Soyinka and the Dead Dramatist


Beneath its ironic premises, Wole Soyinka’s essay, “Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist,” presents a serious and personal reading of Antony and Cleopatra in the terms Soyinka elsewhere uses to discuss ritual African tragedy. Soyinka’s irony contrasts his appropriation to types of appropriation he considers less fruitful: though he transposes Shakespeare’s play into an African setting, he argues that the play is, in many respects, already there. By imitating Shakespeare rather than contesting his influence, Soyinka maintains his identity while enriching it: the result is neither simply local nor a simple universalism, neither a wholesale rejection of a colonial influence deemed to be destructive nor a passive complicity in it, but a cultural hybridity that replaces such stark alternatives. In this way “Shakespeare and the Living Dramatist” provides valuable insight into Soyinka’s work in the 1970s while anticipating recent critical developments in the field of global Shakespearean adaptation.

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