Pantomime Background

Pantomime Background

In 1978, Derek Walcott wrote Pantomime within two days, after the ideas for the play had been fermenting for some time. The themes and elements of the play are closely linked with his biography. Born in St Lucia in 1930, he grew up between two worlds: While his grandfathers were white, his grandmothers were black. His father died when Walcott was one year old. His mother, a respected teacher of Shakespeare and acting, fostered his interest in writing. At the age of 14, he published his first poem, and at 16, he self-published a collection of poems and wrote five plays. Growing up in Castries, the capital of St Lucia, he was exposed to a Europeanized culture, whereas the countryside was dominated by Afro-Caribbean folk customs and traditions. This discrepancy between the two cultures is evident in many of his works, including Pantomime.

Subsequently, a major theme that runs throughout Walcott's works is his search for identity. Since his early childhood, he had been experiencing the duality of old Caribbean culture and new Western traditions in all the Caribbean countries he visited. Moreover, he experienced similar conflicts in language and religion, which led to a sense of confusion and helplessness. Later, however, he became more optimistic and a strong advocate for multiculturalism. This spark of hope shines through at the end of Pantomime when the protagonists start to collaborate and achieve unity through art.

Walcott was fascinated by explorers such as Christopher Columbus and James Cook, who discovered the part of the world in which he was born. He has a passion for Robinson Crusoe, which he considers an archetype: After writing the long poem "Crusoe's Island" in 1965, he reuses the subject matter in Pantomime.

In an interview with The Guardian in 2012, Walcott remarks that the tourist industry keeps the racial relationships of the pre-colonial era alive by walking on a fine line between service-mindedness and slavery for the sake of profit. In this regard, even though published roughly four decades ago, Pantomime is still highly relevant.

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