Soyinka, Wole (Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka) 1934–
Soyinka, a Nigerian dramatist, director, poet, and novelist, is considered one of the most important contemporary African dramatists writing in English. Underlying all his work is African folklore, with its relevance to social and political elements. Critics agree that his two-year political imprisonment in Nigeria had a tremendous effect on his writing, changing his once hopeful outlook to one of growing despair and pessimism. (See also CLC, Vols. 3, 5, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-16, rev. ed.)
Mr. Soyinka is a fluent, funny and angry West African, but he has not yet begun to understand how to work out a verse or to organise a play….
Mr. Soyinka's verse was mainly in the cata-Logue manner with clumsy pamphleteering phrases ('untransmuted emotion,' 'venery,' 'chillun worse than their sires') leading into unusual and unprecise images ('the moon bounds like a fried egg in oil'). The humour was occasionally attractively raw and tough…. The farther away from the Chelsea street-poet he went the more natural and affecting Mr. Soyinka became. His play, The Invention, revealed his limitations even more embarrassingly. The original idea was quite sharp and provocative…. But now the idea has been kicked off, it must be passed from player to player until it smacks the goal. Mr. Soyinka has no way out of the narrative dilemmas he has set himself. Eventually he tries to abolish them all with a version of the Emperor's-New-Clothes device. The humours and the horrors of the situation are both too easy. (p. 629)
Alan Brien, "Where Spades Are Trumps," in The Spectator (© 1959 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), Vol. 203, No. 6854, November 6, 1959, pp. 629-30.∗
[Drama] deals with the basic human emotions and predicaments in a social context, both in the interaction of several characters on the stage, and in the even more important interaction between the stage and the audience. The basic human emotions are still involved, but they are expressed through social conventions which may be totally different from one society to another. (p. 33)
This is not to say that universal, or almost universal, drama is wholly impossible. There may, after all, be social conventions that are shared by very large sections of humanity, if not by all mankind…. It is only occasionally that the very strangeness of the social context is a factor in favour of an imported play which allows it to cash in on its exoticisms. But, alas, experience shows that delight in exoticism almost invariably fastens on superficial, external factors (like the bare bosoms of African dance companies) and therefore tends to favour the most shallow importations which concentrate on such surface elements. (p. 34)
[But, it might be argued, the work of Wole Soyinka] should be largely exempt from these considerations; for, after all, [he is] writing in English. Far from being an advantage, in my opinion, this is a further handicap. Not that [Soyinka is] in any way at a disadvantage in using the English language. On the contrary: [he is a real master] of all its nuances and [is, indeed, a very considerable artist]…. Here again the problem arises from the nature of drama itself…. We are here presented with African peasants, African fishermen, African labourers expressing themselves in impeccable English. Of course in reality they speak their own languages equally impeccably and the [playwright has] merely translated what they would have said is those languages into the equivalent English. Precisely! Which is to say that these original plays labour under the universal handicap of all translated drama…. Realistic plays in non-Standard idioms are untranslatable. Only highly stylised poetic drama has a chance in translation. And that surely is the reason why … Wole Soyinka's prose (which only occasionally is heightened to verse) … remains on a strictly formalised, stylised level. (pp. 34-5)
Wole Soyinka is of a … romantic...
(The entire section is 5,241 words.)