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Death and the King's Horseman


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Based on the real events that took place in the ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria in 1946, this play tells how Simon Pilkings, a district officer, intervenes to prevent the ritual suicide demanded by the death of the King. There follow drastic repercussions in both indigenous and colonial communities.

About the Author

Wole Soyinka - playwright, novelist, poet and polemical essayist - was born in Nigeria in 1934. Educated there and at Leeds University, he worked in the British theatre before returning to West Africa in 1960. In 1986 he became the first African writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He is currently Woodruff Professor of the Arts, Emory University, Atlanta.


'This rich turbulent piece, which starts as folk comedy and ends as Greek tragedy, takes on board an abundance of ideas: identity, tradition, the passage from life to death Soyinka's play is as much philosophical as political.' Michael Billington, Guardian, 9.4.09 'Based on events in 1940s Nigeria, the story attains a more classically tragic power in showing two forces unable to understand each other. On one side there is the Yoruba culture, in which the death of a king is followed by the suicide of his favoured liegeman on the other, the powers that be with their contrary code that suicide is illegal and to be prevented, even if it costs more lives.' Ian Shuttleworth, Financial Times, 13.4.09 'Wole Soyinka's play is one of the great creations of twentieth-century theatre: it has the fire, grandeur, cruelty and humanity of Greek tragedy, the moral cutting edge of modern political thinking, and the African writer's take on his own people's values: loving mocking, ironical and ruthlessly observant Soyinka writes with the moral ambivalence and relentless questioning of Shakespeare' John Peter, Sunday Times, 19.4.09

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