LITR 5831 World / Multicultural Literature: Tragedy & Africa

Lecture Notes


Bacchae prsn 2

Euripides as popular and modern

mixes comedy with tragedy; Aristotle on comedy > Agamemnon

Lysistrata, scene 2




drums and dance as in D&KH



start with prologue to remind--remind of video part of presentation

scene 1: Dionysus reveals himself, states conflict: Theban leaders doubt his divinity or legitimacy

revenge: Theban women have left their homes to engage in Dionysian rituals in the mountains and forest.




video of Soyinka, Bacchae


two groups of women

Asian women who've followed Dionysus to Thebes and hang around Thebes as chorus

Theban women who've run off to countryside


105 spirit merges

146 Whoever leads our dancing—
that one is Bromius!    
[merger of identities between mortal and divine, associated by Nietzsche with Dionysian + tragic actor as suffering God]

148 merger of identities

160 wild ecstatic dancing, mixed


252 [previews Pentheus's error of not respecting Dionysus]

cf. D&KH failure to complete ritual, maintain cosmic order

273  [Pentheus disrespects gods and people]



Cadmus and Tiresias warn to be respectful, then Pentheus enters disrespecting Dionysus

then acts disrespectful to old men






Oedipus at Colonus as dance, chant

antiphon, antiphony, antiphonal






mimesis: reality always exceeds art, art exceeds criticism or theory

tragedy: can't speak of it with finality (x-totalizing)


Africa: pleasure of learning, but don't expect to have it reinforced




masque 1. masquerade 2. a short allegorical dramatic entertainment of 16-17c, performed by masked actors

cf. ancestors and Clytaemnestra; p. 36 D&KH


compare scene 3 comedy to opening of Agamemnon, close of Oresteia

+ Lysistrata

Chi-Raq (Wikipedia)

Chi-Raq (trailer)





Yoruba = language

Oyo = land



Tragic qualities in D&KH



Blame shared, no easy answers

Tragic flaws

Fate x-free will, destiny

Tradition, modernity

Balance of three worlds: living, dead, unborn

Spiritual / religious context

Failure to perform ritual, complete narrative

Individual and community / world

Young girl, impregnated—ambiguity, mystery

Transition x-changes per se

Knowledge x understanding

Voyeuristic human condition

Complicates change, motivation: fill my sack with dirt an rocks, my country right or wrong



Market  + women (Iyaloja) (Grain of Wheat)


Dance, ball (MH&Boys)

Carver () (Grain of Wheat)

Master () (MH&Boys)

Community (our son )

The departed


Colonialism: world wrenched from true course (10); cf. Things Fall Apart

Hybrid characters



Riddles (prophecies)

Honor x shame

x-curse remains behind ()

chorus 17

Elesin hesitates to sacrifice (desire, pride of life)

Generations ()

Narrative as ritual, ceremony; sacrifice ()


Crossroads ()

Fate v. free will ()






Author’s note p. 3

3 Events in Oyo 1946 > changes: detail, sequence, characterization, + 2-3 years earlier during war

Olori Elesin

British Colonial archives > play and film

x-clash of cultures; x-equality on soil of indigenous [rationalize as x-celebration]

>x—reductionist > threnodic

Cf. District Officer and Creon?


Yoruba world of living, dead, and unborn: transition

Numinous passage which links all (Oedipus at Colonus) preview

Evocation of music; cf. Nietzsche

Characters: cf Pilkins and Thompsons


5 market (Grain of Wheat); community interaction, exchange

Long-suffering home of my spirit


Copulation, fertility


The other side

5 meet my father? (traditional culture)


6 Market = roost

Woman weakens [foreshadow]

Meet forebears

World tilted from groove [millennial]

Great, little wars; white slavers x-heart, mind, muscle of race

World wrenched from true course [millennial]


6-7 Not-I bird (not my turn to die)

7 Elesin’s riddles—cf. Things, Oedipus, prophecies; compare riddles & proverbs

dance, drum

Death came calling


 cf monologue and chorus?

8 Hunter . . . rooted there

My friend Chief Tax Officer

8 Mallam? In Nigeria and other parts of Africa: a learned man; a scribe, teacher, or healer.

The Koran

8 carver's hands [cf. Grain of Wheat]

Osanyin, Ifa


Elegbun / Esu = trickster


9 Animal fables cf. Things, Brer Rabbit

9 Iyaloja speaks

9 husband of multitudes, master of my fate (cf. Oedipus)


10 My great precursors

10 Yams

10 The world was mine. Our . . .


11 Calabash of honor

Life has an end . . . outlive

Life is honor

It ends when honor ends

11 women & Iyaloja

Bitterly offended

11 my mind raised to horizon

Horseman of the King

prolonging the riddle > speak now in plain words

12 [rich cloths]

You who are breath and giver of my being (woman)

x-curse remains behind

12 wrenched the world adrift (rptd 3 times, cf. chant, chorus]

Overtake the world with one great gesture

rich alari clothes [spectacle]

13 The world I know is good

[attention drawn off-stage]

leave it so, keep it so

13 hive never known to wander

13 beautiful young girl

13 navel, endless cord, great origin, roots—cf. Delphi, Omphalos

Beloved market of my youth

Lodged among our tireless ancestors

14 Rarely uses the answer no

14 Iyaloja, who is she?


15 betrothed

The whole world is yours

Remembered by what they leave behind [sacrifice]

Memory is Master of Death

16 Pleasure palls. Our acts should have meaning

[riddle] plantain

16: women: what does he mean, Iyaloja?

16 do me honor

Seeds > take root

Betrothed to your own son

16 Only the curses of the departed are to be feared (cf. Things, Oresteia)


17 The very earth says No

17 ancestor + unborn wring own issue

grain > root



18 x-curse in seed

[ritual, ceremony]

bridal chamber > shrouds . . . blunt?


[cf. Birth of Tragedy: fruit of union . . . neither of this world or next]



Part 2 p. 18


Simon Pilkings, wife Jane

District Officer’s bungalow [Anglo-Indian < Hindustani bangla]


tango [etymology: originally a dance festival of Africans or Gypsies]

a. A Spanish flamenco dance. b. A syncopated ballroom dance in 2/4 or 4/4 time introduced into Europe and N. America from Argentina, related to the Cuban Habanera but probably of African origin, characterized by a slow gliding movement broken up by pointing positions; a piece of music for this dance.


gramophone [etymology: apparently formed by inversion of phonogram]


phonogram [Gk phono voice + gram something written]

1.A written character or symbol representing a spoken sound; spec. a letter or symbol in (esp. Isaac Pitman's) shorthand.




18 tango, gramophone, fancy-dress

“Native Administration” policeman (cf. Court Messenger in Things)

18 disbelief and horror

19 Acting most strangely

19 Hell, hell (blasphemy)

19 Pagan / Muslim

19 Dead cult, not for human being

19 Mumbo-jumbo

19 x-touch that cloth

19 first prize at ball (dance, cf. MH&Boys)

19 police officer, His Majesty’s Government

19 matter of death > uniform

19 cf. gods and police

20 Egungun

20 Juju

20 When they get this way

20 [writing]

20 Elesin > commit death, criminal offence

20 Ritual murder


21 Jane: own peculiar logic; why getting rattled?

21 Jane’s language as hybrid

21 effect of drums + question of difference

21 Jane: something to do with . . . ?

21 Joseph: Christian > outfit: no power


22 He will simply die

22 native laws and custom

22 chief’s son> med school England; fought

22 Olunde

22 Family tradition

22 Sensitive, poet

22 Bloomsbury

22 Eldest son? Old ram


23 eldest son x-travel from native land > modernity; cf. Oedipus)

23 Juju, can’t touch master

23 Trapped in horrible custom

23 Yap family secrets; give anything away?

23 Sly, devious bastards

23  [Simon talks as if Joseph is not there]

23  social anthropology

23 Jane listens to servants]

24 holy water nonsense

24 death / wedding < drum

24 missionaries

24 Christ!

25 The European club

25 Barbaric custom

25 Pilkings learns? My unchristian language (cf. Creon)


26 another letter re unchristian language

26 Prince on tour of colonies


27 woman / boss


Part 3 p. 27 

27 the market

27 official business

27 you white man’s eunuch

27 (low humor)--puts his knees together (high-low comedy)

27 Cf. baton, handbell

28 [wit] interfere? . . . nothing to interfere with.

28 cloth-covered floor / road [cf. Agamemnon]

28 he dey dere [?]

28 his blood; father, son

28 Own son, same ocean

28 Our son = Olunde (community x individual)

28 govt says dat kin’ song must stop

28 Our husband and father greater than law of strangers

[Iyaloja enters]

28-9 My duty x his duty

29 Wedding?

29 Wives (plural)

29 Insult

29 our mothers, the mothers of this market

29 Jester in khaki and starch

29 No longer knows his mother—teach him

29 [snatch batons, knock off hats; English accent, play-acting]


30 cf. Jane mimesis 21, 27

30 older women encourage (audience]

30 cf. goofy gophers

30 natives, restless?

30 African time

(imitation, mimesis)


31 [Amusa tricked, loss of face]--loss of critical distance

31 Market = home of our mothers

31 [strike palms, gestures of wonder]

31 Teach you that at school? [slave / master dialectic]

32 How they mimicked the white man?

32 [song and dance]--compare to strophes, etc. in Oedipus at Colonus

32 Union of life and seeds of passage

32 Earth and passage [transition] > grains of earth on eyelids of passage

32 Market = heart of life, hive, swarm


33 kite

33 Alafin

33 The other market

33 Semi-hypnosis

33 [dance, finality]


34 buried like seed-yam

34 Seven-way cross-roads (cf. Oedipus)


35 Mask dance (?)

35 An Elesin to die the death of death


36 the other side

36 Harmattan: dry West Indian trade wind from Sahara to Gulf of Guinea

36 river / ocean [transition]

Part 4 p 37

37 a masque [spectacle?] 1. masquerade 2. a short allegorical dramatic entertainment of 16-17c, performed by masked actors

37 Imperial frontier

37 Local police band, white conductor

37 Entrance of Royalty

37 ritual of introductions

37 Egungun + Mrs. P "restrainer"


38 “They”

38 Market women rioting?

38 Quaint grammar

38 Where would the empire be?


39 Pilkings resists vs. Resident

39 Tell him the truth?

39 Supposed to be a secure colony of His Majesty

39 sashes; color appeals to natives

39 My report

39 Superstitious nonsense


40 dead cult; dress get power of dead

40 Jane: x-count hours same way

40 [young black man, sober western suit]


41 not shocked? Why should I be.

41 desecrate an ancestral mask

41 No respect for what not understood

41 captain blows up ship


42 ammunition, lethal gases

42 No other way to save lives

42 Affirmative commentary: captain’s self-sacrifice

42 somewhat more understanding

42 Trying to do for you . . . for your people

42 Cable, bury my father


43 Traveled with prince

43 He has protection

43 Honor and veneration of his own people

43 Believe everything that appears to make sense was learnt from you

43 Barbaric custom, feudal > Therapy. British style

43 You white races know how to survive; Art of survival

43 So-called civilization

43 Humility to let others survive in their own way


44 Ritual suicide? Mass suicide?

44 You people . . .

44 Disaster beyond human reckoning > triumph?

44 x-right to pass judgment

44 color thing?

44 x-so simple

44 opposite of what really is

44 never really knew what you left with


45 [drums change rhythm]

45 Just a savage like all the rest

45 Impudent nigger

45 natives put a suit on

46 What happens to one in this place

46 the way we all react

46 Calm acceptance, a need to understand

46 perform rites

46 Welfare of my people


47 Terrible calamity if you’d succeeded

47 (calamity) for us, the entire people

47 You must know by now there are things you can’t understand—or help

47 Where the slaves were stored


48 riot, crisis


49 covered me in shame

49 Give back name

49 Ghost from land of nameless

49 Albino’s hand

49 My father’s voice


50 no father


Part 5


50 iron-barred gate, cell, chairs

50 Bride

50 Pilkings in police uniform

50 ghostly one

50 Moon = twin brother?

50 Quiet = peace?

50 shattered peace of world forever [millennial]

50 x-save life, > destroyed it + lives of many

51 my duty

51 a moment of the night

51 moon at gateway

51 sacred drums

51 servant of the white king 

51 turn him into something in your own image

51 larger plan? 

51 push our world from its course?

51 x-great origin?

51 White skin covered our future

51 reunion of shame?

51 World reversed itself: father begs son for forgiveness [modernity?]

52 Contempt, shame

52 Birth to a son

52 Obtain secrets of enemies

52 Avenge my shame, destroy you and yours

52 I cannot judge him

52 lost father’s place of honor, voice broken

52 authority of what gods?

52 Contradictions in wisdom of your race? [fate v. free will?]


53 blame (distributed)

53 Weakness < abomination of white man

53 + weight of longing

53 White ghosts entered, all defiled

53 Jane: he is grateful . . . owes you something

54 mixing with commies, anarchists

54 Stench of shame

54 Elesin and Iyaloja: traditional gender

54 word of honor


55 you have my honor already

55 report > Papers of treachery > masters [writing, literacy]

55 I warned you . . . Who are you to make so bold? . . . open a new life. When you dared not open the door to a new existence

55 abomination

55 Power of stranger, struggle to retrieve will

56 A maze

56 Purl: ripple, runnel, rivulet; gurgle

56 Calabash: bottle gourd

56 Shame

56 I wish I could pity you

56 I need understanding . . . to understand

56 (woman as earth; cf Mumbi, Grain of Wheat)

56 Alien hand pollutes force of will, stranger force of violence

57 Blasphemy of seeing hand of gods in this alien rupture of the world

57 Ancestral mask

57 riddle > 62-3

57 Did I ask you for a meaning?

57 reverse cycles of our being

57 [crosses line, whistles]

58 Iyaloja stepped from one side of the earth into another

58 Spectacle of life

58 I grieve for you

58 The burden

58 riddles

58 Ceremonies of the dead?

58 Child, not here to help your understanding

58 Peril to the race, our dead father . . . betrayed


59 Women chanting

59 Invasion

59 June: trust Olunde 

59 prevent death, make other deaths? (irony)

59 Wisdom of white race


60 [cylindrical bolt]

bolt: 8 a roll of woven fabric

60 mine are no words for anyone’s ears

60 My father, my first-born

60 Jane & Iyaloja both try to speak to Pilkings, both shunned

61 Alafin

61 dirge 2. A song sung at the burial of, or in commemoration of, the dead; a song of mourning or lament.

61 weight on hem of smock

61 [body of Olunde]

62 The son has proved the father

62 world . . . plunge . . . precipice [millennial]

62 Evil strangers tilted world from its course

62 Strangles himself [limited spectacle?]

62 answer to riddle on 57: young shoot > sap > parent stalk

62 why labor . . . without thanks?

62 what you wanted?

62 What you brought to be

62 what you brought to be

62 Your pride

63 Turn mind to unborn [cf. Grain of Wheat]


Simon Gikandi, introduction

vii-viii both within and gainst traditions of modern and African drama

viii Yoruba + cosmopolitan & avant garde

viii Beckett, Brecht, O'Neill

viii rehabilitate colonial image of Africa

viii x-didactic

viii self-apprehension of African subjects

ix critic of ideologies of African identitie e.g. African image and negritude (Cesaire)

ix x-romanticism, naivete, and idealization

ix x-political and ideological

x tension between African worlds, experiences and colonial models, languages

x African past before and after colonialism

x precolonial forms of African drama [cf. ritual in Things]

x-xi every day world, market women, center of cosmos

xi colonial and Yoruba cultures

xi Christianity . . . early life and education

xi Westernized family + Yoruba grandparents

xi elite corps of Africans

xi islands of European culture, sea of barbarism

xii + police and military

xii writing clubs and dramatic societies

xii Ibadan, University College

xii rethinkg relationship to both

xii University of Leeds

xiii returns to Nigeria 1969 year of country's independence

xiii compare WS's disavowal but politics, history

xiii topical and prophetic

xiv politically active

xiv Kenya political prisoners [Grain of Wheat]

xiv Civil War mid-60s [> Chinua Achebe; Yoruba > Igbo]

xiv Third force

xiv not apolitical but

xiv reception . . . duality

xv unique stage experience

xv challenged Western rules of performance

xv established conventions

xv space of transition between life and death

xv music, masking rituals, proverbial language

xv formal features x direct dialogue and dramatic conflict

xv conflict between Western and African values

xv metaphysical confrontation

xv colonial factor "catalyst"

xvi Nigeria and Benin civilizations (Menil Collection)

xvi cultural influence in New World

xvi distinct regional groups and kingdoms

xvii shared uniform body of religious beliefs and cosmology

xvii living and unborn

xvii limitatings of African writing after decolonization

xviii historical event part of popular culture and consciousness

scholar of African drama and theater

xxi nature of tragedy and ritual

xxii role of women

xxiii Iyaloja, mediator of metaphysical conflict




"The Yoruba World," pp. 67-73.















"[Death and the King's Horseman in the Classroom]," pp. 115-120.














"Being, the Will, & the Semantics of Death," 155-64.

155 Nietzsche's sage, Silenus (BT, ch 3, p. 22)

pop-culture appearance of Silenus is in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony #5 as depicted in Disney's Fantasia at approximately the 55-second mark.

155 patraon God Ogun, god of creativity and the Yoruba proto-agonist . . . primal enactment of individual will [cf. Satan / Adam / Eve, Prometheus]

155 densely figurative language, peculiar music + action

155 . . . if the play's structure was classically Greek, the adaptation of a historical actionat a royal court was compellingly Shakespearean. . . . a great tragedy.


156 event = sign, sign adumbrates something other than itself by contiguity as well as by semblance

156 text mediates distance between art and life

156  concern with what a protagonist will probably or necessarily do; cf. Poetics 15a the poet should always aim either at the necessary or the probable

156 philosophical import of human and black experience

156 death = rite of passage

156 ritualistic union of life with death


157 son assumes this hereditary title only to become his surrogate in death to complete the cosmic restoration of order (cf. tragic narrative)

157 no mere drama of individual vacillation. Communal order and communal will . . . reflect but amplify his own failure of will. . . . suggests Greek tragedy much more readily than Elizabethan tragedy

cf. Synge, Brecht, Lorca's Blood Wedding

157 a classical tragedyy in which structure and metaphysics are inextricably intertwined

157 structurally, five acts . . . 24 hours (unities)

157 richly metaphorical poetry + music and dance and mime

157 cosmos comprised at once of nature, of human society, and of the divine

157 The protagonist's bewildernment and vacillation, his courage and inevitable defeat, signify a crisis, confrontation, and transformation of values, transfixed in a time that oscillates perpetually in an antiphonal moment.

157 "situation" and "recognition"  Poetics 6d [T]he most powerful elements of emotional interest in tragedyperipeteia or reversal of the situation, and recognition scenes—are parts of the plot. 

157 hamartia

157 nine-member chorus


158 character determined . . . [by] the plot itself, as in the formal dramatic elements of any tragedy

158 [plot and ritual]

158 Elesin's dilemma both individual and collective, social and psychic

158 hubris, taking of bride on morning of his death in a ritual in which the thanatotic embraces the erotic; chooses satisfaction of self over exactions of will. This is his tragic flaw.

158 cf. Oedipus, ritual slaying of father at crossroads

158 Iyaloja, perhaps the most powerful characterization of a woman in African literature

158 unbroken order of world now rent asunder


159 ritual passage of Horseman served for centuries to retrace an invisible cultural circle, thereby reaffirming the order of the Yoruba world . . . ritual dress, metaphorical language

159 mixed symbols of semen and blood . . . transition and generation

159 All myth . . . reconciles two otherwise unreconcilable forces, or tensions, though the mediation of the mythic structure itself. The Oresteia is a superb example of this.

159 how society . . . reveals and dmonstrates its capacity for change

159 reluctance of the Elesins grew as contact with the British increased


160 flexible metaphysical system. Formal and structured, it remains nonetheless fluid and malleable with a sophisticated and subtle internal logic.

160 meatphor as the "horse" of words


161 The antiphonal structure of Greek tragedy is also perhaps the most fundamental African aesthetic value . . .

161 The transitional passage before which the Elesin falters is inherent in all black musical forms.


Baptist, Edward E. The Half has never been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. NY: Basic, 2014.

165 . . . in musical and social rituals that played out as rings surrounding a changing cast of innovators, enslaved people chose to act in ways that reinforced a sense of individual independence through the reality of mutual interdependence.


161 the power of language to create a reality, and not merely to reflect reality.


162 But is Soyinka's Yoruba world so very obscure? Is it any more obscure than the tribal world of the ancient Greeks, than Joyce's voices in Ulysses . . . we presume a familiarity with these texts which is made possible only by the academic industry of annotation. The fact of Soyinka's Africanness only makes visible an estranged relation which always stands between any text and its audience.

162 ample cluse for the decoding of his silent signs, since the relationship among character, setting, and language is always properly reinforcing . . .  a hermetic universe

162 Soyinka's texts . . . meditations / mdiations b/w the European dramatic tradition and the equally splendid Yoruba dramatic tradition.

162 What does remain obscure . . . tragedy of the individual first defined by Aristotle and, in essence, reiterated by Hegel, Nietzsche, and even Brecht. . . .

162 Soyinka's evocation of a trage4dy of the community

162 dialectic between retributive and restorative justic and order

162 problematic relation between the order of the community and the self-sacrifice of the protagonist . . .


163 [cf. Nietzsche on incest] offences against even nature may in fact be part of the exaction by deeper nature from humanity of acts which alone can open up the deeper springs of man and bring ab out a constant rejuvenation of the human spirit.

163 disintegration and subsequent retrieval of protagonist's will which distinguishes Soyinka's tragic vision from its Western antecedents

163 Soyinka: Great tragedy is a cleansing process for the health of the community . . . a literal development of ritual.






Biodun Jeyifo, "Ideology and Tragedy," 164-71.

164 transforming experience into metaphysical, transhistorical, mythic dimensiosn

164 segments of play . . . entirely fabricated

165 Schiller: tragic imitation . . . different from historical imitation

167 1955 Richard Wright visits Ghana (Gold Coast): no power on earth can rebuiild the mental habits and restore that former vision of live . . . take pride in themselves, that capacity to make decisions, that organic view of existence . . .

168 referential representativeness of his tragic hero . . . the collective psyche and spirit of a whole continent

168 That a tragedy and a tragic hero can express, symbolically, the basic myths and the psychic experience of a culture, has been simply demonstrated by great examples in Western literature.

168 protagonist hero assumes an essentiality of symbolic reverberations carried by his goals and aspirations

169 redemptive nature of Elesin Oba's intended ritual suicide.

169 The play never really dramatizes either the force of E O's personality or the inevitability of his actions. We are simply presented these matters as given realities and the playwright compels our acceptance of them by the lyrical brilliance of his dramatic language.

170 polarizes the conflict between a traditional African organic vision of life and an alien system of discrete laws and social polity, with tragic results for the indigenous system.

170 categorical super-structures wrested from for their economic and social foundations.

170 E O's honour--and the honor of the 'race'

the notion of honor (and integrity and dignity) for which Soyinka in the play provides a metaphysical rationalization rests on the patriarchal, feudalist code of the ancient Oye kingdom.

171 to symbolize pre-colonial African civilizations and NOT other more egalitarian African cosmogonic and metaphysical systems, the erosion of which ideological and political progressives can, with greater reason, regret.






Elesin Oba & the Critics," 172-77.