I was delighted when George Tregson Roberts accepted to write a piece for Litro’s Shakespeare theme about how Sierra Leonean dramatist Thomas Decker translated Julius Caesar into Krio. I’d enjoyed an article by George Tregson Roberts in Wasafiri, in which he looked at Graham Greene’s relationship with Freetown, where The Heart of the Matter is set.
The piece that Roberts wrote for us, A Tropical Bard and The Bard of Avon: Shakespeare in the Hands of Thomas Decker, A Sierra Leonean Dramatist, is just as enlightening. It looks in particular at how Decker wanted to ensure that Sierra Leoneans stopped seeing Krio as an inferior language and understood that it could be used to express complex ideas.
“Stoop then, and wash. How many ages hence this our lofty scene be acted o’er.
In States unborn and accents yet unknown!” [Julius Caesar, Act 3 Scene I].
Shakespeare, in all his creative genius could not possibly have imagined that those words he wrote for Cassius would prove so prophetic. For, eighteen or twenty generations later, the words were being recited on a stage in an accent that Shakespeare could not have dreamt of, and in a setting that, ironically, was commemorating the closing chapters of an Empire that had given him voice. Another irony was that the language of the Sierra Leonean writer, Thomas Decker, in which Julius Caesar was being re-staged may well have had as long a history as that of the playwright‘s himself.