Death and the King's Horseman

Death and the King's Horseman Literary Elements





Setting and Context

Nigeria, in the 1940s. Nigeria is still a colony of Great Britain.

Narrator and Point of View

The point of view is third-person limited. The is no explicit narrator (it is a play).

Tone and Mood

The tone is ironic. The mood varies. In the first and third acts it is ritualistic, celebratory, and vibrant. In acts two and four it is tense and ironic. In act five it is mournful, ironic, and bittersweet.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Protagonist: Elesin, Olunde. Antagonist: Pilkings. (More abstractly: the main antagonistic fore is the English.)

Major Conflict

Micro-level conflict: whether or not Pilkings will succeed in preventing Elesin from committing ritual suicide.
Macro-level conflict: whether or not the English, through their colonial endeavors, will succeed in curtailing the rituals and religion of the Yoruba people in Nigeria.


Although it technically happens offstage, the climax is when Pilkings prevents Elesin from committing suicide.


The sacrifice of the European captain during war foreshadows Olunde's own self-sacrifice.


Olunde comments, "All this can't be just because he failed to stop my father from killing himself" (59). While also ironic, there is understatement here because the huge issue, which Olunde is barely aware of the half of, is not a result of the simple reason Olunde supposes.


Pilkings alludes several times to Catholicism, speaking of holy water and the Virgin Mary (30-31).


See other entry.






Throughout the text animals are often given human characteristics, as Elesin, Iyaloja, and the praise-singer seek to compare Elesin to animals to cement the notion of his power and connection to the world.

Use of Dramatic Devices

Soyinka uses minimal stage directions and does not utilize any of these other devices in his drama.