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Lesson Note

Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the drama ” The Lion And The Jewel ” Wole Soyinka
Lesson Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners understand the play “The Lion and the Jewel”. So by the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:
A. In few sentences describe the Playwright;
B. Identify and write about setting of the play;
C. Identify and discuss the themes in the play;
D. Identify poetic devices used in the play;
E. Summarize the acts in the play.

Lesson Summary Aids: see reference materials below content.

Lesson Summary / Discussion

Background of the Playwright

Who is Wole Soyinka?

Wole Soyinka, in full Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka, (born July 13, 1934, Abeokuta, Nigeria), Nigerian playwright and political activist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He sometimes wrote of modern West Africa in a satirical style, but his serious intent and his belief in the evils inherent in the exercise of power were usually evident in his work as well.

A member of the Yoruba people, Soyinka attended Government College and University College in Ibadan before graduating in 1958 with a degree in English from the University of Leeds in England. Upon his return to Nigeria, he founded an acting company and wrote his first important play, A Dance of the Forests (produced 1960; published 1963), for the Nigerian independence celebrations. The play satirizes the fledgling nation by stripping it of romantic legend and by showing that the present is no more a golden age than was the past.

He wrote several plays in a lighter vein, making fun of pompous, Westernized schoolteachers in The Lion and the Jewel (first performed in Ibadan, 1959; published 1963) and mocking the clever preachers of upstart prayer-churches who grow fat on the credulity of their parishioners in The Trials of Brother Jero (performed 1960; published 1963) and Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973). But his more serious plays, such as The Strong Breed (1963), Kongi’s Harvest (opened the first Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, 1966; published 1967), The Road (1965), From Zia, with Love (1992), and even the parody King Baabu (performed 2001; published 2002), reveal his disregard for African authoritarian leadership and his disillusionment with Nigerian society as a whole.
Other notable plays included Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970; published 1971), Death and the King’s Horseman (1975), and The Beatification of Area Boy (1995). In these and Soyinka’s other dramas, Western elements are skillfully fused with subject matter and dramatic techniques deeply rooted in Yoruba folklore and religion. Symbolism, flashback, and ingenious plotting contribute to a rich dramatic structure. His best works exhibit humour and fine poetic style as well as a gift for irony and satire and for accurately matching the language of his complex characters to their social position and moral qualities.
From 1960 to 1964 Soyinka was coeditor of Black Orpheus, an important literary journal. From 1960 onward he taught literature and drama and headed theatre groups at various Nigerian universities, including those of Ibadan, Ife, and Lagos. After winning the Nobel Prize, he also was sought after as a lecturer, and many of his lectures were published—notably the Reith Lectures of 2004, as Climate of Fear (2004).
Though he considered himself primarily a playwright, Soyinka also wrote the novels The Interpreters (1965), Season of Anomy (1973), and Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth (2021), the latter of which drew particular praise for its satirical take on corruption in Nigeria. His several volumes of poetry included Idanre, and Other Poems (1967) and Poems from Prison (1969; republished as A Shuttle in the Crypt, 1972), published together as Early Poems (1998); Mandela’s Earth and Other Poems (1988); and Samarkand and Other Markets I Have Known (2002). His verse is characterized by a precise command of language and a mastery of lyric, dramatic, and meditative poetic forms. He wrote a good deal of Poems from Prison while he was jailed in 1967–69 for speaking out against the war brought on by the attempted secession of Biafra from Nigeria. The Man Died (1972) is his prose account of his arrest and 22-month imprisonment. Soyinka’s principal critical work is Myth, Literature, and the African World (1976), a collection of essays in which he examines the role of the artist in the light of Yoruba mythology and symbolism. Art, Dialogue, and Outrage (1988) is a work on similar themes of art, culture, and society. He continued to address Africa’s ills and Western responsibility in The Open Sore of a Continent (1996) and The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness (1999).
Soyinka was the first Black African to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. An autobiography, Aké: The Years of Childhood, was published in 1981 and followed by the companion pieces Ìsarà: A Voyage Around Essay (1989) and Ibadan: The Penkelemes Years: A Memoir, 1946–1965 (1994). In 2006 he published another memoir, You Must Set Forth at Dawn. In 2005–06 Soyinka served on the Encyclopædia Britannica Editorial Board of Advisors.
Soyinka was long a proponent of Nigerian democracy. His decades of political activism included periods of imprisonment and exile, and he founded, headed, or participated in several political groups, including the National Democratic Organization, the National Liberation Council of Nigeria, and Pro-National Conference Organizations (PRONACO). In 2010 Soyinka founded the Democratic Front for a People’s Federation and served as chairman of the party.

The Lion and the Jewel is a play by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka that was first performed in 1959 in Ibadan. In 1966, it was staged in London at the Royal Court Theatre. The play chronicles how Baroka, the lion, fights with the modern Lakunle over the right to marry Sidi, the titular Jewel. Lakunle is portrayed as the civilized antithesis of Baroka and unilaterally attempts to modernize his community and change its social conventions for no reason other than the fact that he can. The transcript of the play was first published in 1962 by Oxford University Press. Soyinka emphasises the theme of the corrupted African culture through the play, as well as how the youth should embrace the original African culture.


The play is set in the Yoruba society in the village called Ilujinle, located in the south-west of Nigeria. This is a period when the African society is undergoing process of social change. Western civilization such as religious institutions, the educational institutions, the influences of city life are gradually taking over the traditional systems like the kingship institutions, marriage practices, belief patterns, values and other aspects of the traditional ways of life. The use of local songs, rituals, dances, mimes portray the cultural setting of the play.


This is a three-act play that obeys elements of Greek tragedy plays unity of time and place, for example, the action of the play rounds in the village in a day. Simply put, Lion and the Jewel is a comedy built around three significant characters: Lakule, Sidi and Baroka. Lakunle, a school teacher, wants to marry Sidi in a purely traditional society which attaches great importance on marriage bride prize. Lakunle on his own part does not want to respect the marriage custom which according to him, to pay it will mean “to buy a heifer off the market stall and perhaps will bring down Sidi to a mere property. Sidi, on the other hand agreed to marry Lakunle only if he can pay the bride prize to conform with the normative standard of marriage because failure to pay it according to Sidi, will mean to the society that:

“..I was no virgin
that I was forced to sell my shame
And marry you without a prize”.

The turning point in the play is however therival against Lakunle, a sixty-two year old man, Bale, the traditional chief of Ilujinle, “past master of self-indulgence – Baroka”, who because of acquisition of power occupies a position second to none in the village. Suffice it to say that it is the wielding of power and the chief’s quick understanding that ends the problem of who takes Sidi as a wife. Ironically, Chief Baroka takes Sidi as his newest wife even without any regard to the bride prize.


For purposes of analysis, this play has three Acts: Morning,
Noon and Night. It does not follow the usual pattern of division into Acts and Scenes. We are only informed of change of scenes as the play goes.
In Act 1, the play starts off in a clearing on the edge of the market, dominated by an immense odan tree. Lakunle catches a glimpse of Sidi carry ing a pail on her head, and rushes out of the classroom to seize the pail off her head. From here Sidi and Lakunle talk bringing into focus what has transpired between them. Lakunle is crossed with Sidi for improper dressing that leaves out her breast which are a ready temptation to shameless men who would cast their lustful eyes on where they have no business. Lakunle tells us what kind thoughts and affection he has for Sidi but she is impatient with him, compelling him to pay the bride prize. The conversation is stopped by mention of pail and bride prize. The girls come to inform Sidi about the magazine which has her images and that of Baroka and the Bale’s reaction concerning it. The entire party mime the activities of the strange photographer. The Bale showed himselfup during this process. He humiliated Iakunle for for attempting to steal the village maiden head. However, this act ends with the Bale’s threatening statement that it was five months since he last took a wife.

Act II, is called Noon. Scene 1 starts with Sadiku delivering Baroka’s message to Sidi. The central idea of the message is that the Bale wants Sidi for a wife. Instantly, Sidi refuses following usual pattern. Taking cognizance from the images in the magazine she sharply contrasts her images with that of Baroka and Sadiku who is by her side is certainly quite surprised and almost forgets the other aspect of her message – The Bale’s invitation for Sidi to have supper with him. Lakunle was there waiting for an opportunity to speak unfairly about Baroka but Sidi and Sadiku were frustrating his attempts. He however succeeds into communicating us into how Baroka confidently closed his doors against progress, civilization and international conspicuosity.

Act II1, Scene II is a continuation of Scene I. Sadiku goes back to narrate her experience with Sidi to Baroka in his palace. Therein, Aliatu has been threatened with removal for faulty caressing the sole of Baroka’s feet. Therein also, Baroka admits and confesses impotence to Sadiku who pities and comforts him. This scene
ends with Baroka falling asleep.
In Act III, the drama continues to unfold. Scene I starts with Sadiku coming to Sidi to reveal the secret of scotching of Baroka. They danced their victory. Against Lakunle’s warning Sidi goes to mock Baroka in his palace, a design carefully planned by Sadiku
and Sidi to shame the Bale.

Act III, Scene II takes place in the Baroka’s palace. Sidi meets Baroka in a wrestling bout. The Bale complains immediately that there was nobody to stop unwanted strangers. Sidi tenders
apologies for her earlier reply but Baroka feigns ignorance. Sidi becomes quite disturbed. Baroka’s attention is divided between winning the wrestling bout and keeping a dialogue (which must be won) with Sidi. Sidi is equally attracted in the wrestling bout. The Bale makes an hypothetical case of someone wanting to marry Sidi. He brings out an envelope as well as the magazine but attention is directed on the stamp which Baroka hopes to make, but this will carry his and Sidi’s image. Baroka talks to Sidi about his plans for llujinle to which Sidi remarks,

Now that you speak
Almost like the teacher, except
Your words fly on a different path.

By the time the scene ends Sidi’s head has slowly fallen on the Bale’s shoulder.

By now anxiety has taken possession of Lakunle with each approaching footstep bringing him to attention. When Baroka’s wrestling partner passes it reminds Sadiku of something of great
importance. Shortly Lakunle understands the inherent meaning of the mummers. Sadiku worsens Lakunle’s case by forcefully dipping her hands into his pocket to give money to the mummers. They beat harder to express their appreciation to their benefactor and mimed the story of the scotching of Baroka. Sidi rushes in, in tears: it is made clear that she no longer can be called a maid. Lakunle bargains this with the bride prize. At this time, Sidi goes away to get ready for marriage and comes back to surprise Lakunle of his bargain by inviting him to her marriage to the Bale (Baroka). This is indeed the turning point in this drama and the play eventually ends in a celebrative mood for the marriage of The Lion (Baroka) and the Jewel (Sidi).


The central theme of the play is built around power in the society. Other themes such as culture contact and its conflict, the place of a young man just finding his feet, and the triumph of
tradition over Western culture, also exists in the play. I shall therefore start with the theme of centre of power


In the olden days before the British system of administration, the traditional rulers were looked upon as god’s representatives on earth. They were greatly feared and respected by their subjects. Their decision was always unquestionable and irrevocable. Baroka, the traditional chief of Ilujinle occupies such an enviable and important position at that time. The story-line of the play is
therefore built around this theme centre of power. Sidi at first welcomes the idea of marrying Lakunle only if Lakunle could afford to settle the bride prize issue. This is the state of affair before Baroka grabbed a copy of magazine which Sidi’s sterling beauty is greatly portrayed while Baroka’s reputation is underscored (brought too low). Bale being aware of Sidi’s beauty developed lustful interest on her. Interestingly, the effort of the Bale to turn around things in the manner he likes shows that the seat of power rests upon him. All in all, Chief Baroka talkes Sidi as his newest wife even without any mention of the bride prize.


This theme is reflected through the central characters: Baroka,
Lakunle and Sidi. Lakunle, the school teacher represents Western
culture which connotes progress, Chief Baroka (the Lion of the
forest) represents the traditional ways of life while the pretty and charming young Sidi is used to attract or tempt both Lakunle and Baroka. Baroka and Lakunle seek the hand of Sidi in marriage but it is the manner they resort to actualize it that brings out the theme of cultural conflict. Sidi as we know earlier has made up her mind to marry Lakunle only if the latter would pay the bride prize. However, there is a sudden and turning point of event later. When Sidi goes to ‘mock” the Bale of llujinle, ChiefBaroka, she returns to surprise Lakunle by telling him plainly to be:

Out of my way, book-nourished shrimp
Do you see the strength he has given me?


In the play, Lakunle belongs to the new generation struggling to find his feet but his efforts are thwarted by Chief Baroka, the traditional ruler of Ilujinle. Sidi is a young girl who turned down the request of Lakunle whom she could have settled for life and look forward for the challenges of the future but she goes to live with Baroka as his newest wife. Lakunle is progressive-minded while Chief Baroka is living on the past glory or achievement of his grand father and his father.

From a close study of the play, Lakunle represents the revolutionary trend or reformist who has acquired Western education and a bit of Western culture and wants to impart it to his people as against their traditional values. For example, in the play, Lakunle does not welcome to idea of paying of bride prize which would make his proposed marriage with Sidi proper and legitimate as tradition and custom of his people demands. Had it been he agreed earlier to pay the bride prize as requested by Sidi, the conclusion of this play would have been a different thing altogether.


Professor Bernth Lindfors in a paper presented in an African Literature Seminar at Ibadan some years ago, has this to say: “Wole Soyinka is one of the greatest writers Africa has produced. His work is of consistently high quality, and appears to be abundantly gifted as to be able to achieve without visible effort virtually any literary effect he desires. Intense creative energy bristles beneath every page he writes, charging his words with the kind of intellectual electricity that only true genius generates”.
The literary techniques/devices which Soyinka uses in the play includes: imagery, metaphor, Simile, personification, irony, verse and prose, song, dance, mime, flashback, suspense and surprise, enjambment, etc. The title of the play brings the image of two worlds -animal world and human world. The Lion being the king of the animal world connotes power and the most precious and prized item or person lies in the jewel. Interestingly, these two stricken images (Lion/Jewel) represent the two major characters in the play, Baroka (Lion) and Sidi (Jewel). From beginning to the end the play is written on enjambment (run-on-lines) which has the effect of suspense. The language is embodied with wits, songs, the playwright employs the use of metaphor in the following lines, “I am the twinkle of a jewel”. The use of simile in the play are many. Similes are usually introduced by the use of “like” or “as”, His face is like a leather piece” is a good example of simile. Other examples abound in the poem. The use of dance, song and mummers underlines the social setting of the play. These are the traditional means of passing information. In the play, the audience receives information through this medium.
Done studying? Take a quick test for this lesson!

Lesson Evaluation / Test

A. In few sentences describe the Playwright.
B. Where is the setting of the play?
C. Identify and discuss the themes in the play;
D. Identify poetic devices used in the play.
E. Summarize the acts in the play.

Questions answered correctly? Bravo!
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“Wole Soyinka”, Encyclopædia Britannica

Taubman, Howard (April 18, 1965), “A Nigerian Looks At ‘Progress’“, The New York Times. Retrieved January 9, 2020.

Brians, Paul (February 22, 2003), “Wole Soyinka Study Guide
Retrieved January 9, 2020.