About Anike

About Anike

The conflict between established authority, be it a just government or a tyrannical one, and dissidents, with or without just cause, is a perennial one. A classic expression of it is Antigone, composed by Sophocles in 5th century BCE Athens. The conflict that is worked out in this play is that between the imperatives of established law and the maintenance of order represented by Creon, the ruler of Thebes, and love and duty represented by Antigone. Her brother took arms against Thebes and was defeated and killed in battle. As punishment, Creon decreed that the body be left to rot in the field of battle  without the benefit of burial with proper funeral rites. Antigone felt duty bound to defy the king's decree and so set out to retrieve her brother's body for burial. The consequences of her defiance to both herself and Creon are well known enough to need retelling here.        

The conflict between subject and king is told in Malay history in Jebat's usurpation of the Melaka Sultan's palace. This is purported to be an act to right the injustice done to Tuah by the Sultan in ordering his execution on mere suspicion that he has been dallying with the ladies-in-waiting in the palace. As is told in Hikayat Hang Tuah, the Sultan, on being told that Tuah has not been put to death as ordered, summons Tuah to the palace and orders him to kill Jebat on his behalf. This Tuah does out of unquestioning loyalty to his ruler. A parallel between this story and Antigone may be drawn by having an invented sister of Jebat's defy the Sultan by retrieving for burial her dead brother's body left to rot hanging from a tree at the city's main gate on the Sultan's orders. This Wong has done in his play Anike.

Asked why, Wong explains that he has read a number of scholarly translations of Antigone and found himself largely disappointed with all of them. He suspects that the scholars, by their very scrupulosity, have translated the poetry out of the Greek original. He has also read free translations or adaptations and he does not like the modern colloquial idiom of the language  in which they are written. Antigone, in Anouilh's version, for instance, sounds like a spoilt, willful teenager doing what she does just for the hell of it. (Wong, of course, may be misreading the version in English of the Anouilh play). To please himself, therefore, he decided to write his own verse version of the play, setting the action in the a pre-Islamic state in Nusantara. The conflict between Anike, the lead character, and her Raja ensues from the killing of her brother Jebat by the Raja's minion, Tuah.    

More seriously, Wong says that though his poems deal with the concerns of an entire people living in a particular place and at a particular time, the perspective from which they are written is an introspective one. It is that of an individual observing the inner life of the community (taking the word in its widest sense) around him. The reality of the poems is a subjective reality. To write a more public poetry, he has turned to the writing of verse drama. The poetry he attempts in this genre is more public in that it is to be spoken by characters (people) from a stage to be listened to by an audience. At the same time it is to be spoken by characters to each other expressing (making overt) their feelings, reactions, and attitudes to what they do to each other and to situations unfolding before their eyes. The poetry is to be expressed in a public forum. It follows from this, therefore, that the language of Anike is more accessible than the language of his  poems.     

Following the example of plays written for the Elizabethan stage, the first aim of Anike is to entertain as theatre. Elizabethan plays are of course much more than just entertainment pieces (but we are not sure as to how much thought their authors had given to that question). Wong, on his part, means Anike to be taken also as serious commentary on our contemporary condition. The play asks also to be read in private and enjoyed as a piece of literary writing. As serious drama, Anike adds to the resources of Malaysian theatre, which appears at the moment to be given over to cabaret style stand-up comedy and musical extravaganzas. If nothing else, it is the first of a kind, an original play in modern verse by our most important poet in English.  

Cape Poetics Players