A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF PRETEXT, TEXT AND CONTEXT IN THE STAGE PRODUCTION OF DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN

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A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF PRETEXT, TEXT AND CONTEXT IN THE STAGE PRODUCTION OF DEATH AND THE KING’S HORSEMAN

Abstract
 
 
Wole Soyinka has come to symbolise authority in Africa and world drama. His treatises and proclamations have attained such iconic reverence that his drama is often understood „only‟ by the wholesome acceptance of his „esteemed‟ authorial voice. Death and the King’s Horseman has been considered a masterpiece; Soyinka‟s iconic play, and studies of the text have also revealed such heavy dependence on the author‟s perceptive intentions of his own work in the search for meaning. Seen largely from the author‟s perspective, the play is largely interpreted as Soyinka‟s mythopoeic dramatization of African drama. Hence, there exists a lack of sustained reading of the text outside its threnodic essence. This study adopts a new historicist approach to reading the text by exploring the indeterminacy of meaning, the textualisation of history and myth in interpreting pretext, text and context while seeking meaning differently from the author‟s intention. It also deploys the receptionist paradigm, also known as reader response theory, in the search of meaning by drawing the audience into the process of interpretation and production of meaning. This is made possible by producing the playtext on stage in order to showcase the leit motif of clash of cultures as the major causative of conflict in the play while providing room for other meanings to display themselves, and for the audience to view. By also triangulating both qualitative and quantitative methods of research in the process of interpretation, a combination which proves highly rewarding and essential in theatre studies, the study made very insightful discoveries. One of the findings of this research is that drama, like other genres of literature, is a supertext; a pantheon of varied meanings. It also found that the mere reading of a play text limits its own true potentials and relying on the author‟s intention doubly chokes the already constraining form of the dramatic text in dispensing meaning. Play production is a viable means and process of interpretation and meaning making in theatre because it brings about the physicalization of characters, dialogue, music and other elements of semiotic appeal. As part of its findings, the study also discovers that interpretation is more enriching when it is a collective activity in reception than in conception. The study, however, debunks the allusion that Death and the King’s Horseman is not about the clash of cultures, because the „silences‟ in the text emphasise cultural assertions and differences as a major theme in the dramatic text and in its stage production. It is thus expected that interpretations of texts should not serve as foreclosures of meaning but as emergent voices and opinions subject to contexts of reading and meaning making which are contingent and arbitrary in themselves.

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