A Contrast in Language: Yoruba vs. British Discourse in Death and the King's Horseman

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SWBAT examine parallel plots by analyzing the language and structure of Death and the King's Horseman.

Big Idea

A masquerade, wedding, or funeral. Three events in one night, how will these parallel plots come together?

Let's Get Started: Summarizing the British in Death and the King's Horseman

5 minutes

For homework students read Act II and answered questions.  Before we start our discussions, I want to make sure we all have the basics of the plot of Act II.  I ask the students to write an objective summary of the act (RL 9-10. 2) .  I remind them that it is a summary about the play, not their opinion of the play.  Act II begins with the British Commissioner and his wife practicing the tango for the costume ball. Keep Calm and Tango on!

I give them about three minutes to write, then I call on a couple of students to read their summaries. I ask the class if all the important information is covered. If not, what needs to be added?

In this section, I want them to focus on the first two questions that they completed for homework because they are actually about Act I. it is a good review before we tackle act II.  I ask what is the difference between tone and mood?  Then I ask what is the tone of act I and how does the tone change.  Next I ask how the change in tone impacts the mood of the audience or reader (RL 9-10. 4).  I want them to say that it creates tension because as the audience becomes vested in the characters, they also become vested in the outcome of the conflict.  What will happen at Elesin's wedding/death?




Building Knowledge: Small Group Discussion of Act II

15 minutes

It is time to move from the objective summary of Act II into the complexities of the plot and characters.  The majority of the questions on Act II focus on comparing the British perspective of the elements of culture to the Yoruba. The Yoruba are not in Act II, however they are discussed. The British are concerned about the events that may take place that evening.  The contrast between the Yoruba and British are sometimes part of the description instead the of the dialogue. Act I features impromptu singing and dancing in the market and Act II begins with the British officer and his wife rehearsing the tango in their costumes for a masquerade ball. There is an immediate contrast the role of dance in culture, however both cultures appreciate dance. The language is more accessible in this act. In fact, Mr. Pilkings, the British officer, takes a very literal or denotative interpretation of the events in the village. The questions also compare two african employees of the British. One is a police officer and the other is a servant.  

I want the students to compare how Soyinka uses language to distinguish the British and the Yoruba, however neither group is a parody.  Both the Mr. Pilkings and Elesin are multidimensional characters who have faults as well as strengths (RL 9-10. 3).  

I give the students 15 minutes to share their answers on the homework.  They are to help each other make sure they have evidence from the text to support their positions.  They need to be prepared to share their answers with the class (SL 9-10. 1a). 

Sharing Knowledge: Whole Group Discussion of Act II

15 minutes

Now they are ready to share and discuss their responses to the questions as a whole group (SL 9-10.1).  

I use the questions as a start to a whole class discussion.  As they get more involved with answering the questions from the homework, I hope that students will begin to ask and respond to follow up questions by their peers.  I also want them to see some similarities between Things Fall Apart and Death and the King's Horseman.

The discussion about the costumes that the Plilkings are wearing could connect to Things Fall Apart.  For the majority of my students TFA was their introduction to the concept of ancestral spirits and the Pilings are dressed like the egungun.

The two african men Amusa and Joseph also have different reactions to their costumes, Amusa's reaction fits the prediction students would make based on prior knowledge of the role of ancestral spirits(RL 9-10. 6).  Joseph reacts differently because he is a Christian.  The contrast between the two African men working for the British helps develop the tension in the play (RL 9-10. 5).  

Finally, the prior relationship between Pilkings and Elesin is revealed. The students need to see that Pilkings becomes focused on intervening when he discovers that Elesin involved. He is motivated by his personal history with Elesin (RL 9-10 3).

The parallel plots of the events of the evening become clear.  The British are holding a masquerade ball for the H.R.H the Prince.  While the Yoruba are holding a wedding/funeral for the horseman of the king. I ask the students explain the irony in the British understanding of the Yoruba plans. The answers are: 1. Pilkings thinks there might be a murder (doesn't consider suicide), 2. Pilkings is fears that their is a misunderstanding and he might be disrupting a wedding, and 3. Ultimately, both the British and the Yoruba are engaging in activities to honor their kings. 

Depending on the level of the class, you can also distinguish by types of irony. 


Wrap Up: Homework

5 minutes

By now they are hooked.  The first act is a bit overwhelming, but Act II helps students get their confidence legs underneath them.  They are curious to see what is going to happen.  For homework, I tell them to go back over Act II and fill in the culture chart for the British.  The culture chart is a comparison of the Yoruba and British cultures in Nigeria.  As we develop evidence for the inference that DTKH is more than a clash of cultures, I want them to identify  similarities and differences between the two cultures.  It is in their notes and I have the master chart on the the board. I remind them that it has to be text-based concepts of culture (RL.9-10.1).