Death and the King's Horseman Summary and Analysis: Act III
by Wole Soyinka

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Summary and Analysis: Act III

New Characters
Two constables accompanying Sergeant Amusa.

A group of young girls who have been attending to the Elesin’s new bride.

Summary
Scene Three begins back in the market, where a cloth stall has been converted into a lavish tent, the entrance of which is covered in rich cloths. The market women back onto the empty stage as a group, pursued by Sergeant Amusa and two constables who are waving their batons. When they get closer to the tent, the women take a determined stand and begin taunting the policemen. Amusa tells them he is there on official business. Calling him the white man’s eunuch, a woman retorts that they too are there on official business, but it isn’t something Amusa would understand. Another woman tugs at one of the constable’s batons and jokes that what is in his shorts is what really matters. They laughingly tell each other that the constable has nothing between his legs. Attempting to preserve some dignity, Amusa orders the women to clear the road. One woman fires back pointedly that it was Amusa’s father who built the road, implying that Amusa has deserted his culture. Another tells Amusa to go tell the white man to come himself. Amusa gestures towards the tent and tells the women that the British colonial government has decided that this sort of ritual practice must stop. A woman asserts that the king’s horseman will prove himself greater than the laws of white strangers tonight. Just then, Iyaloja comes out of the tent and asks why Amusa comes to disturb the happiness of the community. Amusa tells her that it is his duty to arrest Elesin for criminal intent. Iyaloja replies that he has no right to prevent Elesin from performing his duty. She explains to Amusa that the Elesin is enjoying his wedding night. At this, some of the women start jeering at Amusa again, insinuating that he knows nothing of what should happen on a wedding night. When Amusa asks Iyaloja to stop the women from insulting him further, several young girls push through the crowd and begin ridiculing and upbraiding him. The girls say that Amusa is cheeky and impertinent to intrude where he is not welcome and talk so rudely to their mothers. They surround the two constables, snatch their batons, and begin to wield them threateningly. The girls knock the hats right off the constables’ heads. Then, some of the girls begin to play-act, to the great amusement of the market women. Aping the British as if at the club or a party, the girls outdo each other in gestures of exaggerated politeness, overwrought English accents, and empty chatter. Two girls put on the constables’ hats, bow, and greet one another. One asks the other what she thinks of the natives. The other girl replies that the natives are restless, even difficult, but she is coping. At the encouragement of the tittering audience of market women, the girls continue. Still in character, one girl says that all natives are liars, and the other agrees. The play-acting girls affectionately call each other “old chap” and discuss the weather, whisky, and golfing. One of them bellows for Sergeant Amusa, who has been so taken by the mimicry that he actually obeys the voice of the girl and snaps to attention. The women burst out laughing at Amusa all over again. Finally, defeated and humiliated, Amusa and his constables retreat.

Once the policemen have left, the women clap their hands together in wonder, asking one another if they have ever seen anything so wonderful as their daughters’ fierce defense and clever mimicry. One of the mothers asks her daughter if she learned to do that in school. Another shudders at the memory that she nearly kept her daughter from attending school. One woman tells the others that the next time a white man sets foot in the market, she will just set her daughter after him! At this, a woman bursts into a joyful song, and the rest of the women begin dancing around the girls. At this moment, Elesin appears holding a stained white cloth and...

(The entire section is 1,962 words.)