Death and the Kings Horseman: A Play by Wole SoyinkaBased on events that took place in Oyo, an ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria, in 1946, Wole Soyinkas powerful play concerns the intertwined lives of Elesin Oba, the kings chief horseman; his son, Olunde, now studying medicine in England; and Simon Pilkings, the colonial district officer. The king has died and Elesin, his chief horseman, is expected by law and custom to commit suicide and accompany his ruler to heaven. The stage is set for a dramatic climax when Pilkings learns of the ritual and decides to intervene and Elesins son arrives home.
Death and the King’s Horseman
W ole Soyinka is explaining what moved him, in the mids, to write his play Death and the King's Horseman. And that means, inevitably, telling a story. At the time, he was a fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, he says, one of the Nobel laureate's many periods of political exile from his home in Nigeria. Every day, as he came down the college staircase, he would pass a bust of Winston Churchill, that old bulldog of British colonialism. And, every day, he caught himself thinking the same thing. He never did, but that feeling of rebellion became what Soyinka calls the "triggering mechanism" for the many plays, novels and poems that followed.
When the play opens, the Yoruba king has just died, and Elesin Oba the king's horseman , according to tradition, must follow his king to the great beyond. The move is important because it keeps the universe spinning. Which sounds really important if you ask us. As Elesin enters the market to prepare for the big plunge, he seems pretty ready—but the Praise-Singer who accompanies him is a wee bit dubious that he'll be able to take things all the way. Elesin reassures him, and the women of the market start getting him outfitted properly for the big event. However, Elesin is still interested enough in life on this side of the eternal divide to demand that Iyaloja a. Even though the girl is betrothed to Iyaloja's own son, and she's worried that getting married will be a distraction from the task at hand, Iyaloja agrees—after all, he's about to make a big sacrifice for their people, so how can she turn him down?
Based on an actual brouhaha that went down in , Wole Soyinka 's Death and the King's Horseman is about a dude named Elesin who—you may not be shocked to learn—has been serving as the king's horseman in the city of Oyo in Nigeria. Now, since there are a couple of different monarchies floating around this tale, we have to clarify that we mean the Yoruban king—by which we also mean not the British one. See, the area is under British control, so the British government has quite a presence… and a whole lot of power.
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