Clark, John Pepper
John Pepper Clark 1935-
Born Johnson Pepper Clark Bekederemo.
Clark is one of Nigeria's foremost anglophone dramatists and poets. In his plays he unites Western literary techniques with themes, images, and speech patterns drawn from traditional African theater. He also incorporates elements of the myths, religion, and folklore of his people, the Ijaw, and utilizes masks, drum rhythms, and dance. By integrating aspects of both African and Western cultures in his plays, Clark comments on the effects of English colonization on Ijaw society and the consequences of eroding cultural traditions.
Clark was raised in a fishing village located in the Delta region of Eastern Nigeria. The son of an Ijaw tribal leader, Clark was among a minority of children to attend elementary school, and as a young boy he decided to become a writer. He later attended the Government College in Ughelli and later earned a bachelor's degree in English at University College Ibadan, a branch of the University of London. While in school, Clark and a group of fellow students founded the Horn, a publication for which Clark served as editor and where he began to publish his poetry. In 1960 Clark wrote his first dramatic work, Song of a Goat, which was staged in Ibadan the following year. After graduation, Clark worked as a journalist, editor, and feature writer in Lagos for Express newspapers. His success as a journalist resulted in his being awarded a fellowship to study at Princeton University in the United States. Clark did not complete the program but returned to Nigeria, whereupon he accepted a position teaching English at the University of Lagos. In 1964 he published America, Their America, which chronicles his experiences and impressions of American society. Clark served as the Department Head of English at the University of Lagos until his retirement in 1980. He is currently the director of the PEC Repertory Theatre in Lagos.
Clark's first four plays are verse dramas, and they demonstrate the influence of William Shakespeare and T. S. Eliot, as well as Ijaw folk literature. Song of a Goat has often been compared to both classical Greek drama and Shakespearean tragedy. Set among the Ijaw, the play tells the story of a fisherman whose impotence leads his frustrated wife to consult a masseur. The masseur advises the wife to conceive a child with her husband's brother. After the affair has been consummated, both the husband and his brother commit suicide. The Masquerade continues the story, focusing on Tufa, the child born of the taboo union in Song of a Goat. Grown to manhood, he becomes engaged to a beautiful, strong-willed woman. When the circumstances of Tufa's birth become known to the family of his betrothed, her father forbids the marriage, but she refuses to abide by his decision. In a violent conclusion, all die. Song of a Goat and The Masquerade share a relentless aura of gloom; and in both neighbors function as a chorus, commenting on the tragic happenings.
Clark's third play, The Raft, traces the misadventures of four men on a raft who attempt to bring logs downstream to be sold. Unlike me plots of his first two dramas, which focus on Nigerian folklore and sexual mores, The Raft has often been interpreted as a critique of economic determinism or as an allegory of the political situation in Nigeria. Clark's first full-length play, Ozidi, was adapted from an Ijaw saga in which two feuding families seek revenge upon each other. The saga traditionally uses mime, music, and dance in its performance, and Clark retains some of these elements in his version. After Ozidi Clark did not write for the theater for more than ten years; but in 1981 he produced The Boat at the University of Lagos and in 1985 staged both The Return Home and Full Circle. These three short plays were performed together as a trilogy in 1985 and subsequently published as The Bikoroa Plays.
Clark's dramatic works have generally garnered mixed reviews. While often admired for their rich poetic imagery, Clark's plays have also been criticized for employing clichéd situations and florid rhetoric. As Margaret Laurence has contended, the language in Song of a Goat is "effective when it is simplest and most unadorned, but [Clark] frequently gives way to the urge to be grandiose." Some commentators have regarded the construction of his plays as faulty, judging the perceived flaws to be the result of Clark's lack of experience as a dramatist. Critics have continually debated the extent to which Clark patterns his dramatic works upon Greek tragedy, in which the characters are controlled by external forces beyond their control. While some stress the influence of Western classical models, others argue Clark's plays owe more to the folklore, imagery, and customs of the Ijaw people, which have furnished the playwright powerful symbolic representations of the human condition.
Song of a Goat 1961
The Masquerade 1964
The Raft 1964
The Wives'Revolt 1984
*The Return Home 1985
*Full Circle 1985
OTHER MAJOR WORKS
Poems (poetry) 1961
America, Their America (autobiography) 1964
A Reed in the Tide (poetry) 1965
Casualties: Poems, 1966-68 (poetry) 1970
The Example of Shakespeare: Critical Essays on African Literature (essays) 1970
The Ozidi Saga [with Okabou Ojobolo] (translation) 1977
A Decade of Tongues: Selected Poems, 1958-1968 (poetry) 1981
State of the Union (poetry) 1985
Mandela and Other Poems (poetry) 1988
Collected Plays and Poems, 1958-1988 (drama and poetry) 1991
*These three plays were published together in 1985 as The Bikoroa Plays.
Overviews And General Studies
T. O. McLoughlin (essay date March 1975)
SOURCE: "The Plays of John Pepper Clark," in English Studies in Africa, Vol. 18, No. 1, March, 1975, pp. 31-40.
[In the following essay, McLaughlin examines the role of the hero in Song of a Goat, The Masquerade, The Raft, and Ozidi and compares and contrasts these plays with Greek myth and Shakespearean drama.]
John Pepper Clark's early plays show the influence of established European literary forms, yet Nigerian myths and cultural attitudes have so asserted themselves in his most recent play, Ozidi, that his artistic manner has changed considerably. His fascination for the...
(The entire section is 5320 words.)
Song Of A Goat
Wole Soyinka (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "Drama and the African World-View," in Exile and Tradition: Studies in African and Caribbean Literature, edited by Rowland Smith, Longman Group Ltd, 1976, pp. 173-89.
[Soyinka is a Nigerian novelist and dramatist, and he was the recipient of the 1986 Nobel Prize in literature. In the following excerpt, he discusses Song of a Goat within the context of the "matrical consciousness of the African world "]
Song of a Goat, a play by J. P. Clark, has the advantage … of fitting into the neat category of tragedy in the European definition of this genre. It was first performed in Europe at me...
(The entire section is 4595 words.)
William Connor (essay date 1979)
SOURCE: "Diribi's Incest: The Key to J. P. Clark's The Masquerade, " in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 18, No. 2, November, 1979, pp. 278-86.
[In the following essay, Connor contends that critics of The Masquerade have misunderstood the play and have neglected the complexity and subtlety of the plot, whose predominant theme is one of incest.]
John Pepper Clark's second play, The Masquerade, has not been a favourite of the critics; I believe they do Clark and his play a great injustice.
The basic plot of The Masquerade is deceptively simple:...
(The entire section is 3373 words.)
R. N. Egudu (essay date 1976)
SOURCE: "J. P. Clark's The Raft: The Tragedy of Economic Impotence," in World Literature Written in English, Vol. 15, No. 2, November, 1976, pp. 297-304.
[In the essay below, Egudu characterizes The Raft as "an outright indictment on economic cannibalism and a sincere plea for the observance of the Marxist principle of an equitable distribution of the basic means of human existence and survival. "]
The Raft is a tragedy of a group of four economically weak lumbermen who have undertaken a journey by a raft on a river. Their journey is not without cause. The purpose of the journey is to...
(The entire section is 3299 words.)
Margaret Laurence (essay date 1968)
SOURCE: "Rituals of Destiny: John Pepper Clark," in Long Drums and Cannons: Nigerian Dramatists and Novelists, Macmillan, London, 1968, pp. 77-96.
[In the following excerpt, Laurence provides an overview of Ozidi, with special emphasis on Clark's use of traditional material and the play's relationship to his earlier works, particularly Song of a Goat.]
Ozidi is based upon an Ijaw epic, one of the masquerade serial plays which were told in seven days, accompanied by dance, music and mime. Clark made tape-recordings of this masquerade series and also filmed it. He later did a...
(The entire section is 2017 words.)
Pieterse, Cosmo, and Duerden, Dennis, eds. "J. P. Clark." In African Writers Talking, pp. 63-74. New York: Africana Publishing, 1972.
Compilation of three interviews. In the first interview, dated September 1962, with Lewis Nkosi, Clark discusses cultural influences on his dramatic and poetic works. In the following two interviews with Andrew Salkey, dated January and September 1964, Clark chronicles his reasons for writing in English and describes his role as a poet, playwright, and journalist.
OVERVIEWS AND GENERAL STUDIES
Adejumo, Z. A. "Language in the Plays of J. P. Clark." In Nigeria Magazine,...
(The entire section is 426 words.)