Does Death Resolve Tension? Examining Act IV and V

1 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT compare and contrast the cultural context in postcolonial literature by examining Olunde's death in Death and the King's Horseman.

Big Idea

Students will examine how Elesin and Mr. Pilkings cope with an expected and unexpected death.

Let's Get Started: Prep Time to Prepare Responses to Act III

10 minutes

At the end of the last class, the students were assigned a question over act III that their group would have to answer.  I am giving them the first 10 minutes or so of today's class to get their presentation of the answer organized.  I start by reminding each group of their question. 

Next I go over the expectations of the presentation.  This activity is a warm up for their final on Death and the King's Horseman which is also a group presentation plus a writing activity. 

For the presentation each group must:

1. State their question

2. Respond to the question using text-based evidence (RL 9-10. 1)

3. Demonstrate how the response to the question connects to the play as a whole

4. Answer any questions that may be generated from their presentation. 

The expectation is that each group will present a text depended, logically sequenced presentation that is relevant to their audience (SL 9-10.4).

During this time I will circulate the room to clarify any confusion that may exist in a group.  

Applying Knowledge: Prestations of Culture and Language in Act III

20 minutes

As we transition to presentations.  I tell the students to take notes on the other presentations.  It may help them with their final for Death and the King's Horseman.

The first question relies on inference and prior knowledge a bit more than the rest of them. So I tell them we will begin with question two.  For the assessment of these presentations, if they attempt to meet all the the criteria and everyone in the group speaks, they will earn full credit, which for this assignment is 10 points.  It is a formative assessment.  I really want to give them feedback on the organization and flow of their presentation (SL 9-10. 4).  My students are comfortable speaking in front of a group, however, they are still a bit formulaic and struggle with making the larger connection to the text as a whole both for speaking and writing. 

The first presentation is:  Why do the market women insult Amusa’s manliness? Next is: How do the school girls overpower Amusa and his constables? Both of these questions deal with the inequities of power between the Yoruba and the British colonial government (RL 9-10. 6) .  It plays out in a way that demonstrates that power is also about perception. The women and girls do not respect the African colonial police, yet they understand the more powerful government that they represent.

Questions four: What is the significance of the schoolgirls’ mimicry of Englishness? and five:  Explain the competing definitions of “official business” and “duty” in this scene. Both of these deal with language. Specifically the denotative and connotative meanings of words and phrases (RL 9-10.4). The mocking girls and the word play Soyinka uses with "official business" and "duty" set the tone for this act (RL 9-10. 4).

The sixth question takes the class back to culture (RL 9-10. 6). How does Elesin commence the suicide ritual, and who will assist him? The beginning of the ceremony is the call to action for both the well-intentioned British and the Yoruba looking to send their king joyfully to the next realm. 

Finally, the first question, of all the professions that Soyinka could have picked for Olunde, why did Soyinka pick the profession of doctor for this character? In other words what dramatic purpose does this choice of profession have? In order to answer this question, they have to examine how the British value a doctor and what impact that value has on Olunde's connection to his family and the rest of the Yoruba community. 

At the end of each presentation, I give the group feedback on what they did well and where they need to improve.  The feedback focuses on body language in a group presentation, speaking skills, and content. I want to remind them that even though it is only a class presentation/discussion and not an assessment, they need to maintain a professional academic attitude throughout the presentation. 


Building Knowledge: An Objective Summary of Act IV

15 minutes

For homework, I asked my students to read Act IV.  It is a short act, but some important events take place.  Once again, I am pressed for time and trying to squeeze two lessons into one.  Instead of launching into a grand discussion about the act, I ask the students to work with a partner to write an objective summary of act IV (RL 9-10. 2).  Even though it is partner writing, I expect each pair to write a well organized summary that focus on the events in the play instead of their personal opinions about the play (W 9-10. 4).

Additionally the character of Olunde is introduced in this act.  In Act I, Olunde's father, Elesin, does not acknowledge him when talking about future generations and the inheritance of the title of King's Horseman. Olunde is first mentioned by Mr. Pilkings in Act II and discussed further in Act III.  The audience finally encounters Olunde in Act IV.  I ask, "What is your impression of Olunde? How is he similar and/or different from the character described in earlier acts of the play?" (RL 9-10. 3). This response to this question is added on to the same paper as their objective summary. 

Once the writing is finished, I ask a few students to share their summary.  I ask the class if they have  any questions about the events in Act IV. After all questions are answered, I move onto a discussion about Olunde (RL.9-10.3).  I take a couple of volunteers to share their thoughts on Olunde. Then I ask if any one has anything to add. 

Building Knowledge: Reading Act V

30 minutes

We will finish reading this play today. Act V is short and most of the action occurs off stage and the characters talk about it.  The audience has to formulate their feelings about the end of the play based on how the characters present it. As we read it, I a pause the class to check for understanding during critical discussions.  I don't want to lose any of the students at the end.  

I don't want to give anything away.  However I do ask students to make some predictions about what might happen. Act IV completely sets up act V.  The students have to decide who has the greater influence on Olunde, his Yoruba birth or his British education.  I am curious to see which way the students think the play will go. 

Next I assign characters and we begin reading.  

Applying Knowledge: Two Views of Death

15 minutes

Now, I give them time to work with their partner to formulate answers to these three questions. They can write the answers on the same paper as the objective summary.  They can discuss the answers with their partners and it will lead to a whole class discussion. 

Why does Olunde kill himself?

What is the British reaction?

What is the Yoruba reaction?

Ideally, I want them to ground their responses in the text using evidence (RL.9-10.1).  However, I ask these questions to help them come to terms with their individual reaction to the end of the play. The first question asks them to analyzed Olunde's choice (RL 9-0. 3). The next two questions asks them to apply cultural lens to Olunde's decision. Both the Yoruba and the British are saddened by Olunde's death. However their reasons differ based on their cultural understanding of the event. It will help them respond to the question why is DTKH more than a clash of cultures. 

As we discuss the answer to these three questions, I hope it leads to a whole class discussion on various concepts of the play that the students are grappling with for understanding (SL 9-10 1c).