Death and the King's Horseman

by Wole Soyinka

Start Free Trial

Questions and Answers: Act I

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Study Questions
1. Describe the character of Elesin Oba.

2. Who follows the Elesin Oba around in this scene, and why?

3. What is the Elesin’s role in the community? How is he supposed to keep the world in balance?

4. What is the significance of the story of the “Not-I bird”?

5. How does Iyaloja react when the Elesin decides he wants to take her future daughter-in-law as his bride?

1. Elesin is vivacious and proud, as demonstrated in his performance of the folktale of the “Not-I bird.” He has a lust for life, and his weakness for pleasure as well as his arrogance are demonstrated in the fact that he decides to take a beautiful young girl for his bride on the very night that he is appointed to die.

2. Praise singers and drummers follow him around, dancing and singing. Additionally, the market women swarm around him, admiring and pampering him and fulfilling his every wish. Because he is the king’s horseman, and hence has the crucial cultural obligation to follow the King in death and thereby maintain cosmic harmony, the community considers him a hero and treats him like royalty.

3. The Elesin is the keeper of the king’s stables. As the king’s horseman, he is the king’s companion in death as in life. The role of the Elesin is handed down from father to son, and as someone says of the Elesin, the duty runs in his blood. He keeps the world in balance by performing his cultural duty of committing ritual suicide, meeting the king at the gateway of the after-world, and accompanying the king in death.

4. The “Not-I bird” is a folktale that illustrates how common people fear Death’s calling. The Elesin tells this story in order to emphasize that he does not fear death, but rather, is willing and proud to die for his community. The story is also entertaining, and it introduces the audience to the importance of dancing, chanting, and singing in the Yoruban culture.

5. Iyaloja is initially affronted but quickly accommodates the Elesin’s wishes. However, she warns him not to commit any deeds in life that will bear negatively on those he leaves behind when he is dead. Ultimately, she appears willing to relinquish her son’s claims to the girl since it will benefit the community.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Questions and Answers: Act II