Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka could be considered an exercise in border-crossing of all kinds—challenging the borders of our Western understanding, probing the borders of earthly existence, and the highly problematic border-invasions that characterize Western imperialism. In the interest of moving beyond borders and boundaries here in class (moving beyond the individual into collaboration) I’d like you to meet for a discussion on the play Death and the King’s Horseman. Bring central ideas, questions, concerns, and fascinations to class on Thursday.
If you find yourselves unable to meet in the same place at the same time (I know it is difficult to coordinate schedules) stage a discussion on a chatroom or discussion board. You might use one of your blogs to start and the discussion can consist of a series of comments. I encourage you, though, if at all possible, to meet in person.
Possible discussion points (this is not all-inclusive—choose what’s helpful and create your own as well):
o One way of thinking through the border-crossing in the play is by way of the idea of liminality. Liminality, the state of being in-between, is an important current through Soyinka’s play and a notable feature of theatrical performance as well. What characters occupy spaces of liminality? How can you trace the different manifestations of this phenomenon through the play? What does Soyinka reveal about each cultures’ attitudes toward spaces of liminality? In short, why is liminality central in the play?
o How is it possible to understand the differences in conceptions of death by the two cultures? How do the characters try (or not try) to communicate these differences? Why is death a profitable site of investigation for a play?
o What is the function of women in the play? What does Soyinka say about the role of women in each culture? How does he challenge notions of gender roles, or use gender to enhance the conflict in the play?
This will be a play unlike many of you will have read before, and the first scene especially is likely to catch you off guard. Consider both what is difficult about the play, but also what is accessible for you.