A Dance of the Forests is one of Wole Soyinka's best-known plays and was commissioned as part of a larger celebration of Nigerian independence. It was a polarizing play that made many Nigerians angry at the time of its production, specifically because of its indictment of political corruption in the country.
After having gone to university in England, Soyinka returned to Nigeria to write this play in 1959, submerging himself in Yoruba folklore as a way of reconnecting with his homeland. The play is about a group of mortals who invoke the spirits of the dead, hoping that these wiser spirits will help to guide them, but disappointed to discover that the spirits are just as petty and flawed as they are.
The play has been interpreted by many as a cautionary tale for the Nigerian people on the occasion of their newfound independence, to remind them to be critical and seeking, and warning against becoming complacent. It also provides a metaphor for not sentimentalizing pre-colonial Africa too much and remaining vigilant. When Soyinka won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986, A Dance of the Forests was named as one of his crowning achievements, and he was named "one of the finest poetical playwrights that have written in English.”