What is the significance of the characters playing double roles in A Dance of the Forests?

The significance of the characters playing double roles in A Dance of the Forests is that it represents the continuity of human nature between past and present. In the play, Soyinka advances a cyclical view of history, and this is illustrated by the same characters taking on different roles from different historical epochs.

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A Dance of the Forests is nothing if not ambitious. In the play, Soyinka attempts nothing less than a comprehensive view of man spanning an enormous period of history. In celebrating Nigeria’s newfound independence from colonial rule Soyinka wants to affirm the historical identity of the Nigerian people that had been suppressed for so long.

In order to do this, he presents the pattern of history as being cyclical. In that sense, independent Nigeria can be construed as representing the start of a new cycle of history. This is both the end of an era and the start of a new one.

The continuity of human nature which such a cyclical conception of history entails necessitates the duality of certain characters. Characters that live in the present also appear as historical personages at the court of King Mata Kharibu.

Though numerous themes appear throughout the play, they are subordinated to the overriding theme of the continuity of human nature. This can serve as both a deep source of satisfaction for the audience—they can now see the newly independent Nigeria as having a real history—but also as a warning, as it acts as a reminder that the follies of the past are destined to be repeated in the present and the future.

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