qtd. in McNary 10). The writer uses his adaptation of the play as a mirror to show the perspective that he sees: "the "civilized" European world coming face to face for the first time with the world of primitivism and magic" (qtd. in McNary 10). Such symbols as masks, a storm, and a tree are used by Cesaire as a creative mechanism to conduct the semantic re-accentuation of Shakespeare's play to convey the author's views on colonialism.

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One of the first symbols used by Cesaire is masks distributed by the Master Of Ceremonies. Masks are symbols of the artificiality and superficiality of the roles imposed upon people by the colonial paradigm. The situation in which the actors are free to choose whatever parts they like highlights the fact that there are no natural prerequisites that define the adherence to a certain 'caste' and, moreover, in the modern society the positions of a slave and a master are more often than not self-imposed. The only role that the Master Of Ceremonies supervises is the part of the storm: "One part I have to pick out myself: you! It's for the part of the Tempest, and I need a storm to end all storms ..." (Cesaire 343, Introduction, lines 10-12). This symbol is especially important for the author as it embodies the active protest against the colonial oppression that will finally put an end to the corrupt policy that morally deforms both the colonizer and the colonized.

The symbol of the storm is the central image that ensures the semantic cohesion of the play. In this context, the title of the adaptation seems to be especially meaningful. Shakespeare's work is called The Tempest: a definite article is used and the word 'tempest' is capitalized which means the author is talking about one particular magical storm. In Cesaire's play's title the article is indefinite and the word 'tempest' is not capitalized which indicates that the dramatist's storm is a generalization used to denote any clash of the colonizing ideology and anti-colonial activism. In Act I, Scene I Gonzalo is trying to explain to his companions the aim of their desperate struggle with the storm: "Though we are but straws tossed on the sea, all is not lost, Gentlemen; we must strive to gain the eye of the storm" (Cesaire 343, Act I, Scene I, lines 15-16). The storm here symbolizes the terrifying historical forces which seem to belittle any individual's attempts at opposition and rebellion. He is using metaphoric language to get his ideas across to the viewer: "... imagine a huge cylinder like the chimney of a lamp, travelling fast as a galloping horse but in the center as still and unmoving as Cyclop's eye. That is the area we refer to when we say 'the eye of the storm'" (Cesaire). Through the usage of this imagery the author is ingeniously alluding to the retrograde, counter-progressive, one-sided character of the colonial policy comparable to a Cyclop - a huge one-eyed creature, cruel and selfish. This policy is to be undermined from the inside - from the eye of the storm, i.e. the very canon of the stereotypes.

Therefore, another aspect of Cesaire's renunciation of the capitalization of the title is that it seems to be a means of deconstructing the Eurocentric literary narrative called 'the Western canon' within which Shakespeare's works occupy the central position. For Cesaire the 'de-capitalization' of the word 'tempest' is the symbols of the play's demythologization. But at the same time by re-writing and adapting it, he is creating a new, universalized mythology. In an interview the author justifies this move: "I believe in the mixing of all cultures. A great work of art such as Shakespeare's play belongs to all humanity - and, as such, it can undergo as many reinterpretations as do the myths of classical antiquity" (qtd. in West-Pavlov 44). It becomes obvious that the tempest is not only a symbol of the clash of social forces but also of the drastic changes in the realm of literature which restructure and re-vitalize the Western canon.

Another important symbol used in the text of the play is the image of a tree. It is actualized in the speech of two different characters with different though mutually cohesive semantic nuances. First, this symbol is used by Ariel, who invokes the image of a tree to embody his close and intimate relationship with nature and the primal state of existence. When Prospero reminds Ariel that he freed him from a pine, the latter retorts: "Sometimes I almost regret it ... After all, I might have turned into a real tree in the end. Tree: that's a word that really gives me a thrill" (Cesaire 347, lines 87-88). As Caliban and Ariel symbolize two different types of an attitude of the colonized to the colonizer - the passive aggressive and the collaborationist, this quote shows that even the most loyal servants of the imperialistic regime with time open their eyes to the oppressive nature of the metropolitan rule. The mulatto slave goes on to deliver one of the most poetic and lyrical speeches in the whole play praising the quaint beauty of the trees that have come to be associated in the Western culture with the colonial exotic countries: "... palm tree - springing into the sky like a fountain ending in nonchalant, squid-like elegance. The baobab - twisted like the soft entrails of some monster ... O bird, o green mansions set in the living earth!" (Cesaire 347, Act I, Scene 2, lines 87-93) Three important images are used in this poetic revelation in a close relationship with the symbol of a tree. First, it is a bird, a commonly used symbol of freedom. Secondly, these are 'squid' and 'entrails' metaphors which suggest that to Ariel nature is a living creature, 'the living earth.' Finally, there is also the 'green mansions' metaphor which implies that nature can become a real home for Ariel and other representatives of the colonized culture, a home which is more important than the riches of the colonizers. Together these images help convey Ariel's dream of freedom and a new home in nature's lap, a new way of life in harmony with the environment.

The second person to employ the image of a tree as a symbol of the unity of the past, the present and the future is Prospero, who says: "There are some family trees it's better not to climb" (Cesaire 347, Act I, Scene 2, line 122). He also refers to a tree in the context of his farewell speech. When he mentions uprooting an oak (Cesaire 369, Act III, Scene 5, line 167) he is using this image to symbolically represent the strong link binding the colonized people to their roots, cultural and historical heritage which he is trying to destroy so hard.

By using symbols, these highly efficient cognitive instruments of generalization and synthesis, Cesaire actualizes the semantic universality of Shakespeare's The Tempest. A tempest epitomizes his view of The Tempest as "the play essentially about the master-slave relation, a relation that is still alive and which ... explains a good deal of contemporary history" (qtd. in McNary 12-13) Thus, it is a mirror that is mirroring another mirror and in this way creating a unique and yet profoundly universal perspective.

Work Cited

Cesaire, Aime. "A Tempest." Retellings, edited by M. B. Clarke and A. G. Clarke, New York: McGraw- Hill, 2004, pp. 343-371.

McNary, Brenda. "He Proclaims Uhuru: Understanding Caliban as a Speaking Subject." Critical Theory and Social Justice, no. 1, 2010, =1014&context=ctsj..

West, Russell. Transcultural Graffiti: Diasporic Writing and the Teaching of Literary Studies. Rodopi, 2005.

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