What may have led Césaire to respond to a play by Shakespeare in writing A Tempest rather than producing an entirely new work? 

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Cesaire may have done this as The Tempest is of course a world-famous play, and on basing his own work on it Cesaire could therefore hope to reach a wider audience, a ready-made audience, as it were. He could put a new twist, and new interpretation, on well-known characters and their actions. For instance, Ariel and Caliban take on new guises while retaining many of the same characteristics and relationship to Prospero: they are both bound to serve him, as in the original play, but in this play Ariel is human, a mulatto, instead of a spirit, and Caliban is a black man rather than the monstrous offspring of a witch.

Cesaire also has a conscious political aim in reworking The Tempest. His play keenly examines key issues and themes of the original in the light of post-colonial criticism. Post-colonial criticism has been a significant literary approach since the later twentieth century when many countries all round the world liberated themselves from European imperialism and European literary works began to be re-examined for their imperialist leanings. The imperialist themes of The Tempest have often been noted by post-colonial critics, with Prospero being seen as a European overlord and Caliban as a victim of this colonialist oppression. Cesaire makes this quite explicit in his play, foregrounding the issue of Caliban and his freedom.

A committed politician as well as poet and playwright, and dedicated to advancing the principles of 'negritude' –the term he coined for the positive reclamation by black people of their identity and heritage – it is little surprise that Cesaire chose to respond to a play that forms a key literary text in post-colonial criticism.

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