Multi-ethnic, Indigenous, and Intertextual Dialogues in Drama
Edited By Dorothy Figueira and Marc Maufort
John Burt Foster Soyinka [Euripides-Nietzsche] Thomas Mann: Intertextual Dialogues across the Twentieth Century 211
Soyinka [Euripides-Nietzsche] Thomas Mann: Intertextual Dialogues across the Twentieth Century John Burt FOSTER George Mason University Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman was published shortly after the author’s return to Nigeria in 1976 as a Professor of Comparative Literature. Though the appointment did not last, the play lives up to the cross-cultural promise of this circumstance by offering a variety of ways to explore the topic of multiple voices in a comparatist spirit. The plot, which had already been treated a decade earlier in a Yoruba play by Duro Ladipo,1 famously involves a British colonial officer in Nigeria whose intervention to prevent enactment of a local ritual leads to tragic results. The situation recalls similar efforts by the British to prevent sati, or widow-suicide in India: whenever a King of Oyo dies, within a month that event must be followed by the death, supposedly self-willed, of his horseman, who has inherited the duty of accompanying his ruler on his journey to the other world. This display of extraordinary will power also serves as an object lesson for the culture at large, either through its capacity to allay personal fears of death or to head off disaster for a community bereft of its king. Soyinka’s version of the story enlarges on this clash between the assumptions of the colonial authorities and the values of an Indigenous culture, to such an extent that in his “Author’s Note” to Death and the King’s Horseman he protests the “sadly familiar reductionist tendency...
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