A Dance of the Forests

by Wole Soyinka

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The significance of characters playing double roles in A Dance of the Forests

Summary:

The significance of characters playing double roles in A Dance of the Forests is to highlight the cyclical nature of history and human behavior. By portraying characters in both their past and present lives, Soyinka emphasizes the recurring themes of guilt, redemption, and the interconnectedness of past actions with present consequences.

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Does the double role of certain characters in A Dance of the Forests have significance?

The primary story of the effects of Demoke’s actions is interconnected with the story of two ghostly characters, the Dead Man and the Dead Woman. This connection is emphasized through the doubling of the magical Forest Head with an ordinary human man named Obaneji. Likewise, the character of Rola in the present is doubled with the mythical Tortoise woman, and the artist Demoke is doubled with an ancient counterpart of a poet.

Through the use of different kinds of doubles (both disguised individuals and parallel sets of characters), Wole Soyinka shows how the past affects the present and how traditional culture provides an indispensable source for modern life. The doubling of characters is expanded by the duality of settings, namely the forest and the town. The two divine figures, Ogun and Eshu or Eshuoro, also provide elements of duality. The routine, normal world dominated by Ogun is upset by Eshuoro’s trickster behavior, thus confirming how unpredictable and uncontrollable life is.

Rather than simply juxtapose two sets of characters or two plots occurring in the past and the present, Soyinka mixes up the natural and supernatural worlds. While the ghostly realm that the Dead Man and Dead Woman inhabit may be associated with the past, it is also the realm of power. The living characters cannot safely ignore that power, which affects their behavior and interactions. By connecting a modern character, such as the protagonist Demoke, with unresolved issues of a man in the past, Soyinka shows the dependence of Nigeria’s people on their cultural and spiritual heritage.

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Wole Soyinka makes certain characters play double roles in his play A Dance of the Forests. Does this have any significance?

In Wole Soyinka's play, A Dance of the Forests, Obaneji the record-keeper is doubled with the Forest Father, Demoke the wood carver with an ancient court poet, and the sadistic Rola with the prostitute Madame Tortoise. In all three cases, there are connections between the two roles which bring out the themes of the play.

Obaneji is is unpopular because he keeps records of the villagers' lives, provoking suspicion and resentment. However, as the forest father, his knowledge is far more extensive, as is his power. The doubling of the character provides a link between humanity and nature.

Demoke is an artisan who is struggling with guilt over the death of his apprentice. His character is doubled with that of the poet, who is also a creator of beauty and a sensitive soul. The power of art and the pain of the artist, who must be both sensitive and robust, are depicted as being the same in both eras.

Another character who transcends time is Rola, who is a symbol of evil, using her power over men to cause them harm. Soyinka emphasizes Rola's misuse of her beauty, which harms the central characters in the play, by doubling her with the prostitute Madame Tortoise. As with the other two double roles, the characters share a single central characteristic, which is more prominent because it is presented twice.

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

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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Which characters play double roles in A Dance of the Forests? Does this have any significance?

In A Dance of the Forests, Demoke's role is doubled with that of an ancient court poet, Obaneji's with that of the Forest Father, and Rola's with that of Madame Tortoise. All these pairings emphasize significant connections, between past and present, humanity and nature, and the physical and spiritual realms.

Demoke, the woodcarver, is tormented with guilt over the death of his apprentice, Oremole. His soul-searching reflects his sensitive, artistic nature, which is unable to dismiss Oremole's death as a mere accident. The redemptive power of art, which brings the artist face to face with his own fears and emotions, allowing him to overcome them, is a central theme in the play. This is why Demoke's ancient counterpart is also a creative artist.

Obaneji is disliked in the village because he keeps records of the inhabitants' lives, provoking suspicion. He is later revealed to be the all-powerful Forest Father, ruler of gods and mortals. The fact that he observes and records the deeds of the villagers in both roles reveals the essential connection between nature and humanity.

Rola is a sadistic woman who has used her sexual power to harm others, particularly the Dead Man and the Dead Woman, who play a central role in the dance. Having misused her beauty, she is doubled with the prostitute, Madame Tortoise.

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