Friday, 31 March 2017

Derek Walcott's 'Dream Play' - Dream on Monkey Mountain

A Dream Play (1907), is a drama by August Strindberg. A precursor to both expressionism and surrealism, this play has been successfully revived many times. Strindberg was in the process of breaking from his earlier naturalist approach when he wrote this dream tale of the daughter of the goddess Indra descending to Earth to meet a variety of symbolic characters.

Forerunner of Modern Drama: The play is considered a forerunner of expressionism and the theater of the absurd.

It employs dream symbolism to translate Strindberg’s mystical visions into the language of drama. Highly abstracted characters appear and disappear in stylized settings; scenes and images change unexpectedly; and profound fears and ghastly fantasies materialize. By breaking with the realistic traditions of drama in his later career, Strindberg opened up new possibilities, prefiguring such major dramatic movements of the twentieth century as expressionism and exerting a powerful influence on dramatists such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene O’Neill, and Eugene Ionesco.

Derek Walcott’s Dream Play: Dream on Monkey Mountain

Makak (Chris McFarlane) prepares to destroy his
vision (Juette Carty) in 'Dream on Monkey Mountain'.
The Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) belongs to the twentieth-century genre called dream plays, connected with works by playwrights such as Strindberg as well as by Synge and Soyinka. The play's main character is Makak (French patois for "Ape"), a black charcoal-burner who comes to town, gets drunk, and is taken into custody by Corporal Lestrade, a mulatto guard who is the maintainer of law and order during the later years of the colonial power. In a dream scene of a mock trial that was probably inspired by Kafka and Hesse, Lestrade accuses Makak of being intoxicated and damaging the premises of a local salesman. However, in another vivid dream sequence, Makak is crowned king in the romantic Africa of his roots, surrounded by his wives, his warriors, and the masks of pagan gods.

In a second mock trial, a number of great Western characters (e.g., Plato, Ptolemy, Dante, Cecil Rhodes, Florence Nightingale) are accused of neglecting other races and sentenced to death by the African tribes. Lestrade has now given up his confession to the Western world, shouldered his black inheritance, and sworn allegiance to Makak. The poor charcoal-burner is acquitted from the charges, and able to withdraw to his West Indian world with a deepened sense of identity.

The dream visions in this play seem to belong both to Makak and to the collective atmosphere of the plot. Ironic effects appear throughout the events. At the same time as Makak's romantic dream of Africa is presented, he cherishes a fantasy of a white protectress who takes care of him. But, as suggested by Lestrade, he gives up this dream, brutally beheading the woman with an African sword. This is a sacrifice that expresses a sound reaction against a fantasy life alienated from reality. Makak's character also bears symbolic similarities with Christ: in prison, he is followed by two robbers, and from Good Friday he is able to look forward to the moment of resurrection on Easter Sunday. The prison can be understood as a symbol both of life itself and of colonial rule. In a sophisticated way, this play expresses central components of Walcott's attitude to the political, racial, and psychological problems in his post-colonial world.

In Dream on Monkey Mountain, Walcott makes a great effort to interpret the nature of Caribbean identity. Colonialism has been important in damaging the human soul and humiliating the inhabitants of this part of the world. But there is no point trying to build castles in the air, as when Makak dreams of his African roots. At the end, in the epilogue, this simple-hearted visionary proletarian is acquitted, while Western civilization with its great characters is sentenced to death. Regardless of this, hate and revenge are negligible - in fact, negative - factors to the writer Walcott.

1. Gale’s Contextual Encyclopedia &
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