Death and the King's Horseman

by Wole Soyinka

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In Death and the King's Horseman how does each Act relate to the other?

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One way of understanding the structure of this play is to consider how the play presents two very different worlds that are shown to be completely separate and which have very little understanding of each other. This theme is something that is developed through the structure of the play, with scenes 1 and 3 focusing on the Yoruba culture and scenes 2 and 4 focusing mainly on the British Imperial culture represented by Jane and Pilkings. At the end of scene 4, these two cultures are shown to collide with the appearance of Elesin, and in scene 5, the impact of these two cultures colliding produces an explosion that rocks the very centre of both. The relation of the different scenes to each other in this play can therefore be seen as exemplifying the cultural dissonance that exists between the Yoruba culture and the white culture, which sets the scene for the final tragedy that occurs when Pilkings interferes in Yoruba culture without fully understanding what is going on. Note how Olunde draws attention to this in his conversation with Jane in scene 4:

Yet another error into which your people fall. You believe that everything which appears to make sense was learnt from you.

Olunde therefore understands how Pilkings sees Elesin's suicide as a "savage" and "barbaric" custom and feels he should be thanked by Olunde for stopping his father killing himself. He fails to understand the very different perception of death and duty that the Yoruba possess, even though Olunde and Jane's conversation draws out an interesting parallel through reference to the ship's captain who willingly sacrifices himself to save the lives of many. Structurally, the play presents the audience with two very separate worlds that are shown to be radically different in the way they view the world. As the play develops and these two worlds collide, the audience has little expectation of an amicable interchange of views.

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