The Politics of Adaptation

Contemporary African Drama and Greek Tragedy


This book explores contemporary African adaptations of classical Greek tragedies. Six South African and Nigerian dramatic texts – by Yael Farber, Mark Fleishman, Athol Fugard, Femi Osofisan, and Wole Soyinka – are analysed through the thematic lens of resistance, revolution, reconciliation, and mourning.
The opening chapters focus on plays that mobilize Greek tragedy to inspire political change, discussing how Sophocles’ heroine Antigone is reconfigured as a freedom fighter and how Euripides’ Dionysos is transformed into a revolutionary leader.
The later chapters shift the focus to plays that explore the costs and consequences of political change, examining how the cycle of violence dramatized in Aeschylus’ Oresteia trilogy acquires relevance in post-apartheid South Africa, and how the mourning of Euripides’ Trojan Women resonates in and beyond Nigeria.
Throughout, the emphasis is on how playwrights, through adaptation, perform a cultural politics directed at the Europe that has traditionally considered ancient Greece as its property, foundation, and legitimization. Van Weyenberg additionally discusses how contemporary African reworkings of Greek tragedies invite us to reconsider how we think about the genre of tragedy and about the cultural process of adaptation.
Against George Steiner’s famous claim that tragedy has died, this book demonstrates that Greek tragedy holds relevance today. But it also reveals that adaptations do more than simply keeping the texts they draw on alive: through adaptation, playwrights open up a space for politics. In this dynamic between adaptation and pre-text, the politics of adaptation is performed.

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Astrid Van Weyenberg is a lecturer in Literary Studies at the University of Amsterdam. She completed her dissertation at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis and has published various articles on postcolonial adaptations.
[a] thought-provoking study, which raises important questions, offers complications to previous analyses of the same and similar material, and which seeks to move beyond Eurocentric and postcolonial narratives and arguments to address the plays as works of contemporary Africa inspired by themes from classical Greek muth. That is something worth embracing and celebrating, and only adds to the scholarly conversation on Afrocentric cliassicism, adaptation and reception.
K.J. Wetmore, Jr., Acta Classica LVIII (2015)

Alert to dangers of self-mythologizing in both European and African contexts, The Politics of Adaptation asks not only how tragedy has been used in the past, but how it might be employed in future, and whether our ongoing engagement with the genre might be changing the very nature of 'tragedy'.
Stephe Harrop, New Theatre Quarterly, 31-1 (2015)

... an important contribution to the field of adaptation studies. [Van Weyenberg's] book should interest and challenge scholars in a variety of fields beyond adaptation studies, including postcolonialism, classics, and tragedy (given her interest in how African dramatists adapt and rework the genre).
Phillip Zapkin, Theatre Journal 66-4 (2014)
Introduction: Contemporary African Drama and Greek Tragedy
African Antigones: “Wherever the call for freedom is heard!” Antigone’s politics – The choice of Antigone – Antigone’s representation – Performing Antigone – Beyond Antigone? – Antigone’s futures
Ritual and Revolution: Wole Soyinka’s Bacchae, a Yoruba Tragedy. (Post)colonial Thebes – Revolutionary Dionysus – Sacrifice and the mythologization of history – Yoruba and Greek: a complicated brotherhood – The terms of comparison
Staging Transition: The Oresteia in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Narrating the past –Victims and perpetrators – Theatre of witnessing and mourning – Justice: definitions and demands – The politics of reconciliation – The weight of the past
Mourning Remains: Femi Osofisan’s Women of Owu. The mourning voice – Memory and promise – Gendered laments – Re/membering the past – The promise of change – Mourning others
Works Cited