Wole Soyinka

Soyinka grew up in British-dominated Nigeria. His circle of relatives turned into highly well off; his father changed into an Anglican minister and the headmaster of a spiritual school, which intended the own family had to get admission to power and radio at domestic. Soyinka studied in Nigeria at a university affiliated with the University of London and relocated to England after graduation, in which he pursued a sophisticated diploma at the University of Leeds. The Lion and the Jewel was his 2d play, and its fulfillment allowed him to transport to London. Over the following ten years, Soyinka endured to write plays and edit literary periodicals each in England in Nigeria. In the ’60s, Soyinka became concerned with politics. He was arrested several instances and stored in prison for two years, and one among his books become banned in Nigeria. Soyinka wrote Death and the King’s Horseman in 1975 all through a time of exile from Nigeria, and it is emerging as one among his most well-known works. He has been married three instances and has 5 children.

Historical Context of Death and the King’s Horseman

The story of Death and the King’s Horseman is based on real events that happened in Nigeria in 1946 when the English district commissioner tried to prevent the king’s horseman from committing ritual suicide. Several historians have noted, however, that the subculture of the king’s horseman following the king to the afterlife is not truly rooted in spiritual necessity, and that on the time, the king’s horseman not being capable of devote suicide would not have rocked the network as lots as Elesin’s failure does within the play. The costumes that the Pilkingses put on are part of the Yoruba nonsecular tradition. The costumes are worn so that the wearer can channel ancestors; that is why Amusa insists that he is truly looking on the useless whilst he appears at the costumes.


Death and the King’s Horseman Summary

Near the give up of the day, Elesin, the king’s horseman, dances through the market. He’s keen to attain the market and assures his reward-singer that he just wants to be within the marketplace amongst the women, wherein he is satisfied. The reward-singer makes certain that Elesin still plans to die later. Elesin assures him that he’s happy to die, however now, he wants the girls to dress him in first-rate garments and enjoy existence. To display the reward-singer how serious he is ready dying, Elesin dances and chants the tale of the Not-I fowl. The Not-I chook goes around to all human beings, animals, and gods, telling them it’s time to die. All the beings inform the hen they’re no longer geared up and hideaway, however, Elesin says that when the bird got here for him, he informed it he’d be proper along. As Elesin tells this tale, the girls of the market, along with Iyaloja, surround him and dance with him. He and the girls carry out a name and response chant wherein he assures them that he’s going to die.

Elesin, the girls, and the praise-singer discuss how honorable Elesin is, however, Elesin takes offense when the ladies praise him. They’re not sure what they stated wrong, but Elesin subsequently admits that he just desires them to dress him in nice clothes. Elesin catches sight of something inside the distance, and the distraction, a lovely young woman walks into the marketplace. The reward-singer thinks that Elesin goes crazy while he starts off evolved to talk about probable being lifeless already. They discuss Elesin’s recognition as a ladies’ man, and Elesin asks approximately who the lady was. Iyaloja hesitantly explains that the woman is already engaged. This annoys Elesin, but he persists and says that since it’s his final day on earth, he needs to be allowed to marry her, conceive an infant with her, and leave this as a parting gift. Though Iyaloja tries to persuade Elesin that this is a terrible idea, she eventually gives in.

Later that evening, on the district officer’s house, Simon Pilkings and his wife, Jane, tango through their residing room. They’re wearing eg nun costumes. The local sergeant, Amusa, arrives with news, however, it is distraught whilst he sees the egungun. He refuses to study Pilkings or tell him anything, which makes Pilkings very irritated—mainly because Amusa is a Muslim and, in Pilkings’s understanding, should not be disillusioned about this. Finally, Pilkings tells Amusa to simply write down his file.

Amusa’s report is disturbing: Elesin plans to “commit loss of life,” which Amusa says is a crook offense. Pickings and Jane accept as true with Elesin are going to murder a person, and Jane indicates they skip the gown ball later to address this disturbance. Pickings make a decision to just arrest Elesin. They call for his or her houseboy, Joseph, who explains that Elesin goes to kill himself so he can accompany the king, who died a month ago, to the afterlife. Pickings sighs. He has a history with Elesin: he snuck Elesin’s oldest son, Olunde, out and despatched him to England to teach as a doctor four years ago, no matter Elesin insisting that Olunde wished to live for a few rituals. The motive that this is the ritual and Jane realizes that Olunde would be the subsequent king’s horseman. Joseph excuses himself when Pilkings calls the natives “devious bastards.” Pickings call Joseph to lower back to explain what the drumming is about, and is irritated whilst Joseph says he can’t inform; it sounds both like a marriage and a loss of life. Joseph leaves once more and Jane announces that they want to live domestic and address this. Pickings send Joseph to the police station with a be aware, tells Jane to position her costume returned on, and shares that the prince goes to be on the ball, so they must go.

Back in the marketplace, Amusa and his constables try to get through a group of women to enter a stall that’s draped in wealthy fabric. The girls insult Amusa for working for the English, mock his virility, and accuse him of trespassing. They refuse to allow him any toward Elesin and say that Elesin will prove himself greater effective than the white men with the aid of killing himself. Iyaloja arrives to mediate the situation, however, she joins the girls in insulting Amusa. Several young ladies take subjects into their own hands. They thieve the officers’ batons and hats and then act out a scene wherein they’re Englishmen discussing the lying natives and the horrendous weather. This insults and embarrasses Amusa, but Iyaloja refuses to come back to his defense. Finally, Amusa and his constables leave. The women dance and rejoice the ladies as Elesin steps out of the stall. He has simply had sex together with his new wife and says that the future lies along with his baby that the bride will bear. Elesin starts to concentrate on the drums, narrate what’s happening, and dance towards dying. The girls dance with him as he says that the king’s dog and horse are dying, and then the reward-singer reminds Elesin of what he must do. Elesin sinks deeper and deeper into the trance and the reward-singer tells Elesin that if the ones on the alternative side do not honor him nicely, they’ll welcome him returned.

At the ball, the band performs tune to introduce the prince. The prince is fascinated by the egungun costumes, however, the resident soon pulls Pilkings outside to explain a observe that arrived from Amusa approximately Elesin’s suicide. The resident reminds Pilkings that he wishes to be vigilant with a view to guide the empire, and whilst Amusa arrives, the resident asks if Amusa is a part of the riot. Pickings attempts to get Amusa to present him his document, however, Amusa again refuses to speak to him within the egungun dress. Pickings dismiss Amusa as the clock moves midnight. He and Jane wonder if this is the instant that Elesin will kill himself, and Pilkings runs away.

Olde, who has again from England, finds Jane outdoor and asks for Pickings. They talk her gown and even though Olunde will take a look at her, he says she’s still doing a disrespectful thing by means of carrying the egungun. He explains that she doesn’t apprehend why it is wrong due to the fact she’s English. They discuss World War II, which is currently going on, and the ethics of killing oneself to store many others. Jane refuses to direct Olunde to Pickings and is taken aback while Olunde says that he’s here to bury Elesin and prevent Pilkings from attempting to stop Elesin from demise. He attempts to make it clear that Elesin desires to die and is doing an honorable element, but Jane may not have it. She turns into increasingly upset as Olunde points out that lots of Englishmen are demise within the war—something he suggests is mass suicide. Older leads Jane outdoor to listen to the drums and notes the moment in which Elesin dies. Jane is disturbed by Olunde’s calm and attracts the attention of the aide-de-camp, however, she sends him away. Blonde tries to explain why he changed into so calm but also attempts to excuse himself to head sit with his father’s body.

From offstage, Olunde and Jane pay attention Pilkings telling a person to restrain humans. Pickings steps into sight and is greatly surprised when Olunde says that it would’ve been a tragedy had Pilkings succeeded in preventing Elesin. Pickings refuse to let Olunde cross see his father after which speaks with the aide-de-camp. He desires to realize if he can positioned Elesin inside the cellar where they used to maintain slaves. As Pilkings marches away, Olunde and Jane surprise what is causing so much commotion. Their query is responded when they pay attention to Elesin, yelling angrily. Elesin races into view but stops when he sees Olinde. He falls at Olinde’s feet, and Olunde insults his father and walks away.

In his cell, Elesin stands, his wrists chained and looks at the moon. There are guards in the mobile with him, and his bride sits demurely outdoors. Pickings try to talk about how calm and nonviolent night is, however Elesin insists that the night isn’t always calm by any approach: Pilkings has destroyed Elesin’s life and the lives of others. They argue about whether or not Pickings turned into just doing his obligation or not. Elesin explains that he’s now not at risk of loss of life anymore, as he becomes imagined to die at a specific moment some time ago. He says that he does not blame Pilkings, despite the fact that he is ruined his existence by stealing Olunde and stopping Elesin from doing what he desires to do. Pickings try to consolation Elesin by using pronouncing that not the entirety is as terrible as it seems; Olunde thinks that this salvageable. Elesin disagrees, however, he thinks that he not has any honor and can not even name himself Olunde’s father.

Pilkings leaves, and Elesin tells his bride that he blames her in part for his failure, as she showed him that there are things on earth that he nonetheless wants to enjoy, and he didn’t want to die. Pickings and Jane return and argue if Olunde and Iyaloja should be allowed to go to Elesin. Elesin assures Pilkings that nothing worse than what’s already happened will come of Iyaloja visiting. Pickings show Iyaloja in and she at once starts to berate Elesin. She says that he dishonored himself and the world, and reminds him that she warned him this will happen. He tries to provide an explanation for why he faltered, however, she’s unsympathetic. Iyaloja says that she’s coming with a burden. Pickings try to expose Iyaloja out, but she refuses to depart and says that Elesin must carry out certain things. Their king may be disenchanted within the afterlife, and he desires to permit their king to go.

The aide-de-camp races in to say that there are women at the lowest of the hill. Since it’s simply girls, the aide-de-camp has the same opinion to allow them to go into the cellar. They enter, sporting a cylindrical object on their shoulders it’s covered in fabric. Iyaloja says that it is the burden and the king’s courier, and Elesin desires to whisper inside the courier’s ear so he can release the king. Pickings refuse to permit Elesin out. The reward-singer reminds Elesin of what his obligation was and says that someone else took Elesin’s place. The girl’s monitor that the material covers Olunde’s body and the reward-singer continues to tell Elesin how he has ruined things.

Horrified, Elesin flings his chains around his neck and strangles himself. Pickings try to resuscitate him, however Iyaloja tells him to stop. When he asks if that is what she wanted, Iyaloja answers that that is what Pilkings receives while he would not recognize the customs of others surrounding death. The bride closes Elesin’s eyes and pours a bit of dust over them, and Iyaloja leads her away. Iyaloja encourages the bride to think of her unborn child.

Death and the King’s Horseman Themes


Sacrifice is a crucial element of the ritual. Only through Elesin sacrificing himself can the ritual be completed. Of course, Elesin cannot complete this successfully, due to each external and inner circumstances. It is Olunde who makes the final sacrifice through taking his own life so he can fulfill the Yoruba ritual. This foreshadowed inside the communication regarding self-sacrifice between Olunde and Jane, who have very different ideas about the character of this act. Jane finds the captain’s sacrifice distasteful, however Olunde views it as a life-declaring and heroic act.


The important ritual of the textual content — the king’s horseman loss of life so he can be a part of his master inside the afterlife — is a captivating thing of Yoruba society, however additionally features here as a dying country’s ultimate gasp within the face of colonial manipulate and oppression. The ritual is crucial to the Nigerians in all times and places, but there is unique import right here in that its success or failure seems to mention lots approximately the fame of resistance to the colonizers. When Elesin is avoided from wearing it out, their world appears pushed off its axis; their traditions and ideals are deeply wounded. The colonizers, to position it simply, have won. Even though Olunde completes the ritual for his father, there may be a sense that there is no going back; this culture’s manner of existence is efficaciously over.


European imperialism/colonialism is ever-present within the text, lurking heavily within the history of all the activities. The English presence in Nigeria is through now properly established, however remains rife with instability and conflict. The relevant events of the textual content are supposed to represent the larger warfare: Nigerians do not welcome this overseas regime and like to conduct their very own affairs, regardless of how bizarre and “uncivilized” they appear to the English, however the English trust their role their is fantastic and necessary, for while they may be now not only growing wealthy from their colonial empire, they’re supposedly bringing mild and development to the benighted people of Nigeria.


Elesin and Pilkings represent two different perspectives on obligation, which they both declare to prize highly. Elesin’s duty is to carry out the sacred ritual that he intended to. It way death for his humans, and loss of life in the perfect fashion. Pilkings’s duty is to implement the laws of the English colonial empire in Africa, which means that not allowing the supposedly “barbaric” customs just like the king’s horseman ritual to continue. He believes he’s doing something effective through preventing this ritual; he is saving Elesin’s existence as well as no longer allowing the colony to stay uncivilized. Unfortunately, the obligations of each man conflict mightily with each other, and this warfare leads to the tragedies of the last act of the play.

Music, Dance, and Poetry

Music, dance, and poetry are featured for the duration of the textual content. For the Nigerians, they’re fundamentally important elements of the ritual. They can tell stories, result in trances and meditation and reverie, result in transformation and change, and overall, demonstrate exceptional strength and importance. The ritual desires these elements to survive. The Europeans additionally have tune and dance, but they do not own the identical influence. The track is restrained, the dancing stilted. The European dance/music is also sullying via its lifestyles in Nigeria, wherein it does no longer belong. It is alien, simply because the Pilkings’s wearing the egungun costumes is an alien act.

Life and Death

Life and loss of life, and the relationship among the two, permeate the textual content. The complete ritual is concerned with the passage from one nation into another, and Elesin’s excellent failure is that he can’t nicely make that journey. For the ones of the Yoruba ritual, death is merely some other country wherein one can exist and are cycles interwoven with each other. The Europeans also are worried about existence and dying, but their perspective on its miles different: life is sacred, death is scary and has no more significance apart from it must come eventually — but through God’s timing, no longer man’s.


Although it does not play as foremost a position as the alternative themes, gender nonetheless is an important factor of the text. Soyinka has several things to mention approximately gender. On the one hand, the women and ladies of the marketplace, especially Iyaloja, appear to have a first-rate deal of strength: their voices are loud and forceful. However, the Bride is completely mute and is more or less an item that is given to Elesin to assuage him. She is a cipher who demonstrates how little electricity Nigerian ladies can own. Jane, on the other hand, who represents European ladies, may appear to have a bit of extra power than her Nigerian counterparts, as she is able to speak freely with her husband approximately their numerous affairs and role within the colony. She does not hesitate to offer her opinion; however, Pilkings’s responses to such utterances are telling. He often puts her down and yells at her, revealing his misogyny. Jane can be loud, as Elesin notes, but this is where her voice stops.


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