Ola Rotimi was one of Nigeria’s and Africa’s foremost dramatists, both a theatrical teacher and an entertainer as well as a playwright. Two of Rotimi’s plays, Kurunmi and Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, are historical tragedies that recapture pivotal moments in the history of the Yoruba people and the glorious empire of Benin. Three other plays, Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again, If, and Hopes of the Living Dead, constitute a dramatic sociopolitical trilogy, an extended inquiry into the themes of struggle and integrity of leadership. In these plays, as in others, Rotimi warned his people to beware political charlatans who have continued to lead postindependence Nigeria to one poor harvest after another. A dominant subject of Rotimi’s plays was official and unofficial corruption on such a massive scale that the traditional African sense of community had been sacrificed to personal greed, personal power, and personal self-glorification. The Gods Are Not to Blame, first presented at the Ife Festival of the Arts in 1968, has as its theme that the real source of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) was mutual ethnic distrust among Nigerian people and not the work of the great political gods of the freshly decolonialized world, the United States and the former Soviet Union as well as France and England.
The Gods Are Not to Blame was awarded first prize in the African Arts/Arts d’Afrique playwriting...
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Banham, Martin. Dancers in the Forest: Five West African Playwrights. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Contains a perceptive study of Rotimi and his work. Focuses especially on his play If and analyzes Rotimi’s use of performance space in the play.
Banham, Martin. “Ola Rotimi: ‘Humanity as My Tribesman.’” Modern Drama 33 (March, 1990): 67-81. Quotes at length from If and offers the first close critical look at Hopes of the Living Dead, which, Banham says, is more optimistic than If. Banham states that the strength of Rotimi’s work “lies . . . in its powerful theatrical advocacy of political and social action.”
Cbafemi, Clu. “Tragedy and the Recreation of History in Ola Rotimi’s Plays.” In Contemporary Nigerian Theatre. Bayreuth, Germany: Eckhard Breitinger, 1996. Excellent study of Rotimi’s history plays by a Nigerian academic. Gives ample historical background, summarizes some of the controversies Rotimi’s plays have created in Nigeria, and has a perceptive discussion of Rotimi’s characteristic dramatic techniques.
Crow, Brian. “Melodrama and the ‘Political Unconscious’ in Two African Plays.” Ariel 14 (July, 1983): 15-31. Compares Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi with Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s The...
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