Aimé Césaire’s Caliban Character from Une tempête: Black Skin, Indigenous Masks
In 1969, the Afro-Caribbean writer from Martinique, Aimé Césaire, rewrote Shakespeare’s The Tempest from a black perspective. He adapted the play with the monstrous Caliban (anagram of Caníbal) as the hero of the story instead of the white colonizer Prospero, thus giving dignity and agency to the protagonist he describes as an “esclave nègre.” Yet, Caliban’s ethnicity remains nebulous as his experience echoes rather that of the Native American, hence the title of this research, as a reference to Frantz Fanon’s essay on decolonization, Black Skin, White Masks. In rewriting Shakespeare, we find the two versions of the play collide, as do the colonizer with the colonized. Nonetheless, Caliban transcends single identities and his fight resonates with the African diaspora in the Caribbean as well as the question of assimilation for migrants in contemporary France.
Caliban as a character is at the intersection of different ethnicities–Native American and Black African—; different perspectives—White European, that of Shakespeare and his character’s Prospero, facing Césaire’s Negritude movement—; different spatial spheres—the South of the U.S. and the French West Indies—; and different time frames—the 17th century and the 20th century. This research resolves these paradoxes and explores identities beyond masks and skin colors. As a main advocate for Afro-Caribbean recognition and autonomy, Césaire casts light on the experience of oppressed groups of both Indigenous and black slaves. He blurs the lines between the two to construct his protagonist as an allegory of any alienation at the hand of the white colonizer.