In the last class, we read the first section of Act I of Death and the King's Horseman. We begin this class by writing a objective summary (RL 9-10. 2) of the events in the play so far. I want to see if the students can pick out the actual events in the story and distinguish the actual events from the metaphoric language used to establish the Yoruba culture. I also want them to get away from injecting their opinions into a summary. I am looking for the following events in their summaries:
1. Praise Singer and Elesin are walking to the market discussing Elesin's upcoming death.
2. Upon arriving at the market, Elesin seeks the attention of the women of the market, specifically Iyaloja, the 'Mother of the market'.
3. Elesin sings a song about the Not I Bird that reveals his fear of death.
4. Elesin teases the women that he doesn't feel loved because they are not giving him attention and gifts.
I give them about three to four minutes to write, I ask for a volunteer to read his/her summary. After s/he finishes, I ask the class if anything is missing from the summary. If yes, what. If no, good job.
We are ready to finish reading act I.
As we begin the second part of act I, I tell the class that by the end of act I they need to identify the conflict in the play. The primary reason I want them to find a conflict is I want them to compare the Yoruba perception of Elesin's last day with the British officer's perception of the same day. There is common ground in the two perspectives, however the Yoruba community and the British officers will see the outcome very differently. These two perceptions of what should happen to Elesin create the tension in the plot (RL 9-10. 5) . As we read, the students need to identify of the tension builds surrounding both Elesin's marriage and death.
We continue reading act I with the same volunteer readers. I read the italics. By reading the italics, I can pause to both ask and answer questions.
In the last section of act I, Elesin announces that he wants to take a new bride. He wants to marry, enjoy a wedding night, create a son, and then follow the King into the next realm. Unfortunately the young woman he wants to marry is already engaged to Iyaloja's son. I ask the students why Iyaloja does not tell Elesin that the Bride (her name in the play) is already engaged?
The answer, in the Yoruba way, the good of the community is more important than the individual. Iyaloja says to one of the market women, "You wish that I would burden him with knowledge that will sour his wish and lay regrets on the last moments of his mind. You pray to him that is your intercessor to the world--don't set this world a drift in your own time;"
This section of act I sets up a short discussion on: 1. Why Elesin's happiness is more important than Iyaloja"s son? 2. How does the community benefit from Elesin's death? 3. Why does Elesin want to marry today? And is he behaving in a selfish way? 4. What are the possible repercussions if Elesin doesn't die?
All of these questions ask students to consider the cultural perspectives of the Yoruba (RL 9-10.6) and how the characters begin to develop and relate to one another (RL 9-10. 3).
Act I ends with Iyaloja calling the women to prepared both a bridal chamber and a death shroud.
In order to tie up act I and eventually answer the questions that connection to our essential question for this unit (Why is Death and the King's Horseman more than a clash of cultures?), students need to identify and discuss the key aspects of Yoruba culture that drive the character's actions and reactions.
We go to the chart on the board, I give them about 10 minutes to find text-based evidence to support their conclusions about Yoruba culture (RL 9-10.1, .2 and 6). To expedite the process, I put a start by the cultural concepts I want them to find: traditions, beliefs and values, artistic expression, law and order, and language. I chose these four concepts because they are clearly accessible in the text. I don't want to limit them to these four, but they must address them. Anything else they find is bonus information for our cultural analysis. They can also find other examples, but these are the most important ones for them to explore.
After 10 minutes, I ask them to share their findings. I write the examples on the board as they report out on language, tradition and beliefs and values, artistic expression, and law and order. Now they are building their chart with Yoruba examples. After we finish act II, they will be able to add British examples.
As the students prepare to read act II, I want to deepen the exploration of the use of figurative language in act I. Soyinka uses language to distinguish the Yoruba from the British. The use of extended metaphors and proverbs demonstrates the Yoruba tradition of using word play to elevate conversation and mirrors the complex issues facing the Yoruba community as they try to maintain their traditions in a rapidly changing colonial environment.
I ask students to list the types of figurative language they encountered in act I: extended metaphor, metaphor, symbol, foreshadowing, repetition, alliteration, etc.
Now, I give them 10 minutes to work in their groups and find at least two examples of figurative language. They have to identify the type of figurative language and state how it impacts the play. In other words, what is it? (L 9-10 5) and Why is it relevant? (RL 9-10 4).
Each group has two put two examples on the board. The groups cannot repeat examples so they really need to have more than two uses of literary elements.
Finally, their homework is to pick one of the examples of figurative language and write a literary device on that term. A literary device is an in depth examination of the function of a literary element in a text. I want the to practice going beyond identifying the literary elements in the text and move to explaining how the element impacts the plot and/or the characters. They have to state the context in which the element occurs, the concept ( explain why it is an example of that element), and end by connecting the role of the element to the text as a whole.
Additionally, they will read act II and answer the questions for the next class. This section is mostly the British talking. The language style and vocabulary is manageable for them to read on their own. I want to save class time for reading the more stylized speech of the Yoruba characters.