Ithaca in Stratford-upon-Avon: A Tribute to Sir Derek Walcott.

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By Miranda Jones, Research Advocate, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

Walcott

Derek Walcott in 1992.

In 1991 the Artistic Director of the Royal Shakespeare Company, Adrian Noble, discussed the next potential project for the Stratford-upon-Avon stage with Gregory Doran. It was Doran’s first production with the company (of which he is now Artistic Director), and he wanted to produce a play related to Homer’s The Odyssey.

At the time, the St Lucian poet and playwright Derek Walcott had gained high literary acclaim for his outstanding narrative poem Omeros, which loosely echoes and alludes to Homer’s epics. This work helped to earn Walcott a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he would ultimately win in 1992 for “a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment”. Who, then, could be a better choice to create a script for Doran’s vision of the adventures of Odysseus on the RSC stage?

Walcott’s response to the request was positive, and he immediately set to work on the first draft of the script, using E.V. Rieu’s Penguin translation. This was set to be a work of great artistic vision and dramatic potential; it remains relatively little known that Derek Walcott was a successful playwright as well as a poet. He founded The Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959. Walcott’s unique vision conflated the settings of ancient Greece with the Caribbean archipelago. His biographer Bruce King has described this outlook: “Walcott’s approach is that the West Indian experience is central, universal and that, if you could restore the colour and original context, the world of the epics would be found little different from that of St Lucia today.” Not only did Walcott’s The Odyssey ambitiously interconnect the “West Indian experience” and that of the peoples of ancient Greece, it also demonstrated the writer’s technical virtuosity, as he chose to write the work as a verse drama using the Homeric metre of hexameter lines. The play closely follows the events and dialogue of Homer’s masterpiece, although it incorporates strong visual features, such as comedic and tragic set pieces (an encounter with two mermaids being a particularly memorable example of a comic touch).

Within my role as a Research Advocate at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, I am looking in detail at the material in the SBT’s archives that relates to Walcott’s The Odyssey. I hope that those who read my short series of blogs will be inspired to delve further into the remarkable works of Sir Derek Walcott, and his work with the RSC. Stratford has long attracted the attention of the world’s greatest writers, and Walcott was no exception. In the year that has seen his death, I’d like to help pay tribute to his great talent. I will also be giving a talk and presentation ‘Stratford Salutes Sir Derek Walcott’, as a Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Research Conversation on Wednesday 13 September from 5.00-6.00 pm in the Shakespeare Centre. This event is free; no tickets required; all are welcome.

 

Sources:

“The Nobel Prize in Literature 1992”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 26 Jun 2017. <http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/>

Bruce King, Derek Walcott: A Caribbean Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000)

Derek Walcott, The Odyssey: A Stage Version (London: Faber & Faber, 1993)

 

 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.

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Author:Miranda Jones

Miranda Jones is a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Birmingham, funded by the Midlands3Cities AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership. Her work analyses the use of the pastoral mode in the poetry of Derek Walcott. After completing her MA in Shakespeare Studies at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon, Miranda is now working as a Research Advocate at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, working on a series of blogs relating to Sir Derek Walcott’s work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. She will be holding a session of the ‘Research Conversations’ seminar series at the SBT on Wednesday 13 September, which will be open to all who are interested in this production of The Odyssey. Read Miranda’s academic profile here: https://vpp.midlands3cities.ac.uk/display/maj170bhamacuk/Welcome

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