The Masque

Soyinka’s elaborate and painstaking description of the Masque, at which his Fourth Act takes place, works to heighten a sense of artificiality around Pilkings and his British comrades, exposing to readers a kind of ridiculousness that they can find laughable. Over a page is devoted to expositional information at the start of Act 4, while each of the preceding acts requite only a paragraph. Both the style and content of this page make apparent Soyinka’s ideas about the people he is representing. He describes the Residency as extending “beyond vision into the rear and wings,” using the conventions of theatre to elevate the permeability of the colonial mindset, as well as the arrogance seen in many of the colonial characters (37). Soyinka also weaves sentences and phrases from the colonial mindset into these stage directions, speaking as if he were a British attendee at the party. These inclusions are clearly meant to be satyrical; Soyinka writes, “At last, the entrance of Royalty,” making a comment on the falsity of the kind of royalty the colonizers glorify (it is interesting that we never really see/hear from the Prince, and that he has no involvement with the scene that is about to unfold. This could be Soyinka indicating the nonsensical nature of the power hierarchy of colonialism; that the highest ranking officials have literally no connection to those they are ruling over. Taken out of a political context, the author might be making a comment on the human propensity towards shallowness in general – the British only adore the Prince for those things he represents: wealth, luxury and power).

The Prince’s choice of costume as seventeenth-century European is certainly no small coincidence – although Soyinka might be referencing several things, the first that comes to mind (personally), is the reign of Louis XIV. This could potentially be reinforcing the idea of blindly following authority or glorifying political power for no real reason (as in Louis XIV’s connection to absolute monarchy). It is also repeated that the music at the party is not enjoyable – “the orchestra’s waltz rendition is not of the highest musical standard,” (37). This is a sharp contrast to the natural musicality and poetry of Act 1; similarly to dance, there is a sense here that the Europeans’ art has been weakened by its rehearsed and artificial qualities.

When Pilkings and his wife are introduced to the Prince, they are depicted as attempting to entertain him, making a little performance out of an explanation of their costumes, to which the Royal Party responds with applause. The entire construct of a masked or costumed ball hearkens feelings of deceit, further heightened by the desperate attempts by the Resident and Pilkings to keep the truth from the Prince. Through the use of a masked ball, Soyinka is able to encapsulate the Europeans in a world of falsity, exposing to readers that their attitudes of superiority are truly jocular.

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