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    W.B. Yeats, 1904 Popular Theatre and the Politics of Cuchullain

    Ennis, Niamh (2010) W.B. Yeats, 1904 Popular Theatre and the Politics of Cuchullain. Masters thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.

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    “Last night the new theatre which the Irish National Theatre Society has...was opened under the happiest auspices…Long before the curtain rose the pit and gallery were packed…On Baile’s Strand is one of the best acting plays that Mr Yeats has written…there is less of the mystical and more of the human element in the composition than in most of Mr Yeats dramas [and] the characters are virile and actual” (1976, 128-9).This quote, from the Freeman’s Journal, illustrates the initial success and relevance of The Abbey’s opening play, Yeats’ On Baile’s Strand. However, what one doesn’t get from this review, is the reality of the mundane Abbey. In 1904, as the first chapter of this thesis shall illustrate, The Abbey Theatre held one of the smallest crowds in Dublin, and its success on opening night was nothing in comparison to the audience Queen’s Theatre just over the River Liffey held the very same night. Yeats’ brand of theatre was by no means popular in comparison to the melodramas of J.W. Whitbread. Yet, as will be illustrated in chapter two, Yeats set out to prove that his ‘Theatre of Art’ was to go against that very commercial and political type of Irish play that theatres like Queen’s performed, not to mention the horribly materialistic types of entertainment at the other main Dublin theatres. He was going to do it by blending “the simplicity and responsiveness to the supernatural and the esoteric that he associated with the west of Ireland peasantry” (2005, 12). Also he was going to add the elegance of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy which he related to a premodern time of “chieftains and kings” that was, in his words, “noble” (2005, 160&158). But against popular belief, he was going to present it in English. This is the reason many thought he was not fulfilling the job he set out to do; to create a ‘national’ theatre. Yet before this point, “all Irish nationalist popular political movements” had reverted to the use of English in their “propaganda” (2005, 44). However, as regards the furious debate as to whether Yeats was an active republican, it appears he was never seriously aligned with any of these political movements. Rather, as he stated in Samhain countless times, he thought propaganda and the use of it in plays was not a viable solution to the Irish question. He instead chose symbolism to demonstrate his own political beliefs, refusing to force politics on anyone. His main aim was to present the living speech of the people and the character of the Irish person. Yet, with On Baile’s Strand, Yeats only achieved some of him aims. His political ideals were kept under the guise of tension between Cuchullain and an added character Conchubar, yet his aim of living speech was seriously undermined by his occult associations and the chanting used in these groups. The final chapter shall illustrate how On Baile’s Strand both fulfilled and undermined the playwright’s attempts at creating a New Ireland, where politics were not at the forefront of art, where they would force people to “tare each other’s character to pieces” (1997,189).

    Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
    Keywords: W.B. Yeats; 1904; Popular Theatre; Politics of Cuchullain;
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Arts,Celtic Studies and Philosophy > School of English, Media & Theatre Studies
    Item ID: 4923
    Depositing User: IR eTheses
    Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2014 15:58
      Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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