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From the Greek Stage to the Martinican Shores: A Caribbean Antigone

  • STÉPHANIE BÉRARD

Abstract

In his first play, Une Manière d'Antigone (1975), Patrick Chamoiseau brings together Greek mythology and the history of Martinique. This article compares this version with the Sophoclean version, considering the transformations made by the Martinican playwright in terms of time and space, plot, characters and language so as to determine how different or similar the Caribbean Antigone is from her Greek sister. By adapting a famous Greek myth on the Antillean stage, Chamoiseau realizes a literary transposition while reaffirming his strong political opposition towards France. This play inscribes itself in the vast movement of subversion and contestation of the classic literary tradition by postcolonial writers who create their own literature based on the adaptation of Western classics. Chamoiseau's rewriting of the Antigone myth allows for a reappropriation and a revalorization of a forgotten history. Additionally, it presents an assertion of resistance and a plea for emancipation from both literary and political domination.

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NOTES

1 Chamoiseau, Patrick, Une Manière d'Antigone (unpublished, 1975).

2 Steiner, George, Antigones (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).

3 Morisseau-Leroy, Félix, Antigone en créole (PétionVille: Culture/Deschamps, 1953). Idem, Wa Kreyon et Pèp-la (Dakar: Jadenkreyòl, 1978). Max Dominique has written an article on the comparison between the three plays and Sophocles’ Antigone. Max Dominique, ‘Kite'm ak Antigòn’, Conjonction, 207 (2002), pp. 43–50.

4 Mauvois, Georges, Antigòn. Traduction de Antigone en créole. Suivi de Arivé d'Pari (Kourou: Ibis Rouge Editions, 1997).

5 The use of the indefinite instead of the definite article stresses the difference between the original play and its Caribbean adaptation.

6 Césaire, Aimé, Une Tempête (Paris: Le Seuil, 1969).

7 The theatrical company Théâtre de l'AIR (Artistes Immigrés Réunis – Reunited Immigrant Artists) was founded in 1983 by Antillean artists living in Paris and was renamed Théâtre de l'Air Nouveau (Theater of the New Breeze) in 1987. The company is now run by Luc Saint-Eloy, a Guadeloupean playwright, director and actor, who played the Guard's part in Ampigny's production. Antigone was portrayed by Claude Moïse.

8 Guadeloupe, Martinique, French Guyana and the island of Réunion are all former colonies of France which became DOM in 1946. This atypical juridical status maintains these regions under the administrative supervision of France against which the Antillean people fought in the 1960s and the 1970s, claming their independence.

9 Foreword to the play, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 4. This and all other translations, unless otherwise noted, are my own.

10 Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Félix, Mille Plateaux (Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1980).

11 The Empire Writes Back is the title of a collective work edited by Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths and Helen Tiffin (London: Routledge, 1989). The authors demonstrate how postcolonial writers reverse power relationships by using the tools of the master, his language, to oppose his domination.

12 Bhabha, Homi, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994).

13 Mikhail, Bakhtine, L'Oeuvre de François Rabelais et la culture populaire au Moyen Age et sous la Renaissance (Paris: Gallimard, 1970).

14 Carnival has inspired numerous Caribbean playwrights, who have transposed the popular ritual to the stage. Among them, Michèle Montantin from Guadeloupe has written and staged a play entitled Vie et Mort de Vaval (Vaval's Life and Death) (Conseil Régional de Guadeloupe: Association Chico-Rey, 1991), the plot of which is based on the birth, life and death of the King of Carnival. In Martinique, Ina Césaire opens her play Mémoires d'isles (Island Memories) (Paris: Editions Caribéennes, 1985) with the parade of the Ash Wednesday female devils, ‘la parade des diablesses’.

15 The exact definition of câpre/câpresse is a half-breed person with two-thirds black and one-third white blood. If we consider this proportion, the Martinican Antigone is more black than white.

16 Portrait of the characters given in the Foreword to the play, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone.

17 Third day, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, pp. 26–7.

18 Foreword to the play, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 4.

19 The linguistic situation of the 1970s in Martinique and Guadeloupe was one of ‘diglossia’. This means that each language has a specific status and value: French was the ‘high’ and prestigious language used in formal situations whereas Creole was the ‘low’, devalorized language reserved for familiar and informal contexts (Charles Ferguson, ‘Diglossia’, Word, 15 (1959), pp. 325–40).

20 Third day, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 34.

21 These linguistic choices are surprising if we consider that the guard represents the French authority whereas Antigone defends the rights of the Martinican people. She is expected to speak Creole, but since she embodies the highness of ideas and ideals, she is meant to speak in French.

22 ‘Le marronnage du Théâtre de l'Air Nouveau. Entretien avec Luc Saint-Eloy. Propos recueillis par Stéphanie Bérard, Paris, avril 2003’, http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ile.en.ile/paroles/saint-eloy_entretien.html.

23 Fourth day, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 36.

24 George Steiner (see note 2) insists on the multiple political, social, moral and philosophical issues arising from the play. According to him it was ‘the permeability of the high myth to the pressures of political and social immediacy which ensured the great success of the play’ p. 121.

25 Fourth day, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 41.

26 In Aesthetics (1832), Hegel interprets Antigone's decision and death as a means to reach the essence of being in the Sophoclean version. By opposing the law of the City and facing her destiny, she achieves the ethical substance of being. Antigone's decision in Chamoiseau's play assumes a political and collective dimension as opposed to the philosophical and ethical self-realization of her Greek sister.

27 Third day, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone.

28 Marie-Line Ampigny, ‘Autour de la mise en scène’ (Around the mise en scène), play programme of Le Bourreau d'Antigone produced in November 1984 in Paris.

29 ‘Le marronnage du Théâtre de l'Air Nouveau. Entretien avec Luc Saint-Eloy. Propos recueillis par Stéphanie Bérard, Paris, avril 2003’, http://www.lehman.cuny.edu/ile.en.ile/paroles/saint-eloy_entretien.html.

30 Ampigny, ‘Autour de la mise en scène’.

31 Foreword to the play, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 3.

32 Epilogue, in Chamoiseau, Une Manière d'Antigone, p. 47.

33 Stéphanie Bérard, ‘Le théâtre de Patrick Chamoiseau. Entretien avec le dramaturge martiniquais, Fort-de-France, Martinique, le 18 janvier 2006’, Nouvelles Etudes francophones, vol. 22, n^ 2, Fall 2007 (in press).

34 Homi, Bhabha, The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), p. 2.

35 Patrick Chamoiseau is the co-author, with Raphaël Confiant and Jean Bernabé, of Eloge de la créolité (In Praise of Creoleness) (Paris: Gallimard, 1991), a manifesto promoting Creole culture, language and popular traditions.

36 Chamoiseau, Patrick, Manman Dlo contre la fée Carabosse (Paris: Editions Caribéennes, 1982).

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From the Greek Stage to the Martinican Shores: A Caribbean Antigone

  • STÉPHANIE BÉRARD

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