Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Derek Walcott, winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, is widely regarded as the best West Indian playwright and, according to Robert Graves, is one of the best poets anywhere writing in English. Along with such playwrights as Wole Soyinka, Athol Fugard, and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, he is a non-Western, postcolonial playwright who has used the drama to illuminate issues of colonialism and racism. Choosing the obscurity of the West Indies over exile and prominence in London (such as that achieved by Trinidadian novelist V. S. Naipaul), Walcott founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959, writing, directing and producing more than forty plays before his resignation from the workshop in 1977. His dedication to West Indian drama is unsurpassed; he might well be described as the founder of modern West Indian theater.

Walcott’s growth as a dramatist parallels his development as a poet. Just as Walcott’s poetry becomes increasingly more confident in its use of Creole culture and language, so, too, does his dramatic development move toward confidence in the use of Creole styles. In his one-act drama The Sea at Dauphin (pr., pb. 1954), Walcott emphasizes the folk idiom of St. Lucian French-English patois and the character of ordinary fishermen who survive the whimsical forces of nature and empire. Ione (pr., pb. 1957) and Drums and Colors: An Epic Production (pr. 1958, pb. 1961) further evoke the folk tradition of St. Lucia, and the latter shares some of the didactic qualities of Pantomime. These early plays, alluding frequently to Stephen Dedalus (James Joyce’s artist-hero) and to the mythic Icarus, suggest Walcott’s resolve both to experiment with the materials of his predecessors and to forge...

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