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Gods Are Not to Blame


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A: Ola Rotimi Pf: 1968, Ife Pb: 1971 G: Trag. in 3 acts; prose and verse S: Yoruba kingdom, Nigeria, indeterminate period C: 13m, 3f, 4 children, extrasIn this reworking of Oedipus the King, the action is transposed to Africa. Right at the start of the play, the Priest of Ifa predicts that the newborn son of King Adetusa and his Queen Ojuola will ‘kill his own father and then marry his own mother!’ The baby's feet are tied with a string of cowries and sacrificed to the gods. Now years later, the child Odewale is King and married to Ojuola. An old man Alaka, half clown, half philosopher, who combines the characters of the Messenger and the Shepherd of Sophocles' play, comes to tell Odewale that his ‘parents’ have died. However, Alaka also lets slip that they were not Odewale's real parents. Shamed by the suggestion that he is illegitimate, Odewale brutally forces Alaka to reveal the truth: that Alaka found him in the bush and brought him to the neighbouring Ijekun chief to be fostered. The terrible revelation that the Priest of Ifa's prophecy has been fulfilled leads to the suicide of Ojuola and blinding of Odewale.

A: Ola Rotimi Pf: 1968, Ife Pb: 1971 G: Trag. in 3 acts; prose and verse S: Yoruba kingdom, Nigeria, indeterminate period C: 13m, 3f, 4 children, extras

Rotimi was one of the clutch of prominent Nigerian playwrights who emerged in West Africa in the 1960s, the most notable being Soyinka. Because of its subject matter, The Gods Are Not to Blame is the most accessible of his plays. Rotimi's main intervention is to dispense with the gradual revelation of the truth of Sophocles' original: here, the prophecy is known at the outset, and the disclosing of the past by one wonderfully eccentric character helps to drive the play with greater speed towards its terrible conclusion. The prior knowledge of the prophecy, as the title implies, means that the complacent mortals were given fair warning; they cannot blame the gods, just as, Rotimi implies, the future of Nigeria too is in the hands of its people.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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