“Un Théâtre d’Intervention”: Two Congolese Adaptations of Shakespeare

Par Rebekah Bale
Publication en ligne le 20 décembre 2017


This paper discusses two post-colonial adaptations of Shakespeare by playwrights from the Republic of Congo. The Hamlet adaptation focuses on Gertrude as a product of forced marriage and the role of spirits in Kongo society. The adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is a radical re-working of the tragedy to highlight the political and violent nature of the post-independence African society.

Cet article analyse deux adaptations postcoloniales de Shakespeare par des dramaturges de la République du Congo. L'adaptation de Hamlet se concentre sur Gertrude comme produit d’un mariage forcé et sur le rôle des esprits dans la société Kongo. L'adaptation de Romeo et de Juliette est, quant à elle, une révision radicale de la tragédie pour souligner le caractère politique et violent de la société africaine après l'indépendance.


Texte intégral

1In the post-colonial period, many authors have turned to Shakespeare in order to present a version of their contemporary situation. This is especially true for African Francophone writers who have found in Shakespeare a way of commenting on the vestiges of colonial power and the disappointments of their current cultural and political space. In this essay, I consider two of these adaptations by writers from the Republic of Congo and examine their polyvalent response to political and cultural conditions in the post-independence era.

Hamlet and Gertrude, the Duel Protaganists ?

2Hugues Serge Limbvani adapted and directed a French language version of Hamlet that toured eleven countries in Central and West Africa as well as cities in North America and Europe during 2004 and 2005. In many of the performances he played Hamlet as well, though in the recorded performance I shall refer to, Mamadou Bomou played the title role.

3Limbvani was born and raised in Congo-Brazzaville although he has now spent more than twenty years in France. He set up the Bokoyani Theatre Company which comprises actors from different African countries ; the word bokoyani means union or alliance in Lingala, the predominant language of south west Congo.

4Limbvani’s adaptation focuses on a woman’s place in society with specific relation to her marriage and the place of the spirits in Kongolese belief systems2. First of all as in the original, of course, we never see Gertrude’s ‘forced marriage’ to old Hamlet. In Limbvani’s adaptation, she speaks about her first marriage in very clear and unambiguous ways. Addressing the audience, alone on stage, she explains the difference between duty and love. Describing her marriage without happiness as unbearable, she comments “il faut agir”, and confesses that she killed her first husband. The questions that Gertrude poses are never satisfactorily answered : why do I have to live with someone I don’t love and didn’t choose ? For her clan or tribe however it is unlikely to be a question that would cause concern. In many parts of Africa and Asia, arranged marriages, some of which might be termed ‘forced’ remain foundational to the culture. Limbvani urges his audience to connect with this situation. In the interview he gives at the beginning of the filmed performance, “ask your grandmother”, he urges, “did they choose their husband ? Ask the question.”

5 For a strongly collective community, the arrangement of a marriage is more a political alliance than anything to do with love. The audience is intended to sympathize with Gertrude. Limbvani’s version suggests that Claudius does nothing unexpected when he claims his brother’s wife and it is the manner of the old king’s death that is creating division within the family. When Gertrude and Hamlet play the closet scene, we hear Gertrude speak of female suffering, being subjected to the wills of men. Limbvani’s comments on his decision are clear, as he describes in the programme notes :

Notre Hamlet se situe en Afrique et devient alors, l’histoire d’une femme… Gertrude aime Claudius, le frère de son mari, et décide d’utiliser à son avantage, afin de légaliser sa relation avec le frère de son mari, la coutume selon laquelle le petit frère peut hériter de la femme de son frère à la mort de celui-ci.3

6Gertrude has been the victim of traditional ways and now attempts to use them for her own benefit. In an interview, Limbvani recounts how a friend’s sister considered suicide when faced with a forced marriage to an older man ; the intimate and revealing nature of Gertrude’s speeches turns the prism through which we view the play and ‘places’ us somewhat closer to a localized and still extant practice.

7 The setting of the play is largely within one or two rooms of the palace, with the final fight scene taking place in a walled garden. This also serves to emphasize the domestic rather than the political aspects of the play ; the whole sub-plot involving Fortinbras and the Norwegian army is cut. The size of the cast, eight actors playing all the roles, also adds to the intimacy and proximity of the characters rather than taking a wider view. The watch, Marcellus and Francesca (a female in this version) are having a tryst rather than looking out for Norwegian soldiers. Horatio teases them when they tell him about the ghost, implying that they have drunk too much or smoked too much marijuana to be accurate witnesses. As far as Hamlet is concerned, this contraction of place makes the claustrophobic nature of the court even more pronounced and holds the tension of his internal struggle in the forefront of the audience’s minds.

8Another factor that adds to the intimacy is the use of song/dance from each actor’s country of origin. In times of emotion or celebration, the music focuses on a kind of ‘hidden’ place within the actor, which contrasts with their ‘official’ speeches in French. Limbvani uses his casting choices as a way of opening up the experiences of his actors. In several scenes such as the wedding of Gertrude and Claudius and the joyous reaction of Ophelia to Hamlet’s love letters, the singing is done in the actor’s native language and is a ‘typical’ or traditional song from their area. Although Limbvani stays close to the text through Jean-Michel Déprats’ translation, these additions suggest a return to one’s culture at moments of importance which contain heightened emotions. This also provides a contrast with the official language of the court and the play, French, which of course still operates as the language of official communication and education, especially higher education, in parts of Central and West Africa.

9 The role of the ghost is the crucial area for Limbvani’s view of the relation between the spiritual and material worlds. It is important to note that the generalized view of Kongolese beliefs is not necessarily those of Limbvani who describes his background as both Congolese and French, but it does shed light on cultural factors that inform the adaptation.

10 In his comprehensive book, Death and the Invisible Powers : The World of Kongo Belief, Simon Bockie explains several key elements in the world view of the Kongo people, who are themselves split into many tribes, and who occupy the area of south western Congo-Kinshasa and south eastern Congo-Brazzaville. In the chapter entitled “The Spirituality of a Communal People”, Bockie charts the importance of the spiritual world in relation to the material :

the well-being of the community, the fertility of the soil, and individual successes or failures depend on ancestral blessings. An inexplicable misfortune or epidemic is enough to make people speculate that the cause is the breaking of the covenant between human and spiritual beings… the broken covenant must first be restored, the essential condition being the recognition and confession of the wrong-doing.4

11 The idea of a ‘broken covenant’ is familiar as a part of Christianity and the role of confession in the Catholic Church resembles this belief. What is important as far as the study of Hamlet is concerned is that the misfortune will continue until confession of the wrong-doing is made. For Hamlet, that is why the ghost returns, for the recognition of wrong-doing has not been made and may not be made as Gertrude and Claudius put their individual happiness above the “well-being of the community”. Bearing this in mind, the spirit in Hamlet has to return in order to resolve the outstanding issues that have poisoned the community of the palace and which have in particular spoiled Hamlet’s ability to function within that community.

12 Another important distinction is made depending on how the death occurs,

[to] the Manianga community [a subgroup of the Kongo] deals with it [death] in two general ways, depending on whether it is natural, that is, the result of old age or other inevitable factors, or whether it is an untimely interruption that can be contributed to kindoki, the exercise of invisible powers.5

13Once again we can see how the ‘untimely interruption’ of old Hamlet’s death can be attributed to Gertrude and Claudius’ ‘invisible powers’. The distinction between natural and unnatural death is one that is considered crucial, for if the death is engineered by ‘invisible powers’, then confession and repentance are needed to restore balance to the community.

14 Kaf Malère, a white French actor, plays the role of the “spectre” or ghost. In a fascinating article on his experiences performing this play, “Un Hamlet Africain”6, Malère explains how the role of the ghost fits into the surrounding culture : “la pertinence réside dans la place accordée a la métaphysique où le monde des vivants côtoie celui des morts.”7 A ghost is a very present thing within this culture, it is not something that appears only at times of trouble and not something that lives elsewhere. When the ghost appears, it is accompanied by a haunting chant which Lieblin describes “as though the body itself were traversed by an electric current.”8 The ghost speaks of its own position through the words of the Senegalese poet, Birago Diop. The poem entitled ‘Breaths’ is one which almost every child in Francophone Africa knows by heart, and which tells us the dead are not dead.9 The double effect of having a canonical poem from Senegal appearing in a canonical English play seems to tie in with Limbvani’s multi-casting strategy.

15 What Lieblin terms the “interpenetration” of the living and the dead is also presented in the movements of the ghost and of the players performing “The Murder of Gonzago”. In both cases, highly-stylised and slow movements remind one of Japanese Noh traditions ; in the play scene, the two players wear Noh-type white masks. The players do not speak ; they only mime the actions of the play. There is not only an open corridor between the living and the dead, but also a similar expansiveness to different theatrical and performative traditions. The ghost carries with him a tiny bell and Claudius, during one scene, appears to ‘hear’ the ghost’s approach. The importance attached to mourning the ghost is contained in the way in which it announces its presence. An African proverb states : “the dead who are not mourned are as unhappy as the living who have no dead to mourn”, and it is this wish to be properly mourned which seems to underlie the ghost’s announcements.

16 Malère makes an interesting connection between the role of the ghost and that of a griot or traditional magician/story-teller. In this adaptation of Hamlet, Polonius tells the King and Queen about Hamlet’s feelings for Ophelia in a griot style, singing the story. He describes the awkward place of these figures in society :

Le griot moderne, comme le fantôme, voyage entre les vivants et les morts à la recherche d’un espace dans l’Afrique contemporaine. Sans fonction, il devient un élément perturbateur dans la société actuelle, un trublion, en chantant non plus les exploits d’un roi… mais les misères de L’Afrique d’aujourd’hui, celles des guerres, de la violence et du SIDA.10

17 The place of the griot is one area in which the traditional forms of cultural exchange have come up against the modern world as it has impinged upon African society. In his interview preceding the recorded performance, Limbvani describes the place of ghosts as “part of daily life”. This inclusionary acceptance of the ghost carries with it the understanding that the ghost is a carrier of memory, who remembers the stories of the community.

18 Alan Sinfield has described the Shakespearean text as having “faultlines”11, places where a fissure can open up a new set of meanings ; for Limbvani, one of the important spaces to be used is the one “which captures the authority of the revenant and the active intervention of the ghost.”12 Just as Gertrude can ‘manipulate’ traditional beliefs for herself as they were imposed upon her, the ghost can be an agent of revenge and of mercy. What is important is not so much what the ghost says but rather its presence, a reminder of the ‘broken covenant’, that is unresolved. If we consider the role of the ghost in Kongo culture, we can see how close this view is to Limbvani’s adaptation. The ghost does not serve only to warn or to inform its audience, but most importantly to assign the task of restoring the covenant between the living and the dead by ‘setting things right’.

19 Finally, another aspect that the director needs to consider is that of the audience. Limbvani explains that for him it was important to take the play to African cities because the audiences there react in different ways. Rather than the polite respect for the performers that he finds in European audiences, African ones tend towards the critical and “when something doesn’t please them, they let you know.”13 For the adaptation to be able to place itself as an African play rather than a European one is clearly one of Limbvani’s main concerns and accomplishments. Interestingly, when the actors speak about their roles, several of them stress how important it was that the play talked about their world and their experiences.14 As Lieblin reminds us, the effect of watching such an adaptation also depends on the place of the audience : “The audacity of Gertrude’s monologue depended on its context of creation, and it would have been pretentious to think I could respond as intensely as someone closer to the immediate situation.”15 Perhaps that is the case, but I think Limbvani makes a valiant effort to challenge that kind of distancing. By having actors sing and dance their own music for example, he allows us to see the artificial barriers of place that were largely erected during the colonial period whilst allowing for the differences in his company to be used and enjoyed. In an interview he speaks about this as “an opportunity and a challenge” and explains his method of dealing with difference : “Their traditions being different, I asked everyone to remain his (her) self. Like that there are several communities, each with its culture, its accent.”16

20 Though I have attempted to link Limbvani’s focus on Gertrude’s pain and the place of the ghost with Kongolese beliefs, it is not a concrete connection. Limbvani himself is as influenced by French and European theatre as he is by his Congolese background. The other actors too bring more than one place with them to the stage. This presence serves to enhance our understanding of Hamlet and also to remind us of the localized nature of culture which is often subsumed under the appellation of ‘Africa’. Limbvani’s adaptation is Franco-African but, as we have seen, relies on and includes other performative traditions within it. As he comments, “I wanted to propose to spectators another reading of this great classic masterpiece, to enable them to rediscover this play and to go once again in search of its truth.”17

21By asking his actors to consider Gertrude’s position as a widow in an African society, he emphasizes the shift in perspective both they and the audience have to make. The lack of choice that overwhelms the character of Gertrude gives us an important addition to our reception of Hamlet in the sense that her choices become more understandable. If we assert that a successful adaptation is one that makes us see the source text in a different light, then Limbvani’s certainly qualifies. There is one other area in which he makes a radical entry into the adapted play and that is with the role of the ghosts. Having discussed at length the beliefs around the dead in Kongolese culture, it is interesting to note that this is where the director chose to focus his work. Pressure on African writers has altered, now no longer fighting a battle for independence, they are immersed in a larger struggle to present their own artistic visions without being tied to the anti-colonial vanguard. As the director himself noted, the reaction from an audience varied greatly and was in turn largely created by the expectations surrounding Shakespeare and theatre in general in that culture.

La Résurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette

22La Resurrection Rouge et Blanc de Romeo and Juliette, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play set ostensibly in apartheid South Africa, was written in French and published in a special edition of the journal Acteurs in 1991.18 While writers such as Sony reflect on contemporary political events, these are often disguised or disfigured through an absurdist and fragmentary form – song lyrics or snatches of other languages for example.

23Born Marcel Ntsoni in a village south of Kinshasa, Sony Labou Tansi is one of the most important African Francophone writers of the latter part of the twentieth century. Primarily known for his novels, he wrote plays, poems and articles in a prolific career that ended with his death from AIDS-related illness at the age of 47 in June 1995. Sony spent his early childhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo and then moved at the age of twelve with his family to the Republic of Congo’s capital city, Brazzaville. He was educated in French and studied literature, before becoming an English and French teacher. He started the Rocardo Zulu Theatre Troupe in 1979, which went on to perform his many plays in Congo, France and North America. His novels, seven of which have been published, are considered some of the most important works to come out of post-colonial Africa. He described himself as a writer of Kongo culture referring to the pre-colonial Kingdom of Kongo, which occupied the western parts of what are now the territories of Congo-Brazzaville, Congo-Kinshasa and Angola.

24 Sony went into politics in the late 1980s and allied himself with Bernard Kolelas, the powerful mayor of Brazzaville, whose political militias fought with the presidential army of Patrice Lissouba during the summer of 1993. Ending up on the losing side of this internecine unrest, Sony’s passport was withdrawn and there is speculation that this meant he could not seek early treatment for HIV infection in France. He and his wife were eventually treated in Paris but returned to Congo, believing that Western medicine had nothing to offer them and turned to “traitement à l’indigénat” (a traditional cure) for help. His wife died two weeks before him in the summer of 1995.

25 The tiny Republic of Congo’s post-independence turmoil has been largely ignored. In the 1970s oil was discovered ; France and Russia competed for influence, with the former colonial power winning out over Moscow. Although nominally ‘Marxist’, the government of Denis Sasso-Nguesso was modeled on French bureaucratic systems and evolved into a blindingly corrupt and inflated civil service solely dependent on oil wealth. When the price of oil fell, there was nothing to show for it and there was general discontent among the population.

26 As a way to ensure a smooth transition to multi-party rule, a Sovereign National Conference was organized in 1992 and Sassou-Nguesso offered to leave his post. Before the election, a large number of tiny political parties sprang up with often no more than extended family as members. Patrice Lissouba was democratically elected but his fierce rivalry with Kolelas and others ensured civil strife was prevalent throughout the early nineties. An all-out civil war between Lissouba’s forces and Sassou-Nguesso’s (supported initially by Kolelas’ Nindjas but more importantly by neighboring Angola) erupted in 1997 and led to Lissouba’s ousting by an Angolan invasion. Sassou-Nguesso was re-installed and won elections in 2002 and 2009 having changed the constitution to allow for a seven-year presidential term.

27 Sony’s work is a mixture of hallucinogenic narrative and biting political satire. He wrote with a sense of urgency, describing his project as seeing “tomorrow with the eyes of today” in the introduction to Life and a Half. His novels and plays do not promise an easy experience of African exoticism. They are violent and absurd with a stunning disregard for the human body, which is subjected to all manner of indignities. Yet, he remains relentless in his desire to make readers take notice, to disturb their sensibilities and to promote compassion and sensitivity where there appears to be only cruelty and corruption.

28 Several of his critics have noted that the form of Sony’s novels distinguish them from realist depictions of post-colonial Africa. Although there are many writers who deal with the political and social impact of independence, few of them interrogate the form of the African novel itself like Sony. His work veers between questioning whether to write at all and a perceived inability to produce anything more lucid than a series of screams.

29 In the mid-nineteen eighties, a group of players travelled from Brazzaville to towns and villages in the far north of the country. During the trip they performed several different plays, both originals and adaptations from classical sources. Their founder and director, Sony, was disturbed to find some places impossible to reach due to the appalling state of the roads. On the next trip he decided to travel by boat to reach villages in the far north where the group performed stories, myths and legends from their own culture and others. There is something very Shakespearean about this moment in which the players perform their works outside, pared down and in the smallest of communities ; a clear reminder of the power and urgency that theatre can possess.

30 The adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is radically political in tone and the author himself describes it as ‘urgent’ in his preface. Moving away from the love story, towards a desperate indictment of a monomaniacal regime, the play disrupts our perception of the original and replaces it with a violent and profound lyricism. In addition, Sony requires the audience to consider the necessity of theatre and by extension the power under which it operates.

31 Phyllis Clark-Taoua, one of Sony’s most considered critics, reminds his readers that his work for the theatre was produced under very different circumstances from his novels. Sony wrote novels and plays simultaneously, seeing them as serving equally vital but different purposes. His reliance on financial support from French organizations made him acutely aware of the criticism that he was ‘writing to order’. However, he believed that having his work read and performed in public made any such claims unimportant. In terms of all of Sony’s writings, funding and sponsorship issues often distracted critics, relating them to Sony’s alleged ‘representation’ of Congo and Africa in general.

32 Sony wrote poetry too, often in Kikongo, and was well aware that writing novels in French and having them published by the large French publisher, Seuil, was a means to an end. His relationship with France and Europe in general was not a smooth one ; in some ways he was part of the post-independence paradox that so many writers have encountered. Whilst relying on funding from sources directly or indirectly linked to the French government, he chose to work within those parameters. Many of his plays were written and performed for festivals and competitions that were at least partially government funded, such as Radio France International and the Festival Francophone de Limoges. Sony’s perceived concessions towards the ex-colonial power’s funding for the arts meant that he attracted both attention and criticism from his peers in Congo and in Europe. The balancing act that many writers face between artistic integrity and the wider dissemination of their work remained especially acute in Sony’s case. Taoua makes a useful distinction within Sony’s work between novels, which he recognized as a European form, and the theatre that was, for him, a more local and immediate medium. She writes that “the theatre’s connection to popular beliefs and values made Sony’s theatre group an effective instrument for local purposes.”19 The characteristic local connection is one that Sony’s theatre shares with Shakespeare and his contemporaries.

33 Wanting to write about the disappointments and alienations of the post-independence era, Sony was reliant on the institutions of the former colonial power to present that message. After the struggle for liberation, he and others were unable to revert to the “sterile nativism” that had shored up dictatorships such as that of Mobuto Sese Seko. Instead, they saw that the rhetoric of a native and glorified past was part of the Western duality that they were attempting to escape. As the post-independence leaders embraced what they thought of as African values, these writers wished to differentiate between their own tribal traditions and the corruption and nepotism of their politicians.

34 As many of the writers of Sony’s generation can attest, independence brought a new set of problems in the form of coups d’état, military rule, fraudulent elections and so on. The breakdown of a coherent struggle toward one clear goal, independence, became a fractured and ruthless struggle between political factions. This led in turn to the native intelligentsia looking for a way out of the impasse. Nationalism became a source of friction and division rather than the glue that had held together the anti-colonial protests. As the lure of the realist novel declined, writers looked for a new aesthetic form with which to write their post-independence experience.

35 Sony’s aesthetic is one of hallucination : his characters are often on the margins between rationality and insanity. They function as part of their absurdist reality but there are heightened moments where violence and sexuality seem to explode in a mass of ‘words as flesh’. Roger Ravet calls this Sony’s “violence engageante, where the work itself takes on a self-critical and ironic stance. The writer seeks a form of commitment both to and from himself and the role given to the reader becomes pivotal. It requires work from the reader to feel the world of Sony’s characters because the author aims for some sort of visceral reaction to it. The paradox is that by writing about fear and disgust, Sony aims to provoke action from the reader whereas the most likely reaction to such horror is abject inaction and passivity. However, Sony demands that the reader review his sense of abjection as the first step in the struggle against the barbarity of the situation.

36In Sony’s work the rules of time and space are fluid ; repetition and dislocation are key elements, which have been used to circumvent the very real censorship that Sony faced. There is little plot, for essentially what happens is the same thing over and over again. In place of narrative drive, there is narrative discourse which re-tells the story in different ways,

in addition to the disrupted narrative perspective, the mixture of direct and indirect discourse, the interspersed flashbacks and unmotivated jumps in narrative time […] one notices a sense of spatial disorientation, a fusion of disparate genres […] and the use of pastiche and parody to subvert authority.20

37 It must also be remembered that as far as Sony was concerned, novels were the means to an end : reaching a wider Francophone audience. His other writings make it clear that he saw each medium as having a specific role in a larger purpose. He did receive a fair amount of criticism from other writers for this position including Hugues Serge Limbvani who was interviewed by Jean-Michel Devessa, Sony’s de facto biographer :

Le Rocardo était officiellement subventionné par le Centre culturel français. Il y répétait d’ailleurs. Aussi bien des Congolais l’ont-ils perçu comme le théâtre pour les Français, comme le théâtre des Blancs. Ce choix effectué par la Coopération française a pesé sur la crise du théâtre congolais et a contribué à son aggravation. C’est normal : quand on aide un seul groupe et qu’on se désintéresse des autres, on ne peut qu’accentuer les difficultés et les contradictions existantes par ailleurs.21

38 It is a difficult path for the writer – being aware of the need for funding in order to put on one’s plays and get novels published while remaining ‘independent’ and not writing ‘to order’. I would argue that Sony, being a prolific and non-traditional playwright, partly chose a Shakespearean play to adapt in order to keep the funding coming in. In nearly all cases where an idea is pitched, one with a familiar and popular basis is much more likely to be taken seriously in financial terms. One imagines that a Shakespeare connection still pitches more convincingly than one without. In the case of the traveling theatre troupe, the combination of health care and theatre seems especially potent. Sony never acknowledged his HIV/AIDs status. Yet, he did acknowledge the importance of theatre as an urgent political act. In addition, he understood the inherent paradoxes in his work especially the need to use the language in which one has been ‘raped’ as he put it.22 He also married his deep-rooted anger at his country’s situation with a rejection of the realist form of writing. The challenge of his aesthetic decisions is in a way the rejection of a base nationalism that he associated with the realist form. Whether or not this was a valid basis for its rejection, he and others link the formal, anti-narrative structures of their work to the disappointment of the post-independence era.23

39 Sony lays out his theory of writing in the foreword to Life and A Half where he states : “I write so that I am afraid inside”24 and identifies himself as another form of human within whom the entire novel takes place. This distancing is reminiscent of his characters that are nameless “stick-figures” who have no ‘roundedness’. We are invited therefore to take the novel as something else, a fable or allegory, which is also a narrative on contemporary events. Rather than forming a united and coherent narrative, Sony’s novels tend to pursue narrative incoherence, which is as much a comment on events such as the Sovereign National Conference as any direct criticism. Narrative incoherence and hyperbolic sexuality and violence form the basis of Sony’s work and it is crucial to link them to his post-colonial aesthetic. Being afraid is what makes him a writer and the grotesque is what makes his readers afraid. This is not the knock on the door in the middle of the night, pace Jan Kott, it is fear felt within the flesh for the chaos and disorder into which it has led. There are no secret police because there is no law and without a society, even a repressive one, humans are free to live over and above their limits – “life and a half.” In some senses, the Sonyian world is a type of repulsive freedom : no society, no laws and a monomaniac leading the way for the rest of the country. It is necessary for Sony to portray the moral corruption that is pervasive, in a manner which also contains the trope of excess in its most shameful sense. Sony uses the terms tropicalitt and mochisme to describe this situation. Tropicalitb in Sony’s work represents an idea of the exotic which is not the exotic the reader is expecting. It is not the tropical descriptions and louche characters that appear in many Western realist novels. It is a sort of negative exoticism, where what is seen and described cannot be understood by anyone, except through the most absurd of lenses. He uses it also to describe his adaptation of French itself where it might be described as providing local color to the novels but in a pejorative manner. Mochisme is the state of rottenness that Sony describes in all his work. It refers literally to over-ripe fruit but is used by Sony to describe a kind of fleshiness and over-ripe fecundity, which is grotesque in appearance. It has also a moral level upon which it represents a deep-rooted and oozing corruption that gradually covers all that it encounters.

40 Achille Mbembé has been one of the foremost theorists of the second phase of post-colonial societies primarily in Africa, most notably in his essay “Notes on the Post-Colony”25 where he documents how African novelists portrayed their corrupt societies by means of the Bakhtinian grotesque. Using the tropes of excess, both digestive and sexual, he explores how novelists like Sony deal with the post-independence situation. It is this regime of violence which forces writers such as Sony into a parodic acceptance of the situation through the figure of excess which pushes aspects of his novels into the realm of the magical realists. For example, when the opposition leader Martial, in Life and a Half, reappears from the dead, he refuses his manner of death ; “I do not want to die this death” is repeated mantra-like throughout the novel. It is never said that he does not want to die, or be killed, but it is the manner of his death that is unsuitable. Through the overt celebrations of minor events, a leader’s return from a state visit or an address to the UN General Assembly is treated as a huge milestone in a country’s history. The excessive display of power hides the lack of real political capital on the world stage. Mbembé argues that the postcolonial subject has to negotiate within very different public spheres and thus both the subject and those subjecting them is in fact emptied out of all meaning, zombified.

41 Another feature that Mbembé identifies is the obsessive concern with orifices and filling them. This serves two purposes at once : first it emphasizes the fecundity of the leaders in their endless procreation which in turn points to inevitable dynastic succession of the dictator. Writers like Sony link impotence and aging to the uncontrollable elements of the dictator’s war on his and other bodies. The irony of being able to mass-produce children such as the series of Jeans in Life and a Half seems to reflect the idea of mass-producing subjects themselves. Just as the dictators in Sony’s novels are interchangeable so are the ‘children’, their subjects. It tends to be these subjects who often unwittingly disturb or dissolve the fantastical attempt at majesty put forth by the powers in charge : “in the postcolony the search for majesty and prestige contains within elements of crudeness and the bizarre that the official order tries hard to hide, but which ordinary people bring to its attention, often unwittingly.”26

42 The features of autocratic rule, mass ceremonial rituals and the treatment of women as reproductive machines, are reflected in the writing that appears in the form of speeches, press releases and pronouncements from the government. These contain various rhetorical devices that support the power and authority of the autocrat ; they include repetition, listing, hyperbole and generalizations with a focus on the dream-like world of the future.27 Sony uses all these devices throughout his novels yet he uses them in the service of the opposite cause ; to dispel the myth of the autocrat and to satirize the leadership style that it uses.

43 It is important to note that the postcolony as conceived by Mbembé is not a structure of binary opposition between the government and the governed. Instead it is a place in which the tyranny of the governed is intimately linked to the tyranny of the government. The subjects reproduce the system that controls them in their own systems such as social relations, ways of dressing, rituals, and rhetorical devices. The structure of the violent grotesque becomes the structure of the society not just from the top down but also between its subjected members. On the level of language too, Sony creates a sort of hyper-French, replete with neologisms and fractured word play. In the autocratic state, language is over-used in certain ways to bolster and protect the powers that be ; to create a prestige that is lacking and to reinforce the notions of control and inevitability that are necessary for the state to remain in charge. Sony’s language plays on the absurdity of these statements and becomes a means through which he can step outside of the language and point at the futility of its supposed certainties. What is important is that for Sony, this use of language is a direct political comment on the mochisme or rottenness that he perceives around him.

44 Sony’s novel, The Shameful State (2016), describes the abjection of the subject body into an absurd and repetitive violence. The novel tells the story of dictator Martillimi Lopez, whose rule degenerates into a series of killings which become more violent and more inventive in their subjugation. Several critics have identified shame as the overarching post-colonial condition ; beginning with the shame of being conquered by an outside force, through failure to protect those vulnerable to the shame of the independent nation that cannot feed its citizens. It is this factor that Sony uses to bring out his idea of the shameful state, the state that reduces its constituent parts to their abjection. For him, there is nowhere else that one can turn to in such a position except to the embrace of shame. The concept of the flesh and the “flesh as password” (chair mot de passe) is significant to Sony, for the body that dies is also the flesh that refuses to die. No matter how many times or in how many ways the body is corrupted, mistreated and killed, somehow it lives on. The materiality of the body is crucial to Sony, for it is what in a perverse sense cannot be destroyed. Individuals are killed endlessly in his work, but they somehow remain characters, ‘passwords in flesh’ that send messages to other bodies in other times.

45 The body is a container of shame, but also a container of the aesthetic revolution : “la manipulation du corps chez Labou Tansi rentre dans une esthétique de l’exorcisation du mal toujours à venir.”28 The body functions as a site of memory for Sony and in several of his novels and plays we see the body being inscribed and re-inscribed with the political history of the time. The body and its destruction continue to speak to the people as a witness. We shall see this repetition of testimony in the adaption of Romeo and Juliet where the play ends with a testament from each of the protagonists. The long-ranging memory of the body’s death keeps it in the public sphere. Equally, the visceral description of what is done to various bodies is crucial to their continued public role. Rather like in Elizabethan England, one is not merely killed ; dismemberment, gutting, disemboweling are all part of the Sonyian world making the spectacle of the shameful body visible to the rest of the population.

46The play is set in South Africa in the early nineties. The racial mixture is overt ; the cast list has the characters identified by race or racial mix. The tableaux into which Sony divides the play and which he uses in several other plays speak to stasis not action. It is more like a series of snapshots than a narrative. This is one of the advantages of adapting a classic work – one assumes that most people will know the original. Yet, there is a paradox here, for it limits the work if one has to make that assumption. If performed at the Festival of Limoges, then the chances are that your audience will know the play but if it is performed on a boat on the Congo River, can and should one make that same assumption ?

47 It is conceivable that some of the audience would have a working knowledge of the story but unlikely that many of them, if any, would have read or seen Shakespeare’s play. The more interesting question is : does it matter whether they have any knowledge of Shakespeare ? I would argue that though the audience may have an idea about star-crossed lovers and feuding families, it does not matter if their knowledge doesn’t go any deeper. Sony’s play is so different from the original that it seems only to retain that ‘whiff’ of Shakespeare that comes from the names of the characters and their thwarted love story. I contend that although an audience in France would arrive at the theatre with a set of expectations based on their Shakespeare experience, it actually makes no difference to the play’s impact upon them. There may be certain pieces of dialogue or characters such as the Nurse which call Shakespeare’s play to mind but that the audience ultimately takes from Sony’s play that which he wishes them to grasp – the monstrous absurdity of a political system that venerates violent death.

48 In the first scene, a Montaigu talks about “cultivating some legitimacy”, stating that “law is the thermometer of civility”. The law appears as a ghost in a reminder of its ‘ghostly’ applications. It is a spectral force which appears and disappears without any particular rationale. The nature of its appearance and its ‘apparitions’ ‘color’ the law itself. There is an illusion of rule of law but being seen, behaving in a certain way, is most important. One of the Montaigus describes politics as “the art of snacking on the future in small pieces”. The implication is that one’s political actions now affect one’s future wealth in both material and political senses. What happens to the law in the context of a dictatorship is an overwhelming focus on documentation : proofs, parchments and depositions. The Prince figure can only speak through another voice. He is as mute as the law which has to be articulated through (others’) voices. He doesn’t have his own voice therefore what might be taken as the voice of reason is endlessly deferred.

49 In the scene entitled ‘The Second Morning’, the trappings of the law are presented – the ghost dressed “in the law’s colors”, the bugle, the declamation of the parchment and the violations which have been committed. The Prince never speaks directly but only through a spokesman. Every time the fights break out, he wanders around in the aftermath and then once he gives his decision through the spokesman, another fight inevitably starts because the two sides continue to apportion blame. At the end of his tether, the Prince finally decides on a tennis match in which the winner will take the loser’s goods and the loser will be banished.

50 The power of hatred is a force that crosses boundaries. Romeo desires an exit from the hatred in which he is trapped. He sees Juliet as an exit but also as the precursor to continued hatred. During his first conversation (with Balthazar) he is not pining for a woman but for an end to hate, “I’m dying to love while all around me enflame and cultivate hate. Everywhere smells of iron, fire and powder.”29 It is Balthazar who reminds Romeo that Juliet thinks of him and that he can go to make love to her that evening at the Capulet party. Balthazar, being a member of the musicians’ party, is certain that he can get Romeo in and engineer his meeting with Juliet.

51 The feud feeds off itself so that every death is another reason to continue the feud, and every death leads to a further death. The distinction between the Capulet parents is stark : while Papa Capulet tries to dampen his wife’s hatred, she accelerates it. It is unusual to find hate portrayed as a feminine emotion, especially in such a violent manner. However, it is not unique in Sony’s work : Chaidana, in Life and a Half, is the main vehicle of resistance to a succession of inept leaders. She manages to kill many of them through sex. Here, again, love and death, particularly violent death, is inextricably bound up with political resistance. Although women suffer from many, many forms of violence in Sony’s work, they are also its perpetrators and have to share responsibility for the cycles of violence which pervade the novels and plays. Papa Capulet tells his wife : “hate finishes by being tedious and boring”. However, she revels in it, responding : “this hate fits me like a velvet dress”. Not until the end of the play does she appear to have any remorse over the violence that she has helped to orchestrate. When she finally collapses, it is over Juliet’s death, only a few lines from the end of the play. It is interesting to speculate on the inclusion of hate as a feminine characteristic which the feud passes from mother to child as a kind of intrauterine flow.

52 It is almost negligible for Sony to address tribal/clan wars through another playwright’s work, even that of Shakespeare. As Coulon points out he really has no need to take on Shakespeare’s work on family feuds, love and death.30 His own theatre troupe had put on a piece about a Northern Congolese marrying a woman from the South, though the manuscript for this has never been found.

53 Coulon argues that Sony’s adaptation is directly related to the situation in South Africa. Sony comments in his preface, “Much of it [the play] comes from South Africa” and this explains, at least partially, the racial mixture and its specificity. It is important to keep in mind how segregated South African society was before the landmark elections of 1994, and that for Sony, as for many others, the South Africa of the early 1990s was as ossified as it had been in the early 1950s. At the same time, we should not forget Sony’s desire to express the moral and political situation in the Republic of Congo. It was not advisable for Sony to overtly describe the situation in his own country, instead he did what Coulon calls “toucher la raison à travers le Cœur”,31 in effect to write about love and death, matters of the heart, which points to the lack of reason as a cause. Despite the characters of the Prince and the Voice of Authority in the play, (the only ones not racialized) there is in fact no sense of reason operating within society. Every action is a reaction to the previous set of insults, injuries and deaths. The two ‘characters’ not given a racial identity, who are supposed to be ‘above’ racial judgments, in fact suggest exactly the opposite. The Prince and the Voice of Authority who at times appear interchangeable are not assigned a racial category. These characters might be assumed to represent the law as objective and applicable to all. However Sony’s treatment of them as disembodied voices does not add to their power, rather it makes them seem removed and distant from the ‘real’ characters. Furthermore, the lack of power shown in the law is one of the key elements of the play. The Prince attempts several times to force the participants into a set of behaviors ; his threats and actions are often talked about and ignored. One example is the tennis match arranged purportedly to bring an end to the feud once and for all. It takes place as a grand spectacle, the crowd wearing palm fronds and shouting, the flags waving and the “100 music pieces, 100 hymns, 100 slogans.” The match lasts for a day and a night until finally Romeo is defeated, his punishment is to be banished just as the Prince had promised. Although the sentence is carried out, and the Prince does not listen to the ‘jazzman’ Balthazar when he appeals for clemency, the feud does not dissipate. In fact, it intensifies as never before, the match having an incendiary rather than calming effect.

54 Another strand of Coulon’s incisive analysis is the role of “l’amour qui tue”, the love that kills. She sees this not only through the Shakespearean lens of “my only love sprung from my only hate” but also from martyrdom or sacrificial death point of view. Romeo, in Sony’s version, dies by his own hand just as in Shakespeare. But Romeo, in Sony’s play, does not die because Juliet is dead, he kills himself as vengeance for all those deaths that have preceded him, part of “un amour sacrificial, un amour martyr.”32 The rôle of martyr in the Congolese context is one that Sony elaborates on in an interview with his metteur en scène, Guy Lenoir :

nous avons, dans le monde du Congo, un réservoir, une sorte de mine de martyrs […]. Il y a un grand nombre de gens qui sont morts chez nous depuis le XVe siècle : Béatrice du Congo a été brûlée, comme Jeanne D’Arc l’avait été, simplement parce qu’elle était nationaliste.33

55It is not of course, that other cultures lack martyrs, rather that the Congo is always already uppermost in Sony’s mind when he presents the adaptation. It is crucial to remember that he is first and foremost a Congolese writer.

56 The nurse’s role remains as vulgar as in Shakespeare and retains also the role of foil to Juliet’s mother. In fact the negotiations over Juliet read more like a dating agency application than a marriage contract, including, as usual, age group, wealth, prowess, alcohol. The memory of the Nurse’s daughter Susan as the absent shadow of Juliet remains. The story that the nurse tells of Susan is also a critique of her own lust and lack of restraint. These details are included, I would argue, in order to reinforce the ghostly absence of all the people who have died and the repetitive nature of death.

57 Sony’s novels also dwell on the repetitive nature of death through the characters of Martilli Lopez, Martial and Ernsta Bentina, in The Shameful State(1979), Life and a Half (1981) and The Seven Solitudes of Lorsa Lopes(1985) respectively. Is there a sense in which Romeo does want to die this death ? Death is the only factor over which the citizens have a choice, which is bizarre, as death is the one thing over which we usually have no choice. In a totalitarian state the only element of choice is the way in which you are able to die. Sony constantly plays with this idea : choosing death, choosing the right kind of death are important themes within nearly all of his work.

58 In her essay, “Is there a Specifically Francophone African Stage Textuality ?” Judith Miller identifies certain features of post-independence theatre that are characterized by a concern with form over content. She defines it thus : “[T]heir [Sony Labou Tansi and Koffi Kwahule] theatrical production is resolutely allegorical and distinguished by a volatile lyricism and defiant sociopolitical denunciation.”34All of these concerns can be clearly observed in the play and they show the fore-grounded nature of the adaptation. The story’s arrangement is moved from the day/night structure of Shakespeare to a ‘cosmic time’ used by Sony to alienate and confuse. The spatial dimension remains vague yet focused upon an African society. The theatricality is highlighted with the lexical and syntactic creativity at the fore-front. The farce-like nature of several of Sony’s plays counteracts the violent seriousness of their content. In La Resurrection too the over-played tennis match, the righteous anger of the Prince and the desire for death that Romeo exhibits are all meant to highlight the absurd position of the post-independent state.

59 The use of a sport match as a means to portray the absurdity and random nature of living in such a society is not unique to this play. In Les Parenthèses de Sang (2002), the first scene of the play is prefaced by an announcer who compares life in contemporary Africa with a soccer match, life which moves “between two forms of violence in which all players are covered and the referee is insane. The announcer tells us, in a gesture that recalls Brecht that the only possible partner to whom one might pass the ball is the audience.”35 The link between sport and violence is an obvious one but as in many other aspects, Sony pushes the image into another context where the tennis match becomes the reason for banishment. In some ways it is an appropriate modern-day version of a duel in which two participants fight to the death for the honour of their families.

60 Similarly in La Résurrection, the environment in which the characters operate is one of death ; Juliet describes “a country of the dead”, “the cockroaches and the toads”, “these fields of skulls”.36 The link between love and death is hardly surprising ; however what is different from the Shakespearean version is the political nature of the relationship. Romeo, here, is a martyr not to his love for Juliette but in his desperation over the ‘necro-society’ by which he is surrounded. The choice to die is the only choice that the members of this claustrophobic and hopeless society can make. The choice of the manner of one’s death is a consistent theme and reflects both the hopelessness of life under political tyranny and the black humor through which Sony maintains an element of optimism. For if we can at least choose our death, we are not powerless but resisting beings who through a martyr-like sacrificial action can reclaim some sense of agency.

61The ‘odor’ of humanity, as Sony calls it, is what we gain from his plays. Theatre is, for Sony, an urgent means of communication, which can catch that ‘whiff’ of the real that contains a spark of divinity. He describes it as “un petit côté quotidien qui l’attache à la masse, qui lui donne une odeur d’humanité, de mythe, de divinité […]. C’est ce qui à mon avis fait la grandeur et le charme de Shakespeare.”37 Though his characters are generally faced with unending violence and hopelessness, he does present them with that spark to resist in the only ways that they can. Often that means through the deaths of themselves and their families, often it means becoming mad or violent or both. According to Sony, we are caught within ‘parentheses of blood’ and our death may be the only part of our lives over which we have control. This resonates not only with Romeo and Juliet, but also perhaps with Lear and Macbeth whose actions and reactions create more and more bloodshed. Some of the most powerful words in the play are, typically for Sony, spoken post-mortem : the testaments of Romeo and Juliette.

62 There is often a sense of inescapability and claustrophobia, which pervades the atmosphere in the adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. The Shakespearean version has produced the cliché of star-crossed lovers whereas Sony’s play focuses less on the characters themselves and more on the closed circle in which they live. Placing the emphasis on the society rather than its members has an effect on their characterization too. In La Résurrection Rouge et Blanche, we can see this through the Prince, a character who speaks but only through others. However, it can also be argued that neither Romeo nor Juliette are more than mouth pieces for their love and their families’ hatred. Many characters in Sony’s plays are almost one-dimensional : it is fitting that the most fully developed characterization of them comes through their testaments after death.

63 Romeo’s testament is written to Juliette as if she will live, and he urges her to use his death to live better and more freely. “Choose laughter over tears as I chose death to live” he urges her, reflecting back on the love as sacrificial death theme. Juliette addresses Romeo explaining how she is unable to consider life after he is dead. She also addresses the senseless quarrel reminding those involved that “you don’t need me to give you hate for you to hate.” There is no happy end here nor would we expect one. However, what is different in Sony’s adaptation is the feeling of cyclical and unending violence. There is no reconciliation between the parents and although there is a sense of loss : “the tragic tax that our two houses pay for arrogance and it’s paid in cash”, even the use of the word tax reminds the audience of the inescapability of state-mandated violence.

64 In conclusion, Sony’s adaptation, like many if not all of his other works, moves into an area of hyperbole which matches the excessive nature of the dictatorial regime against which he pushes. In the realm of language, characterization, theme and plot Sony’s work is always up against the boundary : what is taboo, over-stated and overflowing is what he displays.

65Patrick Berthomeau’s obituary in Sud-Ouest, 16th June 1995 stated :

110 comédiens, plasticiens, écrivains mais aussi des ethnologues et des médecins remontèrent le fleuve Congo sur 1200 kilomètres, donnant au passage représentations théâtrales, conseils de santé et recueillant la parole africaine et les mythes qu’elle véhicule.38

66Combining vital health information with story-telling and dramatic performances while traveling by boat through some of the most remote areas on the planet seems both Shakespearean and African, keeping the urgency of Sony’s “théâtre d’intervention” at the forefront of Shakespearean adaptation. It seems appropriate to conclude by mentioning a practical example of how vital theatre and in particular theatrical adaptation remains to those outside the Western arts world.


BOCKIE, Simon, Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief, Bloomington/Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1993.

COULON, Virginia, “Une Lecture Congolaise de Shakespeare : La Resurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette de Sony Labou Tansi”, in Mathieu-Job, Martine (dir.), L'Intertexte à l'œuvre dans les littératures francophones, Bordeaux, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2003, p. 39-59.

DIOP, Papa Samba, and Xavier GARNIER (dir.), Sony Labou Tansi à l'œuvre, Actes Du Colloque International Organisé Par Les Universités Paris 12 et Paris 13, les 15 et 16 mars 2007, Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 16 Jan. 2014

GBOUABLE, Edwige, “Langage du Corps et Voix d'Auteur dans le Theatre de Sony Labou Tansi : Une Ecriture de l'Alibi”, L'Espirit Créateur 48.3 (2008), p. 17-24.

KADIMA-NZUJI, Mukala, “Sony Labou Tansi tel que je l'ai connu”, Présence Francophone, 52 (1998), p. 9-19.

LIEBLEIN, Leonore, “Nuancing Diversity: The Bokoyani Company Hamlet”, Alt.theatre: Cultural Diversity and the Stage, vol 4:2, 2006, p. 22-24.

LIMBVANI, Hugues Serge, Hamlet,Collection Copat, 2004 DVD.

LIMBVANI, Hugues Serge, Hamlet,Press release http://boyokanikyeseli.voila.net/spectacle/Hamlet/dossierpressehamlet.pdf)

MALÈRE, Kaf, “Un Hamlet Africain”, Horizons Maghrébins, vol. 53, 2005, p. 163-171.

DEVESSA, Jean-Michel, Sony Labou Tansi : Ecrivain de la Honte et des Rives Magiques du Kongo, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1996.

MBEMBÉ, Jean-Achille., “Necropolitics”, Public Culture 15.1 (2003), p. 11-40.

MILLER, Judith G., “Is There a Specifically Francophone African Stage Textuality ?”, Yale French Studies (2007), p. 131-144.

NGAL, Georges, “La dramatisation de l'écriture chez Sony Labou Tansi”, Présence Francophone (2009), p. 152-163.

TANSI, Sony Labou, La Résurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette, Paris, Seuil, 1990.

TAOUA, Phyllis, “Performing Identity : Nations, Cultures and African Experimental Novels”, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 14.2 (2001), p. 193-219.


1  Rebekah Bale, “La Délinquance Idéologique : Sony Labou Tansi and the Political Love Story of Romeo and Juliet”, International Journal of English Language & Translation Studies, 4(4), 2016, p. 164-171.Retrieved from www.eltsjournal.org.

2  The word ‘Kongo’ refers to the ancient kingdom of Kongo which pre-dated colonialization, however the word is used now to refer to the tribe which inhabits the areas of south west Congo-Kinshasa and west of Congo-Brazzaville.

3  “Our Hamlet is set in Africa and becomes then the story of a woman… Gertrude loves Claudius, her husband’s brother and decides to use to her advantage, the custom according to which the younger brother can inherit the wife of his brother after the brother’s death, as a way to legalize their relationship” (my translation).

4  Simon Bockie, Death and the Invisible Powers: The World of Kongo Belief, Bloomington/Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1993, p. 18.

5  Ibid., p. 36.

6  Kaf Malère, “Un Hamlet Africain”, Horizons Maghrébins, vol. 53, 2005, p. 165.

7  “It is the closeness and the materiality of the ghost which is frightening, for they live always with the living, in their world”(my translation). What is relevant here is the place accorded to metaphysics where the world of the living and the dead exist side by side.

8  Leonore Lieblein, “Nuancing Diversity: The Bokoyani Company Hamlet”, Alt.theatre: Cultural Diversity and the Stage, vol 4 :2, 2006, p. 22.

9  The poem ‘Breaths’ by Birago Diop is as follows :

10  “The modern griot, like a ghost, travels between the living and the dead, searching for a space in contemporary Africa. Without a role, it becomes a disturbing element within present-day society, a trouble-maker, no longer singing about a king’s exploits but the miseries of Africa today, wars, violence and AIDS” (my translation). Kaf Malère, Hamlet,Press release, p 3 http://boyokanikyeseli.voila.net/spectacle/Hamlet/dossierpressehamlet.pdf)

11  Allan Sinfield, “Introduction: Reproductions and Interventions”, inPolitical Shakespeare, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1985, p. 154-158.

12  Leonore Lieblein, art. cit., p. 1.

13  Ibid., p. 3.

14  Interview with cast members on DVD. Hamlet, Collection Copat, 2004.

15  Leonore Lieblein, art. cit., p. 3.

16 Interview with cast members on DVD. Hamlet, Collection Copat, 2004.

17  Programme note, translated in Leonore Lieblin, art. cit., p. 5.

18  It was later re-published in Colette Scherer (ed.), Catalogue des pièces de théâtre africain en langue française conservées à la bibliothèque Gaston Baty, vol. 3, Paris, Presses de la Sorbonne Nouvelle, 1995.

19  Phyllis Clark-Taoua, “Performing Identity: Nations, Cultures and African ExperimentalmNovels”, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 14.2 (2001), note 3, p. 195.

20  Ibid., p. 213.

21  Jean-Michel Devessa, Sony Labou Tansi : Ecrivain de la Honte et des Rives Magiques du Kongo, Paris, L'Harmattan, 1996, p. 192. “Le Rocardo was officially subsidized by the French Cultural Centre. The French cooperation agency wasn't shy about highlighting that. Therefore, many Congolese saw it as French or "white" people's theater. The choice made by the French Cooperation Agency weighed heavily on the Congo theater crisis and contributed to its aggravation. This should have been expected because when you help only one group and are disinterested in others, it can only exacerbate existing difficulties and contradictions” (my translation).

22  Politically Sony and the French government were on opposing sides during the civil war. The side supported by the French government won.

23  Writers such as Ahmadou Kouroma and Yambo Ouologuem are seen as being part of this innovative approach.

24  Sony LabouTansi, Alison Dundy, Dominic Thomas, Life and a Half: A Novel, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 2011, p. 1.

25  Achille Mbembé, “Provisional notes on the postcolony”, Africa, 62 (1), 1992, p. 3-37.

26  Ibid., p. 8-9.

27  Ibid., p. 16.

28  Eugène Nshimiyimana, “Les corps mythiques de Sony Labou Tansi : figuration et ‘mnémotopie’”, Études françaises, 41 (2), 2005, p. 89. “The manipulation of body in Labou Tansi’s work goes back into an aesthetics of exorcizing (the body) of the evil always to come” (my translation).

29  My translation.

30  Virginia Coulon, “Une Lecture Congolaise de Shakespeare : La Resurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette de Sony Labou Tansi”, in Martine Mathieu-Job (dir.), L'Intertexte à l'œuvre dans les littératures francophones, Bordeaux, Presses Universitaires de Bordeaux, 2003, p. 40.

31  Ibid., p. 44.

32  Ibid., p. 41.

33  Ibid. “We have in the world of Congo, a reservoir, a sort of martyr’s mine [….] there have been a large number of people who have died here since the 15th century : Beatrice of Congo was burned, as Joan of Arc was, simply because she was a nationalist” (my translation).

34  Judith Miller, “Is there a Specifically Francophone African Stage Textuality ?”, Yale French Studies (2007), p. 134.

35  Ibid., p. 136.

36  Sony Labou Tansi, La Résurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette, Paris, 1990, Seuil, p. 176 (my translation).

37  Sony Labou Tansi, Introduction to La Resurrection Rouge et Blanche de Romeo et Juliette, op. cit., p. 1: “A small daily aspect that attaches it to the mass, that gives it a smell of humanity, of myth, of divinity […]. That is in my opinion, what makes the grandeur and charm of Shakespeare’s work’’ (my translation).

38  Patrick Berthomeau, Sud-Ouest, 16/06/1995: “110 comedians, plastic artists, writers but also ethnologists and doctors travelled 1200 kilometres along the Congo river, performing theatre along the way, while giving health advice and harvesting African speech and the myths that it conveys” (my translation).

Pour citer ce document

Par Rebekah Bale, «“Un Théâtre d’Intervention”: Two Congolese Adaptations of Shakespeare», Shakespeare en devenir [En ligne], Shakespeare en devenir, N°12 - 2017, mis à jour le : 28/12/2019, URL : https://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr:443/shakespeare/index.php?id=1098.

Quelques mots à propos de :  Rebekah Bale

Rebekah Bale received her doctorate in English Literature from the University at Albany, State University of New York, including a dissertation on contemporary African and Asian adaptations of Shakespeare plays. She had previously studied Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong with a thesis on the novelistic in the later work of Roland Barthes. She currently teaches at the Institute for Tourism Studies, Macao S.A.R, China. Her article “La Délinquance Idéologique : Sony Labou Tansi ...