Death and the King's Horseman by Wole Soyinka

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How is Elesin Oba portrayed as a tragic hero in Wole Soyinka's play Death and the King's Horseman

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In his Poetics, Aristotle defined a tragic hero as a noble person who has a tragic downfall. The downfall is caused by hamartia, which is a fatal character flaw or mistake in judgement. The hamartia brings about a negative change in the status of the character's wealth or happiness, otherwise called a tragic downfall. The tragic hero's hamartia is oftentimes hubris, which is defined as improper pride. Finally, according to Aristotle, a hero is tragic if the hero's fate is worse than the hero really deserves ("Tragic Hero as Defined by Aristotle," Bainbridge Island School District).

In Wole Soyinka's play Death and the King's Horseman, one reason why Elesin Oba, the king's horseman, can be considered a tragic hero is because he has hubris, or excessive pride. Elesin takes great pride in his ceremonial role to commit suicide in order to help the deceased king's soul transition into the next world. Yet, he displays excessive pride in taking to heart all of the people's praise of his bravery and in believing he is entitled to all the riches he sees, including the beautiful Bride who is promised to another man. Due to his excessive pride, he insists on having a wedding night with her before proceeding with his ceremonial suicide. Had he acted in the situation with humility, he would have continued without hesitation to follow through with the ceremony he believed was his duty to fulfill. He even insists on having her as a bride against the wisdom of other characters, like lyaloja, who begs him to leave her as a bride for her intended. The character lyaloja expresses her displeasure in his desire through indirectly questioning his honor in the following:

The best is yours. We know you for a man of honour. You are not one who eats and leaves nothing on his plate for children. Did you not say it yourself? Not one how blights the happiness of others for a moment's pleasure. (p. 20)

In saying the above, she is begging him not to ruin the happiness and future of the Bride...

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