Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 August 2015
This essay places Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman in various comparative contexts. These include the comparison with Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Arrow of God, literary tragedy, and world literature. Setting out the difficulties in teaching African and minority literatures in the Euro-American classroom, the essay details the means by which such problems are negotiated and the ways in which the text is brought alive as a dramatic text that speaks to various themes and ideas.
1 Although I have taught African and postcolonial literature to both undergraduates and graduates, I find the problems pertain to the degree of their familiarity with minority literatures and not necessarily to the stage in their studies when there are being introduced to this literature. Thus, even though my remarks here are geared mainly toward undergraduates, it has often also proven useful to frame the critical issues to graduate students in a similar manner, even if with more complex modes of exemplification.
2 Olaniyan, Tejumola, “Festivals, Rituals, and Drama in Africa,” in The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature, eds. Abiola Irele and Simon Gikandi. Vol. 1. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 35–48 Google Scholar.
3 Special thanks to Adeleke Adeeko for providing me the Yorùbá language translation of the proverb at very short notice. Adeeko also pointed out in personal communication that there is a Yorùbá proverbial etiquette that enjoins principal actors in a spectacle to be singularly mindful of their task and not turn themselves into spectators, with “ẹni à ǹwò kìí wòran” being the formulaic expression. This is to say that the well-being of the spectacle should be the actor’s only preoccupation. Soyinka’s interpretation of rituals, Greek or Yorùbá, entails the mindful and forceful exercise of will. Anything less is tragic. A full account of the ritual dimensions of the play requires students to be additionally introduced to Soyinka’s reflections on the god Ogun, to be found especially in his essay “The Fourth Stage,” in Myth, Literature, and the African World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975). I provide a lengthy discussion of this in Strategic Transformations in Nigerian Writing (Oxford and Bloomington: James Currey and Indiana University Press). In courses in which I have placed special emphasis on exploring orality and ritual with my students these works have been indispensable.