The Tempest is believed to be the last play to have been solely authored by Shakespeare, though he was to collaborate in the writing of two more plays. The famous passage after the masque in the play (“Our revels now are ended . . . and our little life is rounded with a sleep” IV.i.148-58), as indeed the play itself, is regarded as the weary bard’s farewell to the theatre and his audience. But in a sense, the revels have never ended and The Tempest remains one of the most re-enacted plays down the centuries, in its “original” form as well as in numerous adapted forms, in the English-speaking world as well as in states then “unborn” and “accents unknown”. That, however, is hardly surprising as the themes and concerns that The Tempest addressed keep recurring as each civilization evolves.
Mythological works and literary classics have been adapted/retold down the ages. Indeed, in some cases, such as the Indian epics, as we all know, the retellings themselves are so ancient that it is difficult to determine when the “original” telling took place! It is accepted that the tellings as well as the retellings, the “originals” as well the remakes/adaptations, with regard to both form and content, are products of their respective times and shaped by their respective contexts and concerns. The fascinating question remains however why it is some works, more than others, enjoy an unceasing afterlife, or rather a rich and continual variety of afterlives.
Coming to The Tempest itself, what is it in the play that has ensured it such a long and varied afterlife? The editors of the play in the Arden 3 series list the features that make it uniquely adaptable. There is first the setting of the play, an island set in an indefinite time and place, which lends it “uncommon transportability”. Artists and writers have always found in an island setting an opportunity to comment on human relations without the constraints of reality and verisimilitude. This is especially true of works that attempt to present future utopias or dystopias, e.g. Robinson Crusoe, Lord of the Flies. Such a work, set in an island, lends itself to “reimaginings and reimagings of the same or other islands”. (Arden 3: 73-74)
Secondly, the characters of The Tempest embody the most basic human relationships: father and child, king and subject, master and slave, all of which display “the dynamics of freedom and restraint, obedience and rebellion, authority and tyranny” (Arden 3: 74) and make limitless adaptation possible.
The vagueness surrounding two of the four major characters of the play, viz. Ariel and Caliban, has also enabled a wide range of transformations. Ariel, a spirit, and androgynous by definition, could be male or female, young or old. As for Caliban, in the play itself, he is addressed or referred to with such a variety of names (son of a witch, “salvage”, monster, thing of darkness) that he could be portrayed, in the remakings, as indeed he has been, as “a reptile, an ape, an Indian (West or East), a black African, a European wild man or an eclectic combination”(Arden 3: 75)
Thirdly, Shakespeare’s use of art, spectacle, magic, music and evocative poetic language has enabled artists “to recreate the drama in their own terms through non-dramatic media.” (Arden 3: 75-76) The masque, which plays such a thematically central function in the play, though it comes towards the end, has itself been transcreated in a rich range of versions, as we shall see.
I attempt to make a quick survey of adaptations of The Tempest down the centuries and then to discuss in some detail two 20th century non-English adaptations. The first is Aimé Césaire’s Une Tempête (translated into English as A Tempest) and the second is the Tamil play Sooraavali (“Whirlwind”) by Indira Parthasarathy.
Most interestingly, the first major adaptation of The Tempest, made during the Restoration, was a radical revamping of Shakespeare’s original with another title added. Called The Tempest, or The Enchanted Island (1667), written by John Dryden and William Davenant, an operatic version of which was prepared by Thomas Shadwell a few years later, it held sway for nearly a century and a half before Shakespeare’s text was restored early in the nineteenth century. We can easily see how Shakespeare’s tight, compact but highly suggestive plot and thematic structure were lost by the fact that in the Restoration adaptation, Miranda has a sister called Dorinda, Prospero a foster-son named Hippolito and Sycorax becomes Caliban’s twin sister. The play emphasized royalist political and social ideas with monarchy as the natural form of government and an insistence on patriarchal authority in education and marriage. While Ariel remains true to Shakespeare’s original, Prospero here loses control and Caliban’s role is drastically reduced. Portrayed merely as a buffoonish monster, coupled with a sluttish sister, he represents humanity’s bestial side (Arden 3: 77-78)
With the Romantic stress on the primacy of the poetic imagination, The Tempest’s perceived focus changed significantly. The emphasis now was more on reading and individual response than on theatrical representation and its impact on the collective psyche. Coleridge, for example, called the work “a purely romantic drama that addresses itself entirely to the imaginative faculty” (quoted in Arden 3: 86). It was but natural that the Romantics identified Ariel, who embodied the spirit of fancy, and Prospero, Ariel’s sutradhari, with Shakespeare himself. It was also natural that in the age of Shelley (who called Satan the hero of Paradise Lost), writers found some merit in Caliban’s rebellious claims to ownership of the enchanted island. However, in the dramatic productions, Caliban was still “a salvage and deformed slave”, “a hereditary bondsman”. (Arden 3: 89-90)
Caliban becomes a more interesting figure in the light of Darwinian evolutionary theory in the Victorian age. In Robert Browning’s monologue Caliban upon Setebos, Caliban speaks of his mother Sycorax’s god Setebos and raises theological and philosophical questions. Imaginings of Caliban also gave credence to the view that “human life had evolved from some sort of aquatic animal”. (Arden 3: 91). This continued into the early 20th century when Caliban was presented as “ape-like, part-animal, part-human, symbolizing primitive man before his evolution to a more civilized state”. (Arden 3: 94-95) Miranda, however, becomes a pale figure, reflecting the largely dominant patriarchal perspective of the Victorian age. In fact, in most theatrical representations, the lines angrily addressed to Caliban by Miranda in Shakespeare’s original were assigned to Prospero on the grounds of decorum! (Arden 3: 92) The identification of Ariel and Prospero with Shakespeare also continued well into the 20th century.
Theatrical representations, needless to say, go hand in hand with critical interpretations and evaluations. The close association of The Tempest with the New World and the perception of colonialism and imperialism as its major themes began quite early in the 20th century. For nearly three centuries after the play’s creation, with very few exceptions, neither criticism nor dramatic performance had emphasized its American sources or resonances. But now there was a close identification of Shakespeare’s last play with the New World and issues of colonialism and imperial expansion. This was, of course, also due to the unearthing of a wealth of non-literary documents relating to early American colonial history, especially the pamphlets containing accounts of travellers returning from colonizing expeditions. A major source was William Strachey’s report (circulated in 1609, two years before the staging of The Tempest) of an expedition to Virginia: how one of the ships of the fleet was driven by a hurricane on to Bermuda’s rocky coast, how “the passengers and crew reached shore safely and spent nine months in Bermuda’s salubrious climate and on its abundant provisions before sailing to Virginia in two newly constructed vessels” (Arden 3: 41). Drawing from the Bermuda pamphlets, as they came to be called, and other travel narratives of the early 17th century, Shakespeare, it came to be believed, created the island and the play as a microcosm of the colonial enterprise and explored, directly or subtly, its impact on both the colonizer and the colonized.
However, there was a striking shift in the paradigm from the mid 20th century. While in the first half scholars saw colonialism as a benign enterprise, with a picture of Prospero as pitying the aborigines and instructing them “in civilized speech” and leading them “from savagery to civilization” (Sidney Lee, quoted in Arden 3: 100), the second half of the century, thanks to postcolonial theory, saw the original inhabitants of the New World as well as of all colonized regions as victims and losers in an imperialist hegemonic project. The European settlers/colonizers were seen in this view as ruthlessly exploiting the natural as well as human resources of the colonized spaces and imposing their language and worldview on them. Alongside such politico-cultural theories, psychoanalytical theories also helped fashion the image of colonizer and colonized. The Freudian concepts of id, ego, and superego and the Lacanian perspectives on the self and the other provided frames of reference for interpreting the relationship between the colonizers and their colonial subjects. Thus, in one psychoanalytical view, “Ariel and Caliban came to be seen as embodiments of Prospero’s subconscious mind; in its most reductive form, Ariel is his superego, Caliban his libido”. (Arden 3: 110) In another view, Caliban was regarded as suffering from a “dependency complex” and Prospero from an “inferiority complex”. In yet another, Prospero was seen as entertaining incestuous thoughts and as showing relief at the arrival of Ferdinand! (Arden 3: 118)
It is but natural that these critical theories and perspectives in general and on The Tempest, in particular, influenced the production of the play if only by a process of “cultural osmosis” (Arden 3: 112) In a 1970 production for example, Prospero was the colonial governor, Ariel his mulatto house-servant and Caliban his darker field-hand. In the final scene, as Prospero left the island, Caliban was shown shaking his fist at the departing ship and Ariel as lifting Prospero’s bent staff and beginning to straighten it: “one native rejected Western technology, the other sought to appropriate it” (Arden 3: 114) Peter Brook’s 1968 experimental show suggested the play’s plot and themes through mime and movement. Filled with images of violence, it shows an enormous Sycorax giving birth to Caliban, Caliban taking over the island, leading his followers in a wild orgy and assaulting Prospero until Ariel diverts the mob, as in the original, with ribbons, costumes, and trinkets. (Arden 3: 114-115).
Film productions of The Tempest also exhibited a range of perspectives and adaptations. In the 1991 film entitled Prospero’s Books Prospero himself is shown as the author of The Tempest which he is writing as he is exiled. He carries it to the island along with other books (including the works of Shakespeare!) that a Renaissance scholar would find of interest. The scenes and the people in the play—the Europeans extravagantly costumed and the natives naked-- correspond with Renaissance conceptions of the savage and the civilized. It is, however, Ariel who completes the script of The Tempest. In the climax, Prospero throws his books into the ocean; all the books sink except for Thirty-Six Plays by William Shakespeare and the script of The Tempest, which are grabbed by Caliban! (Arden 3: 119-21)
After this rather sketchy survey, I would now like to pass on to the two adaptations that I wish to discuss in some detail. The first is a French play entitled Une Tempête by Aimé Césaire, published in 1969 (translated into English as A Tempest in 1985 by Richard Miller and revised in 1995).
Aimé Césaire (1913-2008) was a Francophone and French author and politician from Martinique, a Caribbean island which was once a French colony and is now one of the overseas regions (“departments”) of France. A student activist while pursuing higher education in Paris, where he came under the influence of the Senegalese writer Leopold Senghor, Césaire was one of the founding fathers of “negritude”, the black consciousness movement which sought to assert pride in African cultural values to counterbalance the inferior status accorded to them in European colonial thinking. (In fact, he coined the term “negritude” in his famous French poem published in 1939 and translated in 1969 as “Return to My Native Land”. In his “Discourse on Colonialism”, originally delivered as a speech in 1950, in which he attacked American imperialism and older forms of colonialism, he also said the pioneers of the Negritude movement had deliberately chosen the word “nègre” as a term of defiance. “Since there was some shame about the word nègre, we chose the word nègre.”)(Césaire, quoted in McNary:11) Césaire spent most of his life in Martinique where he taught in a secondary school—Frantz Fanon was one of his students and later a contemporary activist.
Aimé Césaire’s A Tempest openly identifies and explores the colonial themes merely suggested in Shakespeare. The full title of the play was “A Tempest: Based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest: Adaptation for a Black Theater”, thus announcing the work’s political intent. It was an all-Black cast in the original production (as well as in English), but, in a rather puzzling device, all the actors enter and the Master of Ceremonies invites them to choose the character they wish to play and also to choose an appropriate mask. This raised the question of authenticity of representation which has not been satisfactorily answered. The characters are the same as in Shakespeare, with two alterations: Ariel here is a mulatto slave, though possessing magical powers which Prospero controls, as in Shakespeare, and Caliban here is a black slave and not the rather vague and indeterminate physical figure that you find in Shakespeare. There is also an addition in the form of Eshu, a black devil god, who enters uninvited during the celebratory masque of the pagan gods and goddesses, sings an obscene song and dances an obscene dance, forcing the goddesses to leave abruptly, and angering Prospero no end.
Almost the first feature that we notice as we read the play is the proportion of the part and speeches assigned to Prospero and Caliban.
We find that there are many more dialogical interactions between the master and the slave here than in Shakespeare. In Shakespeare, in terms of speech, Prospero towers over not only Caliban but everyone else. It has been calculated that Prospero speaks nearly thirty percent of the lines, the next highest figure being Caliban’s at less than nine percent! In Césaire’s adaptation, at least whenever Caliban and Prospero meet, there is an equal, and equally powerful, exchange of speech.
Indeed, language and speech play a central role in the play demonstrating the constant power struggle between colonizer and colonized, resulting, it would seem, in a reluctant acceptance of negotiation on the part of the former at the end.
The first word that Caliban speaks as he enters the stage at the bidding of Prospero is not just a speech, but a speech act. Prospero has just spoken to Ariel about Caliban. “I’m going to have a few words with Master Caliban. I’ve been keeping my eye on him, and he’s getting a little too emancipated.” (A Tempest (hereinafter cited as AT) I.ii.p.10) He then calls out to Caliban twice. Caliban enters and says “Uhuru”. “What did you say?” Prospero asks, puzzled, and Caliban repeats the word. (AT:I.ii.p.11) Now the word “Uhuru” is a Kiswahili word meaning “Freedom”. It seems as though by just uttering the word Caliban declares his independence. In this sense, the utterance constitutes a performative speech act (like the utterance of the word “talaq” or like “Vandemataram” or “Jaihind” used by the Indian freedom fighters, constituting a declaration of freedom) It is, of course, true that, for a performative speech act to be successful, the right conditions have to obtain, and they don’t here in this case. But Caliban’s use of the word has two effects: (a) It unsettles and disorients Prospero for the moment, indicating a temporary loss of control. (b) It is a hint and warning that Caliban possesses a knowledge beyond Prospero’s. Moreover, the use of the word “Uhuru” links the play to the radical political movements in Africa in which it was used as a slogan. (McNary: 13)
Caliban, however, cannot continue speaking in his native language to Prospero, not just because the latter objects to it-“Mumbling your native language again! I’ve already told you, I don’t like it” (AT: I.ii.p.11)--but because it would mean lack of communication and he would run the risk of being ignored.
The tension over language manifests itself again when Caliban says, later in the exchange, “I’ve decided I don’t want to be called Caliban any longer . . . I’m telling you that from now on I won’t answer to the name Caliban”. When Prospero demands to know why Caliban says, “Caliban isn't my name . . . It’s the name given to me by your hatred, and every time it’s spoken it’s an insult”. (AT: I.ii.ppp.14-15) After all, those who have power over the world name the world and also the people! (Incidentally, Shakespeare’s source for the name “Caliban” has been widely discussed. The most common view is that it is an anagram of “cannibal”. Other sources suggested include “Carib”, meaning 'Caribbean', “Caulibon”, a gypsy word for black or dark things, and even the Indian word “Kaleeban” meaning a satyr of the goddess!) (Arden 3: 31-32)
Now, when Caliban objects to being called by that name, Prospero asks, “All right, suggest something else . . .” Caliban replies “Call me X”. [Perhaps with the suggestion, we may add, that he would like to be identified rather with Malcolm X, the African American Muslim minister and activist who was a staunch critic of the USA]
Call me X. That would be the best. Like a man without a name. Or, to be more precise, a man whose name has been stolen. You talk about history . . . well, that’s history, and everyone knows it! Every time you summon me it reminds me of a basic fact, the fact that you’ve stolen everything from me, even my identity! Uhuru!
And he exits.
In fact, even in Shakespeare, Caliban is not just a slave, but a speaking slave, the subaltern who speaks. Stephen Greenblatt argued that Shakespeare’s choice to make Caliban speak, and speak intelligibly in the language of Prospero, “complicates his identity, opening up space for a mysterious measure of resemblance between the monster and his master”. (Greenblatt: 31) To use Homi Bhabha’s terms, the mimicry plays a disruptive role, challenging Prospero’s authority. Aimé Césaire stretches this possibility further, making Caliban match Prospero’s linguistic reach, in terms of both quantity and power, the resemblance becoming a menace.
It could even be said that it is Caliban’s bilingualism—though his use of his own language is minimal—that poses the greatest challenge to Prospero, and puts him in a double bind, as it were. The slave can talk back in the master’s language and defy him or speak in his own language and mystify him.
It is the threat posed by Caliban’s articulateness that seems to dictate the final decision taken by Prospero in AiméCésaire’s adaptation. In a complete break from Shakespeare, Prospero, rather than returning to Italy along with the other Europeans, decides to remain on the island with Caliban. And this, though he had told them earlier that he would be sailing with them. When he speaks to Caliban, in the presence of the others, after calling him “devilish”, he asks him if he has anything to say in his own defense: “Take advantage of my good humor. I’m in a forgiving mood today”. Caliban, however, refuses to defend himself and goes on to make a defiant speech in which he declares how he hates him for his insults, his ingratitude, and, “worst of all, more degrading than all the rest, your condescension”. He adds:
Prospero, you’re a great magician:
you’re an old hand at deception.
And 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, under competent
that’s how you made me see myself!
And I hate that image . . . and it’s false!
But now I know you, you old cancer,
And I also know myself!
After a few more hostile exchanges, Prospero seethingly admits:
Well, I hate you as well!
For it is you who have made me
doubt myself for the first time.
and announces his decision to stay back, saying “My fate is here: I shall not run from it.” (AT: 66) Once a colonizer, always a colonizer, he vows that he will not give up his colonizing or as he calls it his civilizing mission.
The ending of the play is an anticlimax. It is many years later, Caliban and Prospero are the only ones in the island. Prospero is old, weak and weary and his speech is “weak, toneless, trite”. He sees all around animals grinning at him. He seems to have a gun in his hand and shouting “I shall protect civilization!” he fires in all directions. He calls out weakly and then shouts to Caliban to make a fire. “In the distance, above the sound of the surf and the chirping of birds, we hear snatches of Caliban’s song: FREEDOM HI-DAY, FREEDOM HI-DAY!” (AT: 68)
Indira Parthasarathy (pseudonym of Dr Ranganathan Parthasarathy) is the author of nine full-length plays and half a dozen one-act plays. Of the full-length plays, while three are social dramas with existentialist themes, six can be called retellings. He has himself sorted these six into three groups, such as tonmam (myth), varalaaru (history) and tazhuvalaakkam (adaptations). But all of them are retellings in the sense that Dr Parthasarathy always brings a fresh, often revolutionary perspective to them, whether it is history, myth or a literary classic that he recreates. To take just one example, his play on Aurangzeb, instead of depicting him as a fundamentalist and nothing more, makes a psychological study of the Emperor as ultimately a lonely figure craving for love. While it presents by and large a favourable picture of Dara as a liberal and secular idealist (making us wonder what history would have been if he, rather than, Aurangzeb had succeeded Shah Jahan), it critiques Shah Jahan’s aesthetic dream projects and the economic injustice and misery that they caused.
Indira Parthasarathy’s plays include two adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays, one of King Lear (entitled Irudi Aattam or “Endgame”) and one of The Tempest (entitled Sooraavali “Storm/Tempest/Whirlwind”) In both, the characters and the setting have been indigenized/Tamilized, with the major characters corresponding to those in Shakespeare.
The plot outline of Sooravali, including the ending, is the same as that of Shakespeare’s play. All the characters have Tamil names, with Miranda simply being called Kanni (“virgin”). Caliban is here a dark-complexioned man of thirty, the son of a sorceress and a native of the island and he is called Karuppan (“Blackie”). Ariel is a young man of about eighteen, wearing a white-coloured shirt and shorts. He is interestingly named Maaruti, suggesting Lord Hanuman’s powers, intelligence as well as devotion to his master, in the Indian epic Ramayana.
Karuppan is certainly more articulate than Shakespeare’s Caliban. From the beginning almost till the end, he adopts an adversarial position in relation to Muthuvel (Prospero’s name in the play). He repeatedly affirms that he is the rightful owner of the island, the son of the soil (mannin maindan) and charges Muthuvel with stealing the land as well as enslaving him. He calls him vanderi, “newcomer” or “immigrant”/“settler”. The Tamil word—is it in the neuter gender, or an adjective being used as a noun?--certainly carrying a more disapproving connotation than its English equivalents. Towards the end, he points to the royal personages and asks Muthuvel, “These people usurped power from you. So you came here and grabbed my land. What kind of justice is that?” (IP: 705) (One is reminded of the early settlers in America, the Pilgrim Fathers, the Puritans who fled England to escape persecution and went to the New World and colonized and persecuted the natives there!)
The most significant feature we notice in Indira Parthasarathy’s adaptation lies in the portrayal of Muthuvel, the Prospero figure, as more aware, more sensitive and open-minded than his Shakespearean predecessor. The bard’s protagonist is a veritable despot, the very emblem of the colonial master and patriarchal authority. He decides everything for his daughter, even when she should sleep, how long she should sleep, not to speak of the prepositional phrases which may follow the verb “sleep”. He places one young man before the girl and tells her to choose a husband!
Sooravali, on the contrary, seems to be basically more about the education that Muthuvel receives through the play than the education he imparts as a colonizer. Everyone, his daughter as well as his two servants, has eventually a gradual positive influence on him. I have already mentioned Karuppan’s tirades against his master, which do at the end have an impact on him. Kanni is by no means as naïve and helpless a figure as Miranda. Early in the play, when Muthuvel narrates the past events to her, he says that it is power and position that legitimize everything and that he learnt this basic lesson only later after his exile. Upon this, Kanni says, “You seem to have learnt it well. . . . how well you are driving Karuppan around!” (IP: 658). Muthuvel is startled at this and says that the case of Karuppan is different as he is both a savage and a slave and as such has to be treated harshly.
Maaruti (who corresponds to Ariel) plays an even more potent, though apparently unobtrusive, role in the transformation of Muthuvel. Early in the play, when Maaruti (Ariel) asks for his freedom, Muthuvel asks him what he feels about the same demand made by Karuppan. Maaruti is silent. While the silence can be construed in either way, Muthuvel understands that Maaruti doesn’t want to openly endorse Karuppan’s demand. Muthuvel says Maaruti is being diplomatic but for his part, he still proclaims that might is right and that is the way of the world.
However, it is through the musical drama that he presents for Muthuvel and the couple (which corresponds to the masque of the gods and goddesses in Shakespeare) that Maaruti brings about the final transformation of Muthuvel. In an amazing dance and song spectacle, Maaruti recreates the Varaaha avatar from Hindu mythology, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu as a wild boar in order to rescue the earth from the demon Hiranyaaksha. The dance shows the demon grabbing the woman who represents the earth (Bhooma Devi), proclaiming that the earth is the possession of the mighty. Her protests that she belongs to everyone are of no avail. He sinks her into the ocean and goes down himself too. Then another actor emerges wearing the mask of Varaaha, plunges into the ocean, emerges holding the woman in one hand and fighting the demon with the other. The demon falls at the end. Two other women appear and garland Varaaha and Bhooma Devi. They all dance, singing, adding another element of aesthetic pleasure and surprise, fusing myth with bhakti literature, a paasuram (hymn) from Nammazhwar’s Tiruvaymozhi, which celebrates how the earth was beautifully intact after its rescue by Varaha. Here is a translation of the paasuram:
The seven plains stood firmly in place, the seven mountains stood firmly in place, the seven oceans stood firmly in place, when my father lifted the Earth with his tusk teeth!
(Nammazhvar, Tiruvaymozhi 7.4.3, Verse No. 3372 in Naalaayira Divya Prabandham, Translated as The Sacred Book by Srirama Bharati)
The dancers also add:
Music, water, land, air, and fire all belong by right to all the people who live on earth! /who live close to the earth. The one who rules the earth by force shall be utterly destroyed. This is God’s decree! All the demons who haughtily violate the code of the earth are enemies of God. Glory, glory, glory be to Goddess Earth!
- (IP: 697)
The point of the spectacle, which Maaruti seems to indirectly convey, is not lost on Muthuvel. So, at the end of the show, he asks Maaruti, “Who is the demon, is it me?” Maaruti hurriedly denies any such imputation, but Muthuvel assures him that no offense has not been taken and adds, “Even searching for an identity is a form of arrogance/egoism” (IP: 698) The message, however, has gone through. In the final scene, Muthuvel admits that he had no right to usurp Karuppan’s land just because others usurped his. He begs forgiveness of Karuppan even as he forgives his fellow-countrymen. Karuppan too shows grace and admits that he has learnt a great deal from Muthuvel, including the thirst for freedom. In a final act of reconciliation, Muthuvel embraces Karuppan before embarking. The play ends with nadaswaram music.
The two plays, by Aimé Césaire and Indira Parthasarathy, as seen so far, certainly lend themselves to interpretation from a postcolonial perspective, as does Shakespeare’s play. But then a postcolonial, cultural materialist, New Historicist framework is by no means an exclusive key to an understanding of The Tempest. Indeed, there have been quite a few critiques in the last few decades of the cultural materialist interpretations of the play. Howard Felperin, for example, does not deny the need to place the work in its historical context (i.e. the Jacobean context of colonizing projects, in which Shakespeare himself might have had a stake). However, he objects to the misrepresentation “of Prospero—and by analogy Renaissance Europe-- as a unique agent of dispossession and tyranny.” If we go down “the dark backward and abysm of time”, to use Prospero’s phrase, history had always been a cycle of repetition, a “recurrent nightmare” of occupation and oppression. Even looking within the play, to quote Felperin,
The island, to which Caliban lays mock-dynastic claim as “mine by Sycorax my mother” (I.ii.331) was never actually his mother’s, any more than it is “his” rather than Prospero’s. The island had already been expropriated by Sycorax from its native inhabitants—the nymphs and nature-spirits of Ariel’s genus—when Prospero expropriates it in turn from Sycorax. And its natives—at least one of them—were already in bondage before Prospero imposed it (or something similar but less harsh) upon her son. - (Felperin: 55)
It is also possible to place the famous monologue spoken by Prospero at the end of the masque in the context of the larger vision of history that is indicated. Prospero says that “the great globe itself,/Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve” (IV.i.148-56). This might be taken to mean that in “some ultimate, profound, and prepotent sense no one owns anything and never did own anything: the condition of death or apocalypse or utopia”. (Felperin: 57) Such a view, of course, will constitute a “utopian hermeneutic” rather than “a hermeneutic of suspicion”. (Felperin: 60)
Alternatively, we can go back to the question of language. The Tempest certainly yields a great deal of insight into the power of language as an instrument of protest and resistance as well of marginalization and “thingification”. But that is not the only function of language in the play. In an article significantly entitled “The Discourse of Prayer in The Tempest”, Tom McAlindon points out the predominance of words of blessing and curse and related words of religious or divine import. (We should perhaps remember that 1611, the year of the first production of The Tempest, was also the year of the appearance of King James’ Bible). Even in the first scene, the curse “A plague upon this howling” is followed soon by “All lost! To prayers, to prayers!” shouted by the mariners. Later in his cave, as Prospero sees his daughter and Ferdinand together, he says to himself, “Heaven rain grace/On that which breeds between ‘em” and the gods and goddesses do so, in the betrothal masque that follows. From this point of view, it is possible to say that the play is centrally about a father’s blessing for a daughter who is herself a blessing. The language of prayer is used by the other characters too. Ferdinand asks Miranda for her name, “chiefly that I might set it in my prayers”. Even Caliban at the end says he will seek grace.
To return in conclusion to our two adaptations. I have foregrounded the portions and passages that lend credence to our regarding them as discourses on the postcolonial predicament. So indeed they are. But there are other pointers as well in the two plays. In both, the complaint against the colonial masters is not just that they tyrannize over and marginalize their colonized subjects but also that they are not in harmony with their physical environment, the Nature that surrounds them and its resources. In Césaire’s play, Caliban calls Prospero “anti-Nature”. In Shakespeare too, Caliban speaks some of the most evocative lines in the play describing the various kinds of music that he hears. (“This isle is full of . . .”) In Aimé Césaire, Caliban talks of the sea as his pal and of the wind which sings songs to him. He is angry that Prospero, by means of his gadgets, bends and breaks the forces of Nature (the ants, the insects, and the mud) and uses them as a kind of anti-riot arsenal. (AT 53-54). He charges Prospero with treating the earth as if it were dead so that he could “walk on it, pollute it . . . tread upon it with the steps of a conqueror”. On the other hand, he, Caliban, respects it because he knows that it is alive. Indira Parthasarathy’s Sooraavali too, as we noted from the musical drama framed within the betrothal entertainment, is not just about colonization—the colonization and oppression of man by man—it is also about the desecration and destruction of Nature. In these days, when there is a greater awareness about issues of ecology and the environment, we will be quite right if we stretch our interpretation of the two plays to say that they speak up against all forms of exploitation of Nature and of those who live close to Nature. That will include insensitive governmental agencies that take away land and water from native tribes in the name of development as well as corporate sharks who set up mineral water plants and sand mafias who loot the soil.
Of the two adaptations we have seen, Indira Parthasarathy’s Sooravali is closer to Shakespeare’s original in structure, content and overall thematic significance. Aimé Césaire’s play is admittedly political and part of a radical, activist project. (In fact, he said, in an interview, that he had set out to translate Shakespeare’s play, but “when the work was done, I realized there was not much Shakespeare left”, which statement, of course, is also debatable). There are a number of features in Sooravali which closely connect it with The Tempest apart from the basic plot. The triple themes of reconciliation, reunion and regeneration, which E.M.W. Tillyard and early 20th century critics saw as characterizing The Tempest, as well as the other last plays of Shakespeare, are operative in Indira Parthasarathy’s adaptation too. Parthasarathy also accords a central role to the theme of illusion and reality which he regards as a key feature of Shakespeare’s play. In his Preface to his play, he cites the famous “Revels” passage and goes on to say that the philosophy underlying it (reality and illusion, nijam and totramayakkam) is the principle underlying Advaita philosophy. The betrothal masque serves several functions in Shakespeare’s play, the most important being the high value put on classical myths in Renaissance literature. Indira Parthasarathy retains the masque element but magically transforms it, as we saw, by reenacting an ancient Indian myth and investing it with a new significance. Aimé Césaire also retains the masque and the myth from Shakespeare but only to reject them as part of an oppressive White humanist agenda.
In fact, if we look at the other plays by Indira Parthasarathy, we will see how he foregrounds the transforming power of myths everywhere. We are being told that we live in a post-Truth age. The term has gained currency in recent years and is being increasingly used to refer to a political culture in which “people are more likely to accept an argument based on their emotions and beliefs, rather than one based on facts”. (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary)
In such a situation, it is myths and literary-cultural creations that can positively transform institutions and individuals. But to achieve that end, the myths and the literary masterpieces need to be constantly retold and reinterpreted. And, for performing that mission, who better than creative writers like Shakespeare and Indira Parthasarathy?
Arden 3. The Tempest. Ed. Virginia Mason Vaughan and Alden T. Vaughan.The Arden Shakespeare.3rd Series. First published by Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1990. Revised with additional material and new cover and published by Bloomsbury. London, 2011.
Bharati, Srirama. The Sacred Book of Four Thousand: Nalayira Divya Prabandham Rendered in English with Tamil Original. Chennai: Sri Sadagopan Tirunarayanaswami Divya Prabanda Pathasala, 2000.
Césaire, Aimé. UneTempête (French). Originally published in 1969. Translated into English as A Tempest by Richard Miller, 1985. Revised English translation 1992. New York: Ubu Repertory Theater Publications.
Felperin, Howard. “Political Criticism at the Crossroads: The Utopian Historicism of The Tempest”. In The Tempest. Theory in Practice Series. Ed. Nigel Wood. Buckingham: Open Univ. Press, 1995. pp.29-66.
Greenblatt, Stephen. “Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century”, in Learning to Curse. New York: Routledge, 1990. pp. 16-39.
McAlindon, Tom. “The Discourse of Prayer in The Tempest,” from Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900. Excerpted in Harold Bloom’s “Shakespeare through the Ages: The Tempest”. Edited and with an Introduction by Harold Bloom. Volume Editor: Neil Heims. New Delhi: Viva Books, 2010. pp. 247-61
McNary, Brenda. “He Proclaims Uhuru: Understanding Caliban as a Speaking Subject”. Critical Theory and Social Justice. Journal of Undergraduate Research, Occidental College. Vol. 1. Spring 2010.pp.1-26.
Parthasarathy, Indira. Sooravali (Tamil). In Indira Parthasarathy: Natakangal. Muzhutthokuppu. (“Indira Parthasarathy: Collected Plays”). Chennai: Kizhakku Pathippagam (Kizhakku Publishers), 2007. pp.650-707. The translations from the Tamil play provided in the paper are mine.
The Tempest by William Shakespeare (cited in the paper as TT). Ed. Maqbool Hasan Khan. Hyderabad: Orient Longman, 2001.