Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Madmen and Specialists presents a stark confrontation between good and evil forces. Good it defines as creative, beneficent, and humane; evil as destructive, sadistic, and reductionist. To make sure that the audience does not miss the point, Wole Soyinka provides two supernatural characters—the earth mothers Iya Agba and Iya Mate—to pronounce the law that governs the universe. Nature, they say, operates according to the principle of reciprocity: “We put back what we take, in one form or another. Or more than we take. It’s the only law.” Anyone who violates that principle is doomed, eventually, to fail. When Bero tries to“proscribe Earth itself” he attempts the impossible task of stepping outside the circle.

In addition, Soyinka gives another “elder” in the play, the Old Man, unusual intellectual powers and a moral sensibility that, in his case, borders on madness. His response to Bero’s evil is a disturbing, ironic dialectic that proves even more elusive and provoking to Bero than the philosophical calm of the old women. Like them he strikes certain humanistic chords—“A part of me,” he says, “identifies with every human being”—but his dealings with Bero are aggressive and extreme, a kind of psychological shock treatment. He lowered Bero and his fellow officers to the level of beasts when he told them, “All intelligent animals kill only for food . . . and you are intelligent animals.” With the meal of human flesh, he “robbed them of salvation.” While they are looking for him, they should instead “be looking for themselves.”

Like Socrates, the Old Man insists on the importance of the examined life. He fails, however, to enlighten Bero any more than he has the mendicants. The best he can do is, like the blindman in the...

(The entire section is 734 words.)