African Tempests and Shakespeare’s Middle Passage

Par Chantal Zabus
Publication en ligne le 20 décembre 2017


As African colonies struggled for independence in the 1950s and 1960s and South Africa’s Apartheid regime hardened, the status of Shakespeare changed in Sub-Saharan Africa. African and, accessorily, Caribbean writers started identifying with Caliban, the savaged and deformed slave of The Tempest. I here trace this Calibanic genealogy, starting with the pathologization of Caliban by French ethnopsychiatrist D.O. Mannoni, through the insurrectional rise of Caliban and the corollary deprivileging of the Prospero-figure in key-texts by e.g. Ndabaningi Sithole, Nkem Nwankwo, Lemuel Johnson, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, but also Caribbean writers like Aimé Césaire, as Shakespeare also navigated through a Middle Passage of sorts.


Texte intégral

Shakespeare in the Empire ; Shakespeare as an Empire

1Shakespeare on African soil has been an instrument of empire for most of the twentieth century. With the advent of independence in Sub-Saharan Africa and the building of new nation-states, Shakespeare, like the English language, was gradually unhoused and taken away from its ancestral home. In former English-speaking colonies or settler colonies in Africa, from Nigeria to South Africa via Kenya, Shakespeare was taught through the lens of the late Victorian scholar A. C. Bradley who admittedly served the interests of the imperial ruling class. Set Shakespeare texts on Sub-Saharan University curricula like, most notably, Hamlet, Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear and The Tempest were successfully sanitized of any political or socio-economic import.

2In South Africa, the only country in Africa where settler power lasted more than the span of a single lifetime, Shakespeare texts were the exclusive ownership of middle-class white Africans. In the immediate aftermath of the official beginning of Apartheid in 1948, thugs from Sophiatown, a Black suburb of Johannesburg, would delight in forcing educated white South Africans, Lewis Nkosi recalls, to “recite some passage of Shakespeare” while standing at street corners, for the amusement of the crowd. The J. P. De Lange report of 1981 reinforced the importance of Shakespeare for the elite and “metal work for the mass of [Black] students.”1 In 1987, some seven years before the official demise of Apartheid, Martin Orkin in Shakespeare Against Apartheid urged South African students to “read the Shakespeare text in ways that no longer subtly encourage a passive acceptance of the apartheid system but rather in ways that promote more active awareness of the possibility of alternatives to it.”2 The late South African actor John Matshikiza, who directed Julius Caesar in June 1994, when the end of Apartheid had been officially proclaimed, connected this play about democracy, performed “four hundred years ago … in a monarchical society,” with the Presidency of Nelson Mandela.3

3In sum, after being depoliticized, Shakespeare was “destabilized,” as reflected in André Brink’s tell-tale book title, Destabilizing Shakespeare,4 published in 1996, a watershed date that also signals the advent of the new South African Constitution, one of the most modern legislations in the world. In the post-Apartheid era, Natasha Distiller adjusted the Black vs White vista by denouncing “the binary logic of the traditional idea of the coconut” to refer to someone black on the outside and white on the inside, like the American Oreo cookie. She meant to reclaim “coconuttiness as a legitimate identity,” that is, she saw no contradiction in a South African Black engaging with high-cultural Shakespeare, a stance which breaks with the colonial and Apartheid past where “to know your Shakespeare was to contest your position as a ‘native’.”5

4Out of Shakespeare’s characters, two characters stand out for Sub-Saharan African possible identification : Othello and Caliban. The Noble Moor was predisposed to be selected because of his African origins and the concomitant diasporic presence of “Negars and Blackamoors” in great numbers in Great Britain by the end of the sixteenth century ; Queen Elizabeth I had been “discontented” that they had “crept into this realm” and had issued two edicts : “one in 1599 and a stronger one in 1601.”6 However, Caliban got the upper hand in African identity politics possibly because Othello, despite Iago’s prejudicial slurs about his ithyphallic sexuality, is integrated in European society and is not in a colonial relation to a master. Caliban’s ambivalent relationship with Prospero thus provided a blueprint for colonial dialectics. Yet Caliban was not always the oppressed colonized subject that he was later made out to be.

5After writing Propaganda and Public Opinion in 1944, which aims at directing the South African government towards a more democratic post-war settlement, Cambridge-educated Geoffrey Durrant, serving in the Army Education Unit during the Second World War, wrote “Prospero’s Wisdom” a decade later, arguing that “[Prospero’s] moral lesson is needed to keep in check the Calibans of our animal nature.”7 In other words, Caliban stands for the “animal nature” of White Prosperos. Caliban has also been Black and American8as well as White and African and, more particularly, a White Afrikaner. Writing from Cape Town in the wake of the 1926 Colour Bar Act, the 1927 Immorality Act forbidding all sexual relations outside marriage between Blacks and Whites, and the looming zwart gevaar, or “Black Peril,” in the 1929 African elections, Leonard Barnes portrays Caliban as a Yankee imperialist in his Caliban in Africa. An Impression of Colour-Madness (1930). Caliban is here a ruthless, inhumane, “sadistic” Afrikaner who, through “a common swindle,” victimized the “excellent talkers” and “born-co-operators” who were the Zulu-Xhosa natives.9 The United States as Calibanesque also prevailed in late-nineteenth-century Latin American writings by Nicaraguan Rubén Dario and Uruguayan José Enrique Rodó until Roberto F. Retamar claimed Caliban as the symbol of mestizo Latin America.10

Calibanic Decolonization and the Prospero Complex

6The first Black African writer to identify Caliban as a Black African is Rhodesian/Zimbabwean Ndabaningi Sithole. In the last chapter of his African Nationalism (1959), “The Cracked Myth,” Sithole compares “the early relations between black and white to that between child and parent,” which comes as a surprise from the leader of ZANU (the Zimbabwe African National Union), who sought severance from ZAPU (the Zimbabwe African People’s Union) in 1963 to better secure self-reliance and immediate armed confrontation with the enemy.11 In his treatise, Sithole quotes twice from The Tempest, especially “I prithee, be my God./ . . . I’ll kiss thy foot. I’ll swear myself thy subject.” (II.2.143-146) and “. . . and I’ll be wise hereafter,/ And seek for grace. What a thrice-double ass/ Was I to take this drunkard for a god, / And worship this dull fool !” (V.1.294-297).12 The quotations outline two steps in Caliban’s encounter with Stephano and Trinculo : first, Caliban’s deification of the White men, and, second, what Sithole terms Caliban’s “confession” upon seeing through “his new god,” Stephano.13 Now that the myth of White supremacy is cracked, Caliban vows to be “wise hereafter” during the phase of decolonization. In this colonial encounter, Prospero is left out of the picture, a bit as if Sithole was endorsing Dominique Octave Mannoni’s views that the true colonizers on African soil had been the lesser bearers of European civilization represented by mean-spirited officials, traders, and administrators.

7As decolonization and African nationalisms, with the exception of South Africa, were being ushered in after the Second World War, European ethno-psychiatry grew in importance. European ethnologists and psychiatrists proffered various reasons for innate African inferiority, yet were silent on the rise of anti-colonial movements in Africa like B. J. F. Laubscher, J. C. Carothers, Wulf Sachs, S. Biesheuvel, and, most notably, French ethno-psychiatrist D.O. Mannoni.14 In La psychologie de la colonization (1950), translated into English as Prospero and Caliban (1956), Mannoni pathologizes the encounter between Prospero and Caliban.

8A witness of the 1947 uprising in Madagascar, Mannoni somewhat paradoxically invented “the Caliban complex,” that is, “the dependence complex among Malagasies in the course of colonization, and more particularly among the Merina.”15 To illustrate the Malagasies’ dependency complex, Mannoni goes back to Caliban’s famous speech :

… When thou cam’st first,
Thou strok’st me, and made much of me ; wouldst give me
Water with berries in’t, and teach me how
To name the bigger light, and how the less,
That burn by day and night ; and then I loved thee,
And showed thee all the qualities o’th’ isle,
The fresh springs, brine-pits, barren place and fertile-
… and here you sty me
In this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me
The rest o’th’ island. (I.2.332-344)

9Mannoni reads Caliban’s speech in terms of abandonment and dependency : “. . . and then you abandoned me before I had time to become your equal. . . . In other words : you taught me to be dependent, and I was happy ; then you betrayed me and plunged me into inferiority.”16 Here Mannoni reads Caliban’s reciprocity in the gift-exchange – exchanging his knowledge of the fauna and flora for the Renaissance quadrivium and the infamous “water with berries” of the Bermuda castaways – as an ostensible act of submissiveness and extends this reading to the Malagasy’s and to any colonized subject’s so-called “dependent behaviour.”17

10Mannoni, and Sithole after him, construe the relationship between colonized and colonizer in Oedipal filial terms. In such a filiation, the White man becomes a father-imago (an uncle of sorts), who occupies in the native psyche the place of the ancestors and the dead, on whom the Malagasies used to transfer their feelings of alleged dependence and their ancient need for security and authority before the coming of the French. In this hypocoristic version of the colonial relationship, the Black man becomes a child mimicking the adult. In ethno-psychiatry therefore, the Calibanic figure of the colonized is shrunk to a helpless, dependent, suckling child in need of parental authority. It is therefore no wonder that Mannoni had “difficulty in explaining why the natives should have revolted against the ancestors, in the form of white men . . .  .”18

11To Mannoni, the cause of the 1947 rebellion lies not in a desire for independence but in “the feeling of abandonment.”19 In an attempt to get rid of this feeling and to restore firm bonds of dependence on the French, the Malagasies unleashed a revolt against them ( !) : “Violence springs from guilt, and guilt from a feeling of abandonment.”20 Since violence stems from a lack of self-control, the Malagasies were demonstrating once more their inability to govern themselves and their need for authoritarianism. J.C. Carothers in The Psychology of Mau Mau (1954) held a similar argument about the 1950s Kikuyu uprise in Kenya.21 Mannoni further argues that the Europeans resorted to “theatrical violence” in attempting to frighten the Malagasies during the riots, thus passing off the issue of the implementation of violence through armament as a histrionic display. Yet, the French superior military and economic strength was responsible for the quenching of the Malagasy uprising. When the riots broke out in March 1947, Mannoni continued to believe that the Malagasies were unable to rule themselves properly and, more generally, that the subjected peoples did not want to govern themselves, and even needed and liked to be dominated.

12 The dependency or Caliban complex is inevitably paired off with the attendant “Prospero complex,” which builds on Alfred Adler’s inferiority feeling, for which the patient tries to compensate in a masculine protest, a theory Adler elaborated before he broke off with Freud in 1911. The dominant characteristic in any individual brought up in the unspoken assumptions of the superiority of European culture is, to Mannoni, the Adlerian “inferiority complex,” subtly linked to infantile regression, a failure “to adapt infantile images to adult reality.”22 The colonizer’s inferiority complex is often combined with the urge to dominate and an excessive idealism, which entails the “flight” from home : “Whether he says it was the desire to travel, …. or whether he says that he simply wanted a freer life,” Prospero’s reason for leaving home is “the colonial vocation,”23 a phrase that Tunisian Albert Memmi was to take up in his Portrait du Colonisé précédé du Portrait du Colonisateur (1957).24

13 To Mannoni, the “Prospero complex” also connected colonial racism with Prospero’s “sexual guilt.”25 Mannoni remains vague, however, about the reasons why Prospero should experience “sexual guilt” unless it means projecting his sexual desire onto the only White woman on the island, his own daughter. The guilt resulting from the possibility of incest would then explain why Prospero accuses Caliban of rape in his famous retort :

I have used thee –
Filth as thou art – with humane care, and lodged thee
In mine own cell, till thou didst seek to violate
The honour of my child. (I.2.345-348)

14Caliban toys with the charge of rape and even sees miscegenation as a way of extending his family and kingdom :

O ho, O ho ! Would’t had been done !
Thou didst prevent me – I had peopled else
This isle with Calibans. (I.2.348-350)

15If colonial sexual violence was indeed the preserve of White men, African rather than European men were accused of raping White women. Of course, African men had a long record, established by the “evidence” of Leo Africanus, Jean Bodin and Francis Bacon in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of being lustful to the point of indulging in beastly copulations with apes.26

16 In Mannoni’s Prospero and Caliban, the Malagasy woman is cast as an Ariel or a Sycorax figure, “an archetype of the collective unconscious,” closely linked with the alleged “perils of sex.”27 If Psycho-Rax posed a threat at all to the Prosper-ous settler community, it was in respect to her mastery over human psychology and her power of witchcraft. That power is admittedly limited if we believe Prospero when he boasts that “Sycorax/ Could not again undo” (1.2.290-291) the tormenting spell she had cast on Ariel. One can only speculate on the reasons why Sycorax left Ariel in the cloven-pine for “[a] dozen years ; within which space she died” (1.2.279-280). However, one thing is sure : the “perils of sex” betray anxieties about the power of witchcraft or black magic. Ethnopsychiatrists, including Mannoni, say little about the power of female witchcraft, preferring to dwell on more visible and virile forms of violence.

17 Mannoni was to further refine his position in an article, “The Decolonization of Myself” (1969) in which he does not admit so much to errors as to the necessity to confront the racist pathology, which was toned down in his book.28 The admittedly amateurish ethnologist confesses that he got so personally involved in his observations of the colonizing process that he entered analysis in November 1947 under Jacques Lacan at the Paris-based Freudian School of poststructuralist psychoanalysis.29

18Among his ethnopsychiatric colleagues, Mannoni was one of the few to express dissent and to label the colonizers “racist” at a time when the White settlers of South Africa and the then Southern Rhodesia, were perceived as epic accomplices of the colonizing venture and of empire-building. However, European ethno-psychiatry, despite its sophisticated response to the challenge of African nationalism, was to be assailed by Caribbean and African left-wing intellectuals. By the 1960s, Caliban had become a most necessary idea to topple the invention of ethnopsychiatry, Prospero’s most coldly calculated response to the challenge of Caliban’s revolt. By the time Mannoni wrote “The Decolonization of Myself” (1969), most African colonies had achieved independence and become nation-states, and Aimé Césaire had just premiered Une tempête.

Shakespeare’s Middle Passage

19The theoretical re-inscribing of the Prospero-Caliban encounter on African soil took place concurrently with that on Caribbean soil ; Shakespeare navigated through a Middle Passage, as it were. By the time Aimé Césaire wrote Une tempête, in the collective critical psyche, Caliban was Black and African. Césaire and Frantz Fanon, both Martiniquan, had attacked Mannoni’s perception of Caliban shortly after La psychologie de la colonisation was published in 1950. In gauging Césaire’s irate response to Mannoni, it is useful to know that Mannoni had taught Césaire at the Lycée Schoelcher in Fort-de-France, where Césaire would later teach Fanon.

20 In his “Discourse on Colonialism,” Césaire posits the following “tempestuous” equation : “colonisation = chosification,”colonization amounting to a reification or a thingification ; it “decivilized” the colonizer through the “boomerang effect” and helped resuscitate in him violence and racial hatred. More particularly, Césaire reproaches Mannoni with employing the respectable terminology of psychoanalysis and existentialism to disguise old prejudices and with heralding a psychological interpretation of the Malagasy uprising, which “implies that the oppression of which [the Malagasies] complain is an imaginary oppression.”30 Césaire’s reaction against Mannoni’s “Caliban complex” was to be implemented in his play, Une tempête.

21Another reason for a Caribbean response such as Césaire’s may be found in the early date of The Tempest, 1611, “after the first English contacts with the Caribbean island, as Hackluyt suggests, but before the first colonies were established.”31 Caliban was after all born – “litter[ed]” (I, 2, 282) – on a non-descript island in the Caribbean basin within reach of “the still-vexed Bermudas” (I, 2, 229) where Ariel fetches his dew. But his mother, Sycorax, was from Algiers, which makes her African. Césaire is therefore justified in imagining Caliban’s primal exile in the New World after experiencing the Middle Passage by matriarchal proxy. It is, however, in the larger context of the Paris-based Négritude movement of the 1930s, of leftist European thought as expressed by e.g. Jean Guéhenno in Caliban parle (1928), and of pending decolonization that Césaire’s dramaturgy has to be understood.

22 Césaire’s search for Africa as the ancestral continent hosting his primordial culture started in 1934, in the early years of the Négritude movement, which counted amongst its members, aside from himself, Léon Damas from French Guyana, and Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal. Négritude was in esse a philosophy born of exile, bridging Africa, the Caribbean, and the United States, while being turned toward a quintessentially African past. Like the Barbadian Kamau Brathwaite in e.g. Rights of Passage (1967) and “Caliban” in Islands (1969),32 Césaire thinks of himself as the inheritor of the Middle Passage and the son of uprooted African slaves, “as if [he] was hearing . . . the tossing which the slaves felt in the holds of the slave ships,” and experiencing “the nostalgia of a lost paradise.”33 Jean-Marie Serreau, who was later to call his Paris-based theater “Théâtre de la Tempête,” wanted to stage The Tempest of which Césaire had to write an adaptation ;34 first performed in Tunis in 1968, it is an “adaptation” of Shakespeare’s The Tempest for a New World audience, un théâtre nègre, or, as Richard Miller has it in his translation, “a Black Theater,” which signals the play as both text and performance, as it was premiered at Ubu Repertory Theater in 1991. I here consider it as a text, even though it has yielded other performances such as the first British production of the play in 1998 for the Open University and the Gate Theatre.

23 Césaire’s Une tempête and its translation into American English clearly rest on the opposition between Prospero and his two slaves : Caliban, here “a Black slave,” and Ariel, here “a mulatto slave,” after the mulattoes of Césaire’s native town, Fort de France, who were at that time accorded a higher status than the Blacks, just below that of the French rulers. Césaire’s Caliban is, like Shakespeare’s, a creature of “earth” (I.2.314) but “earth” is here redeemed as the element in which Caliban finds “roots” after experiencing uprootment from the ancestral African soil. Whereas Caliban is a metempiricist with an animistic propensity to give a “soul” to things and the capacity to decode messages from the dead Sycorax, as in African ancestor-worship, Ariel is scornfully deemed the “intellectual” of the play.35 Yet, Caliban is the real thinker, who sees through Prospero’s tricks and vehemently rejects Prospero’s education, culture, and language : “You didn’t teach me a thing ! Except to jabber in your own language so that I could understand your orders : chop wood, wash the dishes, fish for food, plant vegetables, because you were too lazy to do it yourself.”36Caliban also objects to Prospero’s accusations of rape and portrays him as a libidinous, smelly footed, cranky, old doter.

24In dramatizing the nature of colonialism, Césaire adapts to the point of inversion certain elements in Shakespeare’s play. His most radical inversion is the success of Caliban’s revolt. What is overthrown is the embodiment of “Anti-Nature,” Prospero’s Brave New World of Tomorrow, and its foundations : “logic, beauty, harmony.”37 Also, Césaire replaces Shakespeare’s Setebos, an invisible, Patagonian divinity of whom the artful Prospero “would . . . / . . .make a vassal . . .” (I.2.372-373) by Eshu, “a black devil-god.” Eshu, along with Shango, God of lightning, and Ogun, God of iron, evoke the Yoruba (Western Nigerian) pantheon of Gods. Eshu’s preference for black dogs directly harks back to Yoruba sacrificial rituals. Césaire’s presentation of Eshu as an uninvited, disruptive guest is highly significant, since the interpretive act within the African American literary tradition turns on the signifying trope of Eshu, the trickster-linguist figure of Yoruba mythology.38 Eshu or Legba’s domain is, appropriately, the crossroads ; the domain of Baron Samedi in Haiti and the symbol in Voodoo of the intersection of life and death, the human and the divine. At one point, the two-faced, insouciant Eshu joins the fairies and starts an impromptu song in which he portrays himself as a malicious joker, a wino, and a hedonist : “Eshu is a merry elf, / And he can whip you with his dick.”39 This mockery of the ithyphallic stereotype has also the merit of grounding Caliban’s sexual potency in Yoruba religion and its diasporic remnants in the Caribbean.

25Upon Caliban’s rejection of his slave name, Césaire’s Prospero ironically suggests “Cannibal,” thereby de-anagrammatizing Caliban’s name and hinting at Shakespeare’s source for Gonzalo’s vision of a Utopian Commonwealth (II.1.145-154) in Montaigne’s famous essay, “Des Cannibales” :40 “Cannibal would suit you, but I’m sure you wouldn’t like that, would you ? Let’s see . . . what about Hannibal ? That fits. And why not . . . they all seem to like historical names.”41 Césaire here sarcastically alludes to criticism à la V.S. Naipaul that holds that West Indians have had to borrow “historical names,” making all enterprise in the Caribbean one of derivativeness and second-ratedness. Interestingly, of all the possible etymologies put forward by the Vaughans for Caliban’s name – cannibal, Carib(ana), kanibna, Calibia, Kalebon, kalee-Ban, Cauliban – “Hannibal” does not feature among them. Indeed, one sees no connection between Caliban and the statesman from Carthage, who poisoned himself to escape the Romans, except in his role as an anti-imperialist warrior.

26In a renaming gesture, Caliban suggests “X” to connote Prospero’s unnaming, the theft of Caliban’s name and identity : “Call me X. That would be best. Like a man without a name. Or, to be more precise, a man whose name has been stolen . . . you’ve stolen everything from me, even my identity ! Uhuru !”42 Césaire mentions in the same breath “Uhuru” and “Call me X”. “Uhuru” meaning “independence” in KiSwahili, conjures up the Mau Mau revolution of the 1950s, construed by Jomo Kenyatta and, later, by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o as the first step toward Kenyan independence in 1963. “Call me X” refers to the then Afro-American practice of identifying oneself as “X,” after the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, and the U.S. Black Muslim movement then led by Elijah Muhammad. If Caliban is a Malcolm X figure or the Stokeley Carmichael of the Black Panthers and thereby incarnates the “violence” of these movements, Ariel is more like Martin Luther King, who preached non-violence – “I don’t believe in violence”43 – yet met a violent end with his assassination in 1968. More specifically, in the debate between Ariel and Caliban, Césaire contrasts Caliban’s philosophy of explosive violence and W. E. B. DuBois’s more revolutionary stance, especially after the race riots of the Red Summer of 1919, with Ariel’s accommodationism, more akin to Booker T. Washington’s vocational philosophy of self-help for African-Americans. Césaire aims here to bridge the African experience of pre-independence movements with the American Civil Rights Movement.

27 Caliban’s “tempest” of insurrection leads to the destruction of Prospero, himself, and “this island, my inheritance, my work, all blown to smithereens . . . it’ll be signed Caliban.”44 Conversely, Ariel, like the utopist Gonzalo, dreams of a Land of Cockaigne to which everyone would contribute his own qualities, and of changing Prospero. Caliban’s response is to denounce Ariel’s obsequious boot-licking and “Uncle Tom patience.”45 By making Ariel a Mulatto, whom Césaire holds in contempt – Ariel, not Caliban, gets drunk – and Caliban a Negro slave, Césaire anticipates the problems raised during the post-independence era. The post-independent Black is in effect either an Ariel – an Uncle Tom, a “good nigger,” a “moderate nationalist” – or a Caliban – “the bad native, the nationalist, the extremist, the man who will be Prime Minister after independence” –, as James Mason had intuited in another context in his Prospero’s Magic (1962).46 The formerly colonized Caliban then runs the risk of becoming half-White and turning into a neo-conservative Prospero, as he did in Ernest Renan’s 1878 closet drama Caliban.47

28 As A Tempest moves to its closure and after ten years of forced proximity, Prospero offers peace to Caliban, who answers with a tirade in which he envisions the collapse of the Old World at the hands of his own tempestuous violence, which recalls the clenched fist of the Black Power movement : “My bare fist, just that,/ Will be enough to crush your world !/ The old world is crumbling down !”48 Césaire dismantles the resolution of the original Tempest in having Prospero stay, rather than go back to the mother country. Caliban mocks Prospero’s supposed “vocation” in a direct allusion to D.O. Mannoni’s idea of “the colonial vocation.”49 Césaire’s Prospero is thus a “colonialist” in Albert Memmi’s sense, i.e., a “colonizer who agrees to be a colonizer” and stays : “if he should go home, [his position] would lose its sublime nature, and he would cease to be a superior man.”50

29By the end of the play, vermin, insects, and reptiles have infested Prospero’s cell. The once despotic and omnipotent Prospero looks “aged and weary.”51 His magical powers have eroded and he is left alone to ponder the sordidness of colonialism. Caliban proclaims his newly found freedom : “FREEDOM HI-DAY, FREEDOM HI-DAY !”52 after Caliban’s ecstatic drunken song (II.2.179-181) in the original Tempest when he fancies his slavery at an end under Stephano and Trinculo’s fleeting reign. Caliban’s freedom in Césaire’s play is not the illusion of a hiccupping drunkard but the lucid hope of a slave determined to break the bond of dependence. Prospero, not Caliban, is intoxicated in Césaire’s play ; however, the intoxicant is not wine but his “white’ magic !”53 i.e., the poisonous white stuff he is made of, and his addictive need of the colonized.

30 Césaire has conceived the Prospero-Caliban relationship in terms of absolute interdependency, as in the black-and-white chessboard of U.S. race relations, as if Blacks and Whites were “enemy-brothers,” “riveted to each other like two convicts dragging the same chain and ball.”54 Césaire’s play is governed by such dialectics and ends with Caliban’s epilogue, which was originally Prospero’s privilege. Prospero’s demise in Césaire’s play is symptomatic of the decline of Western civilization :

I wanted to show that today’s world, the twentieth-century world was born at the time of The Tempest ; it was born during the Renaissance ; it is the world of reason with all that it entails : science, colonisation, etc. And today we have reached the end of that civilization which ensued on the Middle Ages.55

31At this momentous turn in Shakespeare’s Middle Passage, Caliban is at once Césaire’s mouthpiece, the embodiment of the concept of Négritude as well as the Afro-Caribbean and African American colonized subject. He also documents all to himself the shift from Caliban as native Indian/Caribbean/cannibal to Black African/colonized slave on to the triumphant third-world revolutionary of the late sixties.

 Sub-Saharan “Counter-Shakespeares”

32 The imaginative transfer of Prospero and Caliban from Shakespeare’s fictionally cross-referenced island to Africa also took place in African creative writing rather than exclusively critical treatises such as Sithole’s 1959 African Nationalism. In Kenyan novelist and playwright Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s A Grain of Wheat (1967), John Thompson, a colonial agent committed to the “moral idea” behind the growth of the British Empire had, before going to Kenya, set down his thoughts in a treatise called Prospero in Africa. In this “General History of Colonization from the Roman Times to the present day,”56 he advocates the French policy of Assimilation over British Indirect Rule. However, on the eve of his departure from Kenya, as Uhuru is to be achieved on 12 December 1963, Thompson nostalgically leaves through the paternalistic notes that were to be incorporated in Prospero in Africa and then decides to stay for “Africa cannot, cannot do without Europe.”57 In his new role as a violent District Officer, he becomes a loathsome version of what Albert Memmi termed the self-accepting “colonialist.”58

33As Caliban gains his Uhuru or freedom at long last, the Nigerian Nkem Nwankwo imagines in a poem the words of “Caliban to Miranda” (1969) and predicts that, after “[Prospero’s] fine ingenuities/ Have toppled you back again to rubble/ We Calibans will inherit the earth.”59 Before Caliban comes into his inheritance, he has to identify the source of Prospero’s “magic fraud,” which lies, for Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, in his “books,” especially those in European languages, the then vectors of linguistic imperialism.

34In Homecoming (1972), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o finds in Caliban’s curse the African writers’ predicament, which consists in using the oppressor’s language to communicate with their own people. To Prospero’s schemes of “turn[ing] Caliban into a slave-laborer” after usurping his land, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o opposes African culture’s resilience to European efforts “to completely crush the human spirit.”60 In a later treatise, he denounced the exclusive teaching of European literature in Kenyan universities, which forced students to “see how Prospero sees Caliban and not how Caliban sees Prospero.”61 Needless to say, this move beyond Caliban’s curse had already taken place with the abolition of the English Department at the University of Nairobi and the subsequent setting up of a Department of African Literature and Languages by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Taban Lo Liyong, and Henry Owuor-Anyumba on 24October 1968.

35 This severance from Prospero’s books in turn led to Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s Decolonising the Mind (1986) and the production of “a counter-Shakespeare,” as playwrights started producing their own scripts in KiSwahili, and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o himself writes or translates his own works in Kikuyu. Prospero’s books are not burnt but rather integrated, like Shakespeare, in “the world context of the Black experience.”62 This “counter-Shakespeare” gave the lie to both the Leavisite defense of English studies, which had prevailed until the 1970s, and the inaugural address by Alan Warner of Makerere (Uganda), “Shakespeare in Africa,” which had extolled the effortlessness in the cultural transfer of Shakespeare and the British curriculum on African soil : “African students would study English Literature in order to ‘become citizens of the world.’”63 We find a whiff of this paternalism in Jeremy Gavron’s declaration that “Africa itself has a little bit of Caliban in it” ; the unburying of Shakespeare in the native could require “fifty years, or a hundred, or even two hundred.”64

36If 1973 signals the beginning of the Nairobi Literature Debate (within a decade of Uhuru in 1963), the Africanization of the academic staff, and the streamlining of Kenyan University syllabi to reflect the new African-centered perspectives, 1973 is also the publication date of US-based Lemuel Johnson’s Highlife for Caliban. In his “Calypso for Caliban,” a Freetown Calibanesque “I” prowls airless quays and derelict places thronging with prostitutes and castigates his inheritance from “papa prospero/ papa legba,” which leaves him un-prosperous and dissatisfied, for the promised tempest brought “neither ariel/ nor daughter.”65 Freetown, the city of liberated and resettled slaves, is in neo-colonial thrall to Prospero. Caliban, who is now Head of State, has been debauched by power and has failed to be “wise hereafter” in the African postcolony. Lemuel Johnson remembers his schooling in Sierra Leone and his Calibanesque “profit on’t” : “. . . if at all we learnt ‘language’ in which to curse, it was for the Cambridge University Higher School Certificate.”66 Johnson’s massive Shakespeare in Africa (1998), which appropriates Alan Warner’s Makarere lecture title, intimates that Caliban’s nationalism, like Ernest Renan’s Calibanic Spirit of Democracy, will run its course and will be ousted by a neo-colonial “Prospero in Africa.”

37 From Prospero in Africa in Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’s A Grain of Wheat in the late 1960s to Lemuel Johnson’s Shakespeare in Africa in the late 1990s, a semantic shift has taken place, which amalgamates Prospero and Shakespeare as agents of imperialism in Africa. Yet, if Shakespeare was at one point in time used as an instrument of empire, the instrument has now been bent to suit new uses by its African and Caribbean co-owners.


BARNES, Leonard, Caliban in Africa : An Impression of Colour-Madness, London, Victor Gollancz, 1930.

BELHASSEN, Laure S., “Un poète politique : Aimé Césaire,” Le Magazine littéraire 34 (Novembre 1969), p. 27-32.

BRINK, André, Destabilizing Shakespeare, Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, 1996.

CAROTHERS, John Colin, The Psychology of Mau Mau, Nairobi, Government Printer, 1954.

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CESAIRE, Aimé, A Tempest, trans. Richard Miller, New York, Ubu Reportory Theater Publications, 1992.

COHN, Ruby, Modern Shakespeare Offshoots, Princeton, N. J., Princeton UP, 1976.

DATHORNE, Oscar Ronald (ed.), African Poetry for Schools and Colleges, London, MacMillan, 1969.

DISTILLER, Natasha, Shakespeare and the Coconuts : on Post-Apartheid South African Culture, Johannesburg, Wits UP, 2001.

DURRANT, Geoffrey Hugh, Propaganda and Public Opinion : South African Affairs Pamphlets, Johannesburg, 1944.

DURRANT, Geoffrey Hugh, “Prospero’s Wisdom,” Theoria, 7 (1955), p. 50-58.

GANN, Lewis, The Struggle for Zimbabwe, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1981.

GATES, Henry Louis, Jr., “The Blackness of Blackness, A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey,” in Henry Louis Gates (ed.), Jr. Black Literature and Literary Theory, New York, Methuen, 1984.

HULME, Peter, “The Profit of Language : George Lamming and the Postcolonial Novel,” in Jonathan White (ed.), Recasting the World, Baltimore & London, Johns Hopkins UP, 1993.

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JOHNSON, Lemuel, “Calypso for Caliban” in Highlife for Caliban, Ann Arbor, Mich., Ardis Publishers, 1973.

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JONES, Eldred D., The Elizabethan Image of Africa, The Folger Shakespeare Library, UP of Virginia, 1971.

JORDAN, Winthrop D., White Over Black : American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812,Baltimore, Penguin/Pelican Books, (1968) 1969.

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MASON, Philip, Prospero’s Magic, Oxford, OUP, 1962.

McCULLOCH, Jock, Colonial Psychiatry and “the African Mind”, Cambridge, CUP, 1995.

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SITHOLE, Ndabaningi,African Nationalism, London, OUP, (1959) 1968.

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WILLLOUGHBY, G. “Friends, Schoolchildren … Lend me your Ears !” Weekly Mail, 10/23 (10-16 June 1994), p. 31.

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1  David Johnson, Shakespeare and South Africa, New York, Oxford UP, 1996, p. 199.

2  Martin Orkin, Shakespeare Against Apartheid, Craighall, South Africa, Donker Holdings Ltd, 1987, p. 19.

3  Qtd G. Willoughby, “Friends, Schoolchildren … Lend me your Ears !,” Weekly Mail, 10/23 (10-16 June 1994), p. 31.

4  André Brink, Destabilizing Shakespeare, Shakespeare Society of Southern Africa, 1996.

5  Natasha Distiller, Shakespeare and the Coconuts : on Post-Apartheid South African Culture, Johannesburg, Wits UP, 2001, p. 10, p. 14, p. 11.

6  Eldred D. Jones, The Elizabethan Image of Africa, The Folger Shakespeare Library, UP of Virginia, 1971, p. 17.

7  Geoffrey Durant, Propaganda and Public Opinion : South African Affairs Pamphlets, Johannesburg, 1944, p. 1 ; and “Prospero’s Wisdom,” Theoria, 7 (1955), p. 58.

8  On stage, the first Black Caliban was “ex-boxer Canada Lee in Margaret Webster’s New York Production of 1945.” Ruby Cohn, Modern Shakespeare Offshoots, Princeton, N. J., Princeton UP, 1976, p. 297.

9  Leonard Barnes, Caliban in Africa : An Impression of Colour-Madness, London, Victor Gollancz, 1930, p. 82, p. 73 & p. 76.

10  Roberto Fernandez Retamar, “Caliban : Notes Towards a Discussion of Culture in Our America,” trans. Lynn Garofola, David A. McMurray, Roberto Marquez, The Massachusetts Review (Winter-Spring 1974), p. 24.

11  See Lewis Gann, The Struggle for Zimbabwe, New York, Praeger Publishers, 1981, p. 42.

12  William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Stephen Orgel (ed.), Oxford & New York, OUP, (1987), 1998. All references are in this edition.

13  Ndabaningi Sithole, African Nationalism (1959), London, Oxford UP, 1968, p. 165-166.

14  See Jock McCulloch, Colonial Psychiatry and “the African Mind”, Cambridge, Cambridge UP, 1995, p. 99.

15  Dominique-Octave Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban : The Psychology of Colonization (1956), Ann Arbor, U of Michigan P, 1990, p. 41. First published as La Psychologie de la colonisation, Paris, Seuil, 1950.

16  Ibid., p. 76-77.

17  Ibid., p. 107.

18  Ibid., p. 83n.

19  Ibid., p. 11.

20  Ibid., p. 137.

21  John Colin Carothers, The Psychology of Mau Mau, Nairobi, Government Printer, 1954, passim.

22  Dominique-Octave Mannoni,op. cit., p. 105.

23  Ibid., p. 108-109.

24  Albert Memmi, Portrait du colonisé précédé du Portrait du Colonisateur (Paris, Buchet Castel, 1957), p. 64 ; The Colonizer and the Colonized (Introduced by Jean-Paul Sartre ; New Introduction by Liam O’Dowd), trans. Howard Greenfeld (London, Earthscan, 1990), p. 85-100. For a full discussion of Memmi’s “Nero Complex,” see Chantal Zabus, Tempests after Shakespeare, New York, Palgrave, 2002, p. 34-36.

25  Dominique-Octave Mannoni, op. cit., p. 106.

26  This is amply documented by Winthrop D. Jordan, White Over Black : American Attitudes Toward the Negro 1550-1812 (1968), Baltimore, Penguin/Pelican Books, 1969, esp. p. 32-39.

27  Dominique-Octave Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban, op. cit., p. 114.

28  Dominique-Octave Mannoni, “The Decolonization of Myself,” Race 7 (1966), p. 327-335, trans. Joan Pinkham, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1972, p. 39-43. Originally in Clefs pour l’imaginaire ou l’autre scène, Paris, Seuil, 1969, p. 290-300, p. 293.

29  For more detail, see Chantal Zabus, “Mannoni, Octave,” The Encyclopedia of Postcolonial Studies, Sangeeta Ray and Henry Schwarz, José Luis Villacañas Berlanga, Alberto Moreiras and April Shemak (eds), Blackwell Publishing, 2016. Blackwell Reference Online. 23 February 2016. =

30  Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism, trans. Joan Pinkham, New York, Monthly Review Press, 1972, p. 19, 40. First published in French as “Discours sur le colonialisme” (1950), Paris, Présence africaine, 1955, p. 38-40 (particularly on Mannoni).

31  Peter Hulme, “The Profit of Language : George Lamming and the Postcolonial Novel,” in Jonathan White (ed.), Recasting the World, Baltimore & London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993, p. 123.

32  For a full discussion of Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s poetry, see Chantal Zabus, Tempests after Shakespeare, op. cit., p. 55-66.

33  Qtd Emile Snyder, “Aimé Césaire : The Reclaiming of the Land, Exile and Tradition : Studies in African and Caribbean Literature, New York, Dalhousie University Press, 1976, p. 42.

34  Qtd in L. S. Belhassen, “Un poète politique : Aimé Césaire,” Le Magazine littéraire 34 (Novembre 1969), p. 27-32. The play was published in 1968 in the 67th issue of Présence africaine to be then reprinted by Seuil in 1969.

35  Aimé Césaire, A Tempest, trans. Richard Miller, New York, Ubu Reportory Theater Publications, 1992. Originally, Une tempête, Paris, Seuil, 1969, p. 33.

36  Ibid., p. 12.

37  Ibid., p. 52, 46.

38 See Henry Louis Gates, Jr., “The Blackness of Blackness : A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey,” in Henry Louis Gates (ed.), Jr., Black Literature and Literary Theory, New York, Methuen, 1984, passim.

39  Aimé Césaire, op. cit., p. 48.

40  The passage from the essay “Of the Caniballes” (I.31) has first been pointed out by Campbell in his edition of 1766 as a source for Gonzalo’s description of his ideal Commonwealth. On the etymology of Caliban, see Alden T. Vaughan & Virginia Mason Vaughan, Shakespeare’s Caliban, op. cit., p. 28-42.

41  Aimé Césaire, A Tempest, op. cit., p. 15.

42  Id.

43  Ibid., p. 42.

44  Ibid., p. 23.

45  Ibid., p. 31.

46  Philip Mason, Prospero’s Magic, Oxford, Oxford UP, 1962, p. 88-89.

47  Ernest Renan, Caliban : Suite de “La Tempête”, Paris, Calmann-Lévy, 1878. Césaire also owes Renan the Holy Inquisition’s indictment of Prospero for “heretical perversion” (A Tempest, op. cit., p. 7-8), which he lifted from act IV, scene 5 of Renan’s Caliban, p. 79-82.

48  Aimé Césaire, op. cit., p. 64-65.

49  Dominique-Octave Mannoni, Prospero and Caliban, op. cit., p. 108.

50  Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, op. cit., p. 45.

51  Aimé Césaire, A Tempest, op. cit., p. 68.

52  Ibid., p. 68.

53  Ibid., p. 63.

54  Qtd in Belhassen, Interview, op. cit., p. 32.

55  Ibid., p. 31.

56  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, A Grain of Wheat, London : Heinemann, 1967, p. 48.

57  Ibid., p. 144.

58  Albert Memmi, The Colonizer and the Colonized, op. cit., p. 85.

59  Nkem Nwankwo, “Caliban to Miranda,” in Oscar Ronald Dathorne (ed.), African Poetry for Schools and Colleges, London, MacMillan, 1969, p. 44-45.

60  See Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Homecoming : Essays on African and Caribbean Literature, Culture and Politics, London, Heinemann, 1972, p. 3-21, p. 39-46, p. 8-9, p. 9-10. See also Kofi Awoonor, “Caliban Answers Prospero : The Dialogue Between Western and African Literature,” Obsidian 7 :2/3 (1981), p. 75-78.

61  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, “Literature in Schools” in Writers in Politics : Essays, London, Heinemann, 1981, p. 36.

62  Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind : The Politics of Language in African Literature, London, James Currey ; Nairobi & Portsmouth, N.H., Heinemann ; Harare, Zimbabwe Publishing House, 1986, p. 91.

63  Qtd in Lemuel A. Johnson, Shakespeare in Africa (And Other Venues) : Import and the Appropriation of Culture, Trenton, NJ & Asmara, Eritrea, Africa World Press, 1998, p. 7.

64  In Oluwale Maja-Pearce, Who’s Afraid of Wole Soyinka ? Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Heinemann, 1991, p. 91.

65  Lemuel Johnson, “Calypso for Caliban” in Highlife for Caliban, Ann Arbor, Mich., Ardis Publishers, 1973, p. 33-35.

66  Lemuel Johnson, “Juju,” in Shakespeare in Africa, op. cit., p. 10.

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Par Chantal Zabus, «African Tempests and Shakespeare’s Middle Passage», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], Shakespeare en devenir, N°12 - 2017, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL :

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Chantal ZABUS is Professor of English, Postcolonial Literatures, and Gender Studies at the University Paris 13-Sorbonne Paris Cité. She was trained in Europe, Canada and the United States. Her books include Tempests after Shakespeare (Palgrave 2002) ; Out in Africa : Same-Sex Desire in Sub-Saharan Literatures and Cultures (2014) ; and Between Rites and Rights : Excision in Women’s Experiential Texts and Human Contexts (Stanford UP, 2007), which has recently been translated into French, Entre foi ...