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

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Summary and Analysis: Act V

Elesin stands imprisoned in a cell looking out through the bars, his wrists chained together in thick iron bracelets. His new bride sits on the ground just outside the cell; she does not look up. Two guards vigilantly watch Elesin from deeper inside the cell. Simon enters and sits down, leaning his back against the cell bars. For a moment everything is quiet as Simon and Elesin together contemplate the night sky. Simon comments on the peaceful night. Elesin corrects him, asserting instead that the night is anything but peaceful. Simon has shattered the peace of the world forever. Simon points out that he can bear to lose a night’s sleep as the price of saving the Elesin’s life. Again the Elesin contradicts Simon, saying that he has, in fact, destroyed the Elesin’s life. The conversation goes on like this for a while: where Simon sees the accomplishment of his duty, Elesin sees only disaster and the shattering of cosmic harmony. Elesin reminds Simon that he stole his eldest son and sent him away to England in order to turn Olunde into the image of an Englishman. To Elesin, this proves that Simon has always plotted to destroy the foundations of Yoruban culture, to tilt the world off its course. Elesin states poignantly that he never guessed that white skin covered the future of his people, preventing them from foreseeing the disruption of their world. He proudly tells Simon that when Olunde disowned him earlier, he knew then that his son would avenge his shame. Simon informs the Elesin that he has spoken with Olunde. Olunde sends his apology and requests to see his father one more time before he returns to England. Simon has told Olunde to come to visit Elesin later when the town is a little quieter. Bitterly, Elesin answers that Simon advises everyone—though on what authority, he cannot say. Hearing Jane call him from off-stage, Simon leaves.

Elesin gazes at his new wife for a while and then speaks to her. Tenderly, he tells her that first he blamed the white man for the catastrophe, and then he blamed the gods. Now, he wants to blame her for sapping his will to die. Perhaps, he says, her warmth and youth were what caused his footsteps to turn to lead in the world of the living. He might have shaken off his longing for her at the time appointed for his death, but the white man had entered the room and defiled and disrupted the ritual. At this moment, Simon and Jane return. Jane is asking Simon to let in a visitor to see the Elesin. Apparently, Olunde has sent a note to Jane petitioning her to beg her husband to allow Iyaloja to visit Elesin. Simon perceives a subtle threat in the note from Olunde, who has written that the only way to prevent rioting in Oyo tomorrow is to allow the mother of the market to see Elesin tonight. Annoyed, Simon asks Elesin if he wants a visitor. Although he knows that the visitor is Iyaloja, come to berate and curse him for failing to fulfill his ritual obligation to the community, Elesin exhibits an eagerness for abuse. He bids Simon to bring Iyaloja to him. Simon returns with Iyaloja and demands that Elesin promise as a man of honor not to try anything foolish. Bitterly, Elesin tells Simon that he has stolen away all the honor the Elesin had; in fact, colonialism in general has stolen away the honor of the Elesin’s people. Offended that Elesin would bring politics into this matter, Simon decides he cannot trust Elesin or Iyaloja after all. He makes Iyaloja stand in one place, distant enough from the cell to prevent her from passing anything to Elesin, and he calls on the guards to blow their whistles if she should move. He and Jane go off together.

As anticipated, Iyaloja has no words of pity or compassion for Elesin—only bitter curses and scorn. She reminds him of her earlier warning that he not commit any deeds that would taint the lives of those he leaves behind. As the bride sobs in the background, Iyaloja asks Elesin how he could be so bold as to create new life. She tells him...

(The entire section is 2,703 words.)