Death and the King's Horseman

Death and the King's Horseman Character List


A chief and the King's horseman who is supposed to die thirty days after the King does, Elesin prepares himself to die but is thwarted from that goal by Pilkings. Elesin is a loud, vivacious, and lusty man who enjoys the pleasures of the living, and, for all his talk of shame, seems somewhat hesitant to die. He insists on marrying a young girl who is already betrothed right before dying. He commits suicide at the end after hearing that his son has taken the ritual death on himself to avert greater shame and the fulfillment of the ritual.


The District Officer who is committed to duty and enforcing English law, even if it interferes with the local traditions and rituals. He expresses prejudice and intolerance of the Nigerians, and is often short and callous with his wife Jane. He is broadly drawn as the stereotypical English colonial official.

Jane Pilkings

Naive and somewhat ignorant, Jane is more likeable than her husband since she tries to understand the Nigerians a bit more. She is more nuanced than stereotypical, but possesses the unfortunate prejudices of her country.

The Praise-Singer

He sings for Elesin as the chief makes his passage to the other side.


The mother of the marketplace, she is initially solicitous of all Elesin's needs, but is fiercely critical of him after he does not die during the ritual.


Elesin's son. He was educated in England but returned to Nigeria to bury his father. Although Western-educated, he does not adhere to the values of the English and sacrifices himself when his father fails. He is smart, rational, and respectable.

The Bride

Chosen by Elesin for her beauty, the Bride couples with Elesin before he is supposed to depart, and, it is assumed, conceives his child. She is completely mute and passive.

The Resident

Pilkings's superior, who demands that Pilkings control the situation with Elesin.

The Prince

The visiting dignitary whose presence sends Pilkings into a tizzy.

The Aide-de-Camp

Also referred to as Bob, the Aide-de-Camp assists the Resident. He is officious, but does not seem to like the Africans and is quick to find Olunde hostile.


The Pilkings' houseboy, who becomes sullen when Pilkings says something negative about Christianity.


Pilkings's Nigerian sergeant, who is offended by his boss's egungun costumes in the first part of the play. He spearheads the effort to arrest Elesin, for which the marketplace women and girls mercilessly taunt him.