Madmen and Specialists

by Wole Soyinka
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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 306

The play’s central character is Dr. Bero, the “specialist” of the title. A physician who has been serving in the civil war that ravages his nation, Bero trained in medicine but then moved into intelligence work. One particularly repugnant idiosyncrasy is his avowed cannibalistic experience. During the course of the play, Bero plays out his rebellion against his father (and the old social order) by imprisoning and then killing him. Before this fatal end, the two men also engage in philosophical dialogue.

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Bero’s father, known as the Old Man, is another important character. Along with four beggars/spies, he is an adherent in the cult of the deity As. It is his earlier cannibalism that had gotten Bero involved, but it also necessitated his removal from the war zone. Part of the plot revolves around the spies having strayed from this worship and the Old Man’s efforts to reconvert them, which will include a ritual sacrifice that Bero decides he must stop.

The four mendicants/spies are Afaa, the Cripple, Goyi, and the Blind Man. Afaa often serves as their spokesperson, voicing philosophical objections to the war and cannibalism, and questioning the Old Man’s belief in As. Goyi is primarily distinguished by wearing a back brace. The Cripple’s legs are injured so he cannot walk; the Old Man plans to “operate” or cut and eat the flesh of his legs.

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Latest answer posted June 15, 2021, 9:26 am (UTC)

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The Priest, a visitor to the home, is a long-time old friend of the Old Man who is disturbed by the discussion of cannibalism.

Two female characters, who are earth-mother symbols, are Iya Agba and Iya Mate. They are experienced herbal healers who decide to destroy the potions rather than allow Si Bero to misuse them.

Si Bero, the doctor’s sister, is a traditional healer whom the older women mistrust.

Characters Discussed

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 686

Dr. Bero

Dr. Bero, also called The Specialist, a medical doctor returning from service in a civil war analogous to the Biafran secession from Nigeria (1967-1970) but generalized by its echoes of similar conflicts such as the 1960-1964 Katangan conflict in the Congo (now Zaire). Bero began service as a doctor but found that he had a talent for intelligence work and has since become the head of intelligence, in which position he acquired the nickname “The Specialist.” He claims to have eaten and enjoyed human flesh, particularly testicles. He has sent four spies, masquerading as beggars, to watch his father, the Old Man, whom he has had confined in the basement surgery of their house. Against his father’s metaphysical proclamations of the new deity As, Bero claims to understand the nature of real (temporal) power. Bero’s four spies are former disciples of the Old Man. When the Old Man recaptures their allegiance and is at the point of “operating” on one of them, Bero appears and shoots him.

The Old Man

The Old Man, Bero’s father, also a medical doctor. He likes his regular arguments with the Priest. During the last of these, he submits that cannibalism should be made legal. Shortly thereafter, he follows his son to war and is given charge of convalescent patients, whom he converts to the partly obscurantist, partly cynical cult of As. His comments on cannibalism threaten to bring severe legal reprisals. His son rescues him and has him taken home to be confined in the surgery. At his first opportunity, he reasserts his control over the beggars. He is shot by Bero as he attempts to cut open the Cripple and sample his flesh.


Aafaa (ah-AH-fah), one of the four mendicants, subject to St. Vitus’ Dance. He is the most voluble of the four, often leading them in elaborate charades. His comments, even to Bero, are often satirical and challenging, and Bero finds it necessary to remind him who employs him and his fellows. He, Goyi, and the Blind Man help the Old Man prepare the Cripple for his “operation.”

Iya Agba

Iya Agba, one of two old women. She and her companion are herbalists who have accumulated generations of knowledge. They have shared their secrets generously with Bero’s sister but now fear that Bero may misuse them. In the climactic scene, as Bero shoots the Old Man, Iya Agba sets fire to her entire collection of herbs and mixtures.

Si Bero

Si Bero, Bero’s sister. While waiting for her father and brother to return, she has studied so diligently under the two old women that she knows all that they know. They do not find this dangerous, in spite of Bero, because they know her to be a good person. She is unaware of the Old Man’s presence and is overjoyed to see her brother. Her joy turns quickly to apprehension when she perceives how he has changed.

The Priest

The Priest, a longtime friend of the Old Man. He consistently refuses Si Bero’s compound to treat a long-standing ailment; although she says it is the very same compound, he does not trust it to be as well made as her father’s. After his first shock at the Old Man’s comment on cannibalism, he decides that it was only an arguing point. When Bero implies that he has eaten human flesh, the Priest is shocked anew, and he employs a transparent pretext to refuse a dinner invitation.

The Blind Man

The Blind Man, another mendicant. He is distinguished from the others by his long, rambling speech toward the end of the play, in which he both represents and parodies the motives of different parties in the civil war.

Iya Mate

Iya Mate (mah-TEH), the second old woman. She is more cautious than Iya Agba, whom she allows to take the lead in destroying the storeroom of herbal secrets.


Goyi and

The Cripple

The Cripple, the other two mendicants. Goyi is bent forward by an ever-present back brace, and the Cripple drags himself along on his knees.

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Critical Essays