A Dance of the Forest

4738 Words Mar 23rd, 2012 19 Pages
The Drama of Existence: Myths and Rituals in Wole Soyinka’s Theatre
Rosa Figueiredo, Polytecnic of Guarda, Portugal

Abstract: The citation for Soyinka’s 1986 Nobel prize for literature reads: “Who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones, fashions the drama of existence”. The “wide cultural perspective” mentioned refers to the fact that Soyinka’s writings, especially the dramas for which he is best known, are at once deeply rooted in traditional African expressive and performance forms like myths and rituals, dance and mime, music and masquerade and are also greatly influenced by such diverse Western dramatic and theatrical modes as classical Greek drama, Shakespearean and Jacobean theatre, and modern European and American
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It centred on a conception of the medium as ritual, the only means whereby societal or the collective consciousness could be impacted. Soyinka shared a Jungian concept of myth and ritual as the natural effluence of man’s yearning for spiritual meaning in life. He understood ritual to denote the communicative aspect of culturally defined sets of behaviour or customs, a much wider interpretation of the term than that by Aristotle or Nietzsche. He averred that the dramatic performance of a recognizable rite, a rite drawn from the mythical heritage of the community, forces the active participation of members of the community in the ritual. Through submergence in the ritual members of the community emerge with a new consciousness of themselves as individuals and as a collective. Soyinka, therefore, used the ritual format to express his consciousness of socio-political imperatives, precisely because of its communal or audience affective qualities. Thus, the playwright envisaged the consequent awakening of communal consciousness to be the preliminary step towards change or action. The scope of this paper – which does not claim to be exhaustive – is to explore some elements connected with the dramaturgy of A Dance of the Forests, thus showing how Soyinka experiments with ritual and theatrical idioms by drawing upon what he calls the “aesthetic matrix” of his own Yoruba culture (or

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