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The Transition from a Mythopoeic to a Populist Aesthetic in Selected Political Plays of Wole Soyinka

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The study examines the movement of Wole Soyinka from mythopoeic dramatic strategies to a realistic populist aesthetic in selected political plays. It also examines the cause(s) of the movement, analyses the formal pattern engendered by it, and discusses the portrayal of the military in governance in the political plays, with a view to establishing the impact of the metamorphosis on the revolutionary tenor of the plays. Three of Soyinka’s political plays are selected for analysis. The first, A Dance of the Forests, represents Soyinka’s experimentation with the mythic imagination among the pre-Civil War works from the 1960s to the early 1970s; the second, Madmen and Specialists, a Civil-War play, constitutes the watershed and middle ground in the dramaturgic metamorphosis of the playwright; and the third, Opera Wọ́nyọ̀sí, a post-Civil-War political satire, begins the history-informed plays of the mid-1970s and onwards. Using a close-reading technique, the essay argues that the personal involvement of Soyinka in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, coupled with the effects of the war, his consequent incarceration, and the demands made on him by Marxist critics to employ a populist aesthetic, led the playwright to the realization that the political comprador did not heed the warnings in the mythinfused political plays of the early phase of his career, most probably because of the relative inaccessibility of their hieratic idiom. There arose a strong need to communicate in simple, accessible language addressing contemporary history. This dramaturgic movement has a positive impact on the revolutionary tenor of the plays.


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