NEW HISTORICISM AND CONTEMPORARY NIGERIAN DRAMA: A STUDY OF SOYINKA’S DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN AND OSOFISAN’S MOROUNTODUN

NEW HISTORICISM AND CONTEMPORARY NIGERIAN DRAMA: A STUDY OF SOYINKA’S DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN AND OSOFISAN’S MOROUNTODUN

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Abstract

This work explores New Historicists aesthetics in Soyinka‟s Death and the King’s Horseman and Osofisan‟s Morountodun and brings to the fore not only concepts specific for the field of literature seen from a New Historicist perspective, but also aspects that circle around reconstructive quality encountered in the selected dramatic texts, thus proving that the approach of New Historicism can indeed make itself distinguishable in the contemporary Nigerian literary sphere.The act of reconstruction in literature has always been an important subject among literary scholars. Reconstruction is a huge interest for New Historicism, one of the modern approaches in the field of literary criticism. In New Historicist analysis, not only history affects literature, but also literature could be effective in understanding history and thus the relationship between history and literature is reciprocal. Thus, the dramatic texts have been analysed in relation to the social and cultural contexts from which they emanated. The study is a content-based analysis set in line with the qualitative research method of the humanities to explore historical reconstructions in the selected dramatic texts of Soyinka and Osofisan. The research finds: That the selected play-texts show the place of African historiography in contemporary Nigerian drama. That New Historicist theory has become a popular area of study in the literary field and has grown through rigorous research works. That works of New Historicist orientation are strongly in their challenge of social and cultural reconstructions. That the New Historicists are interested in writing new history. That the relation between historical events and contemporary literature needs to be analyzed further to prepare a landing ground for the future. The dissertation concludes that the dramatic texts revisit the past with the intention influencing the present as well the future.

CHAPTER ONE:

INTRODUCTION

1.0.Background to the Study

Wole Soyinka and Femi Osofisan are renowned writers who have chosen the drama as a

platform to recount human experiences. The works of Soyinka and Osofisan are important in

contemporary Nigerian drama because they have contributed to the development of literature in

Nigeria in the context of Africa. According to Afrrev Ijah (2013: 70) “Nigerian drama has gained

prominent and permanent position on the world literary map especially with the winning of the

Nobel Prize by Wole Soyinka”. For Osofisan, Muyiwa Awodiya (1993: 224, 225) states that

“What is considered Osofisan‟s greatest contribution to Nigerian theatre is his extraordinary

fertility of forms”. He uses language that is accessible and simple, Awodiya (1993: 216) notes,

makes his style not only to be „tortuous or convoluted‟. Osofisan tries as much as possible to

make actions and situations in his dramatic works realistic and simple.

Consequently, scholars and critics have, over the years, explored their works from different

perspectives, with each approach expressing the attitude of the Nigerian critic toward the

thematic preoccupations and/or ideologies dominating these texts. The first wave of

interpretation that greeted the works of these writers centers on the „writing back‟ spirit which

dominates the expressive and interpretative lens of postcolonial writers and critics alike.

Consequent upon this, Awam Amkpa (2003:29) asserts that Wole Soyinka‟s genius in using the

tragic myths of Yoruba culture to forge a compelling language of resistance and change has

drawn many admirers and a few detractors. This was informed by the need to explore the African

colonial experience, within the postcolonial discourses that simultaneously characterised the

emergence of Nigerian literature.

1


Another interpretative and critical dimension on the works of Soyinka and Osofisan centers on

the examination of the social function to which drama and indeed literature as a whole is used

especially as a revolutionary tool for the transformation of the African society. Based on this

perspective, Stephanie Newell (2006:161) points that Soyinka‟s literary works continue to be

seen by critics on the left as both apolitical and inaccessible, irrelevant to the majority of

ordinary West Africans. However, she describes his works as having:

Recognized the capacity of drama to stir up political opposition amongst the masses: this is demonstrated by his political satires, bravely performed by the Guerilla Theatre Unit outside government offices during the volatile months of the late 1970s after the assassination of Murtala Muhammed, when General Olusegun Obasanjo headed an increasingly corrupt and violent regime.

This does not only reveal the Marxist tendencies in the works of Soyinka but also that of

Osofisan. One of the worst comments that have been made about the works of Soyinka is best

captured by Geoffrey Hunt (1985) who states that „the writings of Soyinka contain a particularly

sophisticated ideological elaboration of the class position of the neo-colonial agent class‟.

Realising the frustrations expressed by Soyinka‟s critics, Osofisan believes that the focus of

contemporary playwrights should be on the state of society,‟ thus „unmasking the class forces at

play within it, revealing the material sources of exploitation and injustice, demonstrating how the

masses could liberate themselves‟ (Osofisan 1996: 16). Hence, most plays written after Nigeria

Civil War deal with these issues. Suffice this to say that, Nigerian post-Civil War playwrights

and writers are expected to show commitment by focusing on the aforementioned issues.

In the light of the above position, many contemporary Nigerian writers were studied via the

Marxist lens with the ultimate intention of viewing their plays as instrument of social change.

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From the aforementioned, this seems to be the case more with the works of Osofisan than

Soyinka whose works have been described by Gugelber


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