Death and The King's Horseman "forge[s] out of this story a metaphor not just for the whole history of Africa and its collision with colonial Europe but a profound meditation on the nature of man, . . . the relationship of life with death and the power of religion, ritual and spirituality in human existence." It is probably Soyinka's greatest work for the theatre and remains one of his most universal and accessible dramatic statements.
One of the play's interpretive problems is Elesin's attempt to commit suicide. As Soyinka conceals the moment when Elesin is interrupted, we do not know whether the interruption prevented his follow through, whether he could not bring himself to commit the act, or whether he just did not know how to perform it. He himself gives conflicting explanations, at one time telling his bride that his attraction to her made him long to stay in the world a while longer ("...perhaps your warmth and youth brought new insights of this world to me and turned my feet leaden on this side of the abyss"), while a few moments later telling the village matriarch that he thought the white man's intervention "might be the hand of the gods".