Abbey Theatre in the Irish Literary Renaissance
Abbey Theatre in the Irish Literary Renaissance
Coinciding with a period of great political turmoil and violence as the Irish sought independence from British rule, the Irish Literary Renaissance drew upon Gaelic mythology and an interest in reviving the long-suppressed Gaelic language and rural native culture to conceptualize Irish national and cultural identity as separate and distinct from that of the British. The Abbey Theatre of Dublin, founded in 1903 by playwrights William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, opened its doors in 1904. During the Irish Renaissance, which lasted from approximately 1880 until 1930, a generation of Irish writers, seeking to produce a national literature that was uniquely Irish, produced an impressive body of work, much of which was seen on the stage of the Abbey Theatre.
Yeats and Lady Gregory were nationalists and leading figures in the Irish Literary Renaissance, sometimes called the Irish Literary Revival. Prior to the founding of the Abbey Theatre, Yeats, Lady Gregory, and Edward Martyn published a “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” (1897), in which they proclaimed their intention of establishing a national theater for Ireland. In 1899, they established the Irish Literary Theatre and produced such plays as Yeats's controversial The Countess Cathleen (1899), in which the heroine sells her soul to feed her starving tenants during a famine; Lady Gregory's Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902), a rewriting of an old Irish story from the Ulster cycle; and Martyn's The Heather Field (1899). Yeats's nationalistic drama, Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902), was one of the most succesful productions of the Irish Literary Theatre.
Yeats and Lady Gregory founded the Irish National Theatre in 1903, and with financial backing from the British producer Annie Horniman, they purchased a permanent home for their theater on Old Abbey Street in Dublin. On December 27, 1904, the Abbey Theatre opened its doors to the public with Lady Gregory's Spreading the News (1904) and Yeats's On Baile's Strand (1904). From the outset, the Abbey commissioned and produced plays that established Ireland's literary reputation and influenced the development of twentieth-century drama. In addition to Lady Gregory and Yeats, who served as the Abbey's directors until their deaths in 1932 and 1939, respectively, and saw the Abbey through a civil war and the founding of the Irish Free State in 1923, many significant writers of the Irish Literary Renaissance contributed plays to the Abbey, among them, J. M. Synge (whom Yeats called “the greatest dramatic genius of Ireland,”) Sean O'Casey, Martyn, George Bernard Shaw, Padraic Colum, and George Moore.
According to Yeats's manifesto, his main goal in founding a national theater was to “build up a Celtic and Irish school of dramatic literature.” Although both the directors and the playwrights whose works were commissioned shared the goal of producing a uniquely Irish theatre, the question of what constituted Irish theater and how art related to national identity sparked controversy even before the Abbey was established. Of the possible influence the passionately nationalistic play Cathleen ni Houlihan may have had on the men who led the Easter Rebellion of 1916, Yeats reflected, “Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” Although some plays inspired nationalistic fervor, others angered nationalists with their depiction of Ireland. The Catholic Church, for example, denounced the vision of Yeats's play, The Countess Cathleen, in 1899, and certainly at least one influential group of nationalists conflated Catholic values with Irish values. Throughout the Irish Literary Renaissance, the Abbey contributed to the conversation about Ireland's national and artistic identity by producing plays that provoked violent reactions from the Abbey's audience, namely The Playboy of the Western World (1907) by Synge and The Plough and the Stars (1926) by O'Casey. Playboy, a black comedy that mocks the pastoral, nostalgic myth-making of Irish nationalism, was greeted by jeers and angry rioting. Newspaper editorials by Irish nationalists accused Synge of obscenity and disrespect for the purity of the Irish peasant woman. Furthermore, as James Kilroy points out in The Playboy Riots (1971), many editorials claimed that the play neither represented the nation nor “reality,” and that if it did not represent the nation, then it had no business appearing in a national theater. In 1926, Abbey Theatre-goers again took to the streets, protesting the premiere of The Plough and the Stars, an anti-war play that depicted the Easter Rising of 1916 without mythologizing its leaders. As the Abbey Theatre developed, it rejected a narrowly propagandistic nationalism, embracing a thornier and more complex notion of Irish nationhood and of Irish art.
A Fiddler's House (play) 1903
The Saxon Shillin' (play) 1903
The Land (play) 1905
Lady Augusta Gregory
Cuchulain of Muirthemne (play) 1902
Spreading the News (play) 1904
Kincora (play) 1905
The Canavans (play) 1906
The Gaol Gate (play) 1906
Hyacinth Halvey (play) 1906
The Jackdaw (play) 1906
Dervorgilla (play) 1907
The Rising of the Moon (play) 1907
Coats (play) 1910
The Full Moon (play) 1910
The Travelling Man [with W. B. Yeats] (play) 1910
Our Irish Theatre (autobiography) 1913
Shanwalla (play) 1915
Hanrahan's Oath (play) 1918
The Old Woman Remembers (play) 1923
The Story Brought by Brigit (play) 1924
Dave (play) 1927
Sancho's Master (play) 1927
The Heather Field (play) 1899
Maeve (play) 1900
Grangecolman (play) 1912
Journeys End in Lovers Meeting [with John Oliver Hobbes] (play) 1894
The Bending of the Bough (play) 1900
Diarmuid and Grania [with W. B. Yeats] (play) 1901
Esther Waters: A Play (play) 1913
Cathleen Listens In (play) 1923
The Shadow of a Gunman (play) 1923
Juno and the Paycock (play)...
(The entire section is 264 words.)
Criticism: Origins And Development
SOURCE: Yeats, W. B. “Irish National Drama.” In The Abbey Theatre: Interviews and Recollections, edited by E. H. Mikhail, pp. 98-100. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1988.
[In the following interview, originally published in 1910, one of the founders of the Abbey Theatre discusses the peasant plays of the Abbey Theatre as part of a dramatic movement “that is representative of the social life and the economic conditions of Ireland.”]
‘The side of our work with which we have achieved our greatest successes,’ said Mr. Yeats to our representative, ‘is undoubtedly the peasant comedy and tragedy. We have placed upon the stage for the first time the real Irish life as opposed to the traditional. The dialect of Lever and of Lover1 was a composite thing, and displayed a very limited understanding of the peasant mind. The proper understanding of the peasant mind only arose with an understanding of Gaelic.
‘These peasant plays’, he continued, ‘are not primarily studies of peasant life. Synge's plays, for instance, contain a philosophy of life just as truly as do the lyrics of Shelley. They express the ideas of the man in the symbolism of the peasant world he had studied so deeply and knew so well. His was not photographic art; it was symbolic. He used the Irish peasant as a means of expression, just as the painter uses the colours on his palette. His...
(The entire section is 1024 words.)
SOURCE: Russell, George W. “The Coming of Age of the Abbey.” In The Abbey Theatre: Interviews and Recollections, edited by E. H. Mikhail, pp. 136-40. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1988.
[In the following essay, first published in The Irish Statesman on January 2, 1926, Russell, an important figure in the Irish Literary Renaissance who signed his poetry with the initials “A. E.,” discusses his experiences with the Abbey Theatre at the height of the Literary Revival.]
About a quarter of a century ago Ireland began to assert and practise its right to cultural independence, making it apparent to the world that it had a distinction, a spiritual personality of its own. That personality asserted itself in many directions. It began to drink at the fountain of its own youth, the almost forgotten fountain of Gaelic culture, and at the same time to be intensely modern, to create a literature which had enough of the universal in it to win recognition from lovers of literature in Europe and America. It was our literature more than our political activities which created outside Ireland a true image of our nationality, and brought about the recognition of a spiritual entity which should have a political body to act through. No single activity of that newly kindled Irish personality did so much to attract attention to Ireland as the Abbey Theatre, whose twenty-first birthday, its coming of...
(The entire section is 1786 words.)
SOURCE: Malone, Andrew E. “The Early History of the Abbey Theatre.” In The Irish Theatre: Lectures Delivered During the Abbey Theatre Festival Held in Dublin in August 1938, edited by Lennox Robinson, pp. 3-29. London, Great Britain: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1939.
[In the following essay, originally given at the first Abbey Theatre Dramatic Festival in 1938, Malone recounts the early history of the Abbey Theatre.]
Conscious as I am of the great compliment which has been paid to me by the invitation to deliver the opening address at this first Abbey Theatre Dramatic Festival, I feel myself more than a little out of place. This introductory lecture should be delivered by the only surviving member of the small group of enthusiasts which brought the Irish drama to life and which gave the Abbey Theatre to the nation. If the health of Dr. W. B. Yeats, to our great regret, does not permit him to be with us, then Mr. Lennox Robinson—as the one who has been most intimately associated with the growth and development of the Theatre through its most strenuous years—would more fittingly, and a great deal more capably, fulfil the duty which has been entrusted to me. The presence of Mr. Robinson as the presiding genius of this gathering is, however, a link binding the early days of a gallant adventure with this first celebration of its success.
The qualification which I possess for the...
(The entire section is 6398 words.)
SOURCE: Fay, W. G. “How We Began the Abbey.” In The Abbey Theatre: Interviews and Recollections, edited by E. H. Mikhail, pp. 15-8. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1988.
[In the following essay, originally published in 1947, Fay, one of the original actors at the Abbey Theatre along with his brother, Frank Fay, provides his personal impressions of the founding of the Abbey Theatre.]
When Seumas O'Sullivan saw at the Antient Concert Rooms, Dublin, the first performance of W. B. Yeats' verse play, The Countess Cathleen, amongst the audience was James Joyce. What neither of them was aware of, as they watched the performance of The Countess Cathleen, was that it was to be responsible for the formation of the Irish Players and the founding of the Abbey Theatre.
Appreciation of poetry was not one of my best points at that time, but my brother Frank insisted that for the good of my soul I should come with him to see the play. It was a fatal suggestion, for it led to our inflicting on our innocent country a theatre which it did not want.
For a performance on a fit-up stage of a verse play it was very much hampered, but it got over and we enjoyed it. However, on our way home we came to the conclusion it would have been much more effective if the actors knew what they were talking about. Frank said that if there was to be a modern Irish drama at...
(The entire section is 1483 words.)
Criticism: Major Figures
SOURCE: Robinson, Lennox. “Lady Gregory.” In The Irish Theatre: Lectures Delivered During the Abbey Theatre Festival Held in Dublin in August 1938, edited by Lennox Robinson, pp. 55-64. London, Great Britain: Macmillan & Co. Ltd., 1939.
[In the following essay, first delivered as a speech for the first Abbey Theatre Dramatic Festival in 1938, Robinson—who served as a manager, producer, and director at the Abbey Theatre—describes Lady Augusta Gregory's contributions to the Abbey Theatre.]
To understand Lady Gregory fully it is necessary to visualise her background. She was born in a big country-house in Co. Galway in 1852, and married in 1881 Sir Richard Gregory. After her marriage her home was Coole Park, a few miles from her birthplace. Her husband was a man of cultivation and taste, and Coole Park, a large eighteenth-century house, was crowded with books and paintings and mementoes of the generations of Gregorys who had been soldiers and statesmen. The walls of the stairs leading from the hall to library and drawing-room were history in themselves. Balzac writing a novel about such a family would have spent fifty pages describing those crowded walls, that library, those pictures. She came from a Protestant, Unionist family but was a “sport”—different, and at a very early age Nationalist in her sympathies. Her connection with the Irish dramatic movement began in 1898. I quote her diary...
(The entire section is 2490 words.)
SOURCE: Ayling, Ronald. “Sean O'Casey and the Abbey Theatre, Dublin.” Dalhousie Review 52, no. 1 (spring 1972): 21-33.
[In the following essay, Ayling examines the complicated relationship of playwright Sean O'Casey to the Abbey Theatre.]
“All art is a collaboration”
J. M. Synge1
Irish writers and comics, possibly begrudging Sean O'Casey's exceptional popularity, have claimed that much of this success in his native city can be attributed to the acting of the Abbey company and the active collaboration of the theatre's directors in writing and revising his plays. I remember vividly on my first visit to Dublin in 1956 being assured by Professor David Greene—a distinguished Gaelic scholar and Professor of Irish at Trinity College, Dublin, at that time—that the “difference in quality” between O'Casey's Abbey dramas and his later ones was that Lady Gregory and other friends helped shape and revise the earlier writings. Subsequently, I discovered that this preposterous view was widely held in literary and critical circles in Dublin. Yet many other writers have written for the same company—before, during, and since O'Casey came into prominence—without achieving either the popular or the critical success that he obtained. Why could not the same combination of Abbey players and writer-directors do for other young playwrights...
(The entire section is 5805 words.)
SOURCE: Saddlemyer, Ann. “J. M. Synge on the Irish Dramatic Movement: An Unpublished Article.” Modern Drama 24, no. 3 (September 1981): 276-81.
[In the following essay, Saddlemyer discusses an unpublished essay by John Millington Synge that demonstrates Synge's commitment to Yeats's artistic principles and the ideals of the early Abbey Theatre.]
During the last week of April, 1906, the Irish National Theatre Society visited the north of England for the first time, performing in the Midland Theatre, Manchester, on April 23 and 24 before proceeding to Liverpool and Leeds. As the only Director based in Dublin, Synge had been taking increasing responsibility for Abbey Theatre business, and he arranged to accompany the players on tour. He appears to have written the following article1 while on the road or immediately after his return to Dublin, intending it for the Manchester Guardian. During the preceding year he had published two travel essays for the Guardian, and a series of twelve commissioned articles, illustrated by Jack B. Yeats, describing the congested districts of the west of Ireland. However, “The Dramatic Movement in Ireland” was apparently never published. Synge may well have had a hand in the writing of a more extensive illustrated souvenir programme describing the history of the movement and its major dramatists which was issued in May, however, when the...
(The entire section is 2880 words.)
SOURCE: Gooddie, Sheila. “The Abbey Theatre.” In Annie Horniman: A Pioneer in the Theatre, pp. 59-68. London: Methuen, 1990.
[In the following essay, Gooddie examines the complicated and thorny relationship between Yeats and Annie Horniman, the first financial backer of the Abbey Theatre.]
In 1904 local authorities started to tighten up their fire regulations in theatres, following a serious fire in a theatre in England and an even worse one in Chicago where people lost their lives. Some small back-street theatres were forced to close, among them the Hibernian Theatre of Varieties in Abbey Street in Dublin, which had been unable to make the alterations required by the Corporation's Fire Department. It had once been the National Theatre but had become commonly known as ‘The Mechanics’ because it was attached to the Mechanics Institute which had been built on the razed site of the old Theatre Royal Opera House. Just next door and round the corner in Marlborough Street was an empty building which had served a variety of uses, from a savings bank to the city morgue.
In London, Annie heard these particulars from Willie Fay and replied that their luck was in, for her Hudson Bay shares had done well. He came over in person in March with the Irish players for their much acclaimed West End appearance at the Royalty Theatre and she sent him back with the longed-for news that she would...
(The entire section is 4036 words.)
Criticism: Plays And Controversies
SOURCE: Gregory, Lady Augusta. “The Fight Over The Playboy.” In Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography, pp. 109-18. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913.
[In the following chapter from her autobiography, Lady Gregory reflects on the controversy that resulted from the Abbey Theatre's staging of John Millington Synge's peasant play The Playboy of the Western World.]
When Synge's Shadow of the Glen was first played in the Molesworth Hall in 1903, some attacks were made on it by the Sinn Fein weekly newspaper. In the play the old husband pretends to be dead, the young wife listens to the offers of a young farmer, who asks her to marry him in the chapel of Rathvanna when “Himself will be quiet a while in the Seven Churches.” The old man jumps up, drives her out of the house, refusing to make peace, and she goes away with a tramp, a stranger from the roads. Synge was accused of having borrowed the story from another country, from “a decadent Roman source,” the story of the widow of Ephesus, and given it an Irish dress. He declared he had been told this story in the West of Ireland. It had already been given in Curtin's tales. Yet the same cry has been made from time to time. But it happened last winter I was at Newhaven, Massachusetts, with the Company, and we were asked to tea at the house of a Yale professor. There were a good many people there, and I had a few words...
(The entire section is 2143 words.)
SOURCE: Gregory, Lady Augusta. “The Fight With the Castle.” In Our Irish Theatre: A Chapter of Autobiography, pp. 140-68. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1913.
[In the following essay, Lady Gregory describes the contributions that playwright George Bernard Shaw made to the Abbey Theatre, along with the resulting battle over censorship.]
In the summer of 1909 I went one day from London to Ayot St. Lawrence, a Hertfordshire village, to consult Mr. Bernard Shaw on some matters connected with our Theatre. When I was leaving, he gave me a little book, The Shewing up of Blanco Posnet, which had just been printed, although not published. It had, however, been already rejected by the Censor, as all readers of the newspapers know; and from that quiet cottage the fiery challenge-giving answers had been sent out. I read the play as I went back in the train, and when at St. Pancras Mr. Yeats met me to talk over the business that had taken me away, I showed him the little book that had been given its black ball, and I said, “Hypocrites.”
A little time afterwards Mr. Shaw offered us the play for the Abbey, for the Censor has no jurisdiction in Ireland—an accidental freedom. We accepted it and put it in rehearsal that we might produce it in Horse Show week. We were without a regular stage manager at that time, and thought to have it produced by one of the members of the Company. But...
(The entire section is 6097 words.)
SOURCE: Lowery, Robert G. Introduction to A Whirlwind in Dublin: ‘The Plough and the Stars’ Riots, edited by Robert G. Lowery, pp. 3-7. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1984.
[In the following essay, an introduction to a book-length collection of reviews of Sean O'Casey's play The Plough and the Stars, performed at the Abbey Theatre in 1926, Lowery compares the Abbey audience of 1907, when the audiences rioted in response to Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, with the 1926 audience that vehemently protested the Abbey's production of O'Casey's play.]
O'Casey is considered by many the only Irish playwright who can thus far compare with John M. Synge, although it is difficult to discover an adequate basis on which to judge them together.
—Curtis Canfield, Plays of the Irish Renaissance (1929)
The riots surrounding the 1926 productions of The Plough and the Stars are invariably compared with similar disturbances of the 1907 production of John M. Synge's play The Playboy of the Western World. There is too much surface similarity to be ignored. Certainly the central figures of the Plough controversy were aware of the parallels: William Butler Yeats invoked them in his famous speech at the Abbey; Lady Augusta Gregory fretted over the disturbing possibilities before anything happened;...
(The entire section is 1489 words.)
SOURCE: Cairns, David, and Shaun Richards. “Reading a Riot: The ‘Reading Formation’ of Synge's Abbey Audience.” Literature and History 13, no. 2 (autumn 1987): 219-37.
[In the following essay, Cairns and Richards argue that the nationalist ideology and mythologized nostalgia that produced the Irish Literary Revival to some extent “scripted” the ways in which the early twentieth-century Dublin audience responded to Synge's play The Playboy of the Western World.]
The Playboy ‘riots’—along with those of Hugo's Hernani, Jarry's Ubu Roi, O'Casey's The Plough and the Stars—are among the few undisputed ‘facts’ of literary history. A pleasing confirmation to the literary critics that the object of their attention has, at some time and place, actually engaged with society. The fact of the riots is even recognized in the book of that very title—The Playboy Riots—which meticulously records the dispute as it swung to and fro through the Dublin press.1 More problematic, however, is to find any clear explanations as to the cause of the audience's hostile response to the work.
The general recognition that the response was related to outraged nationalist sensibility when confronted with this Ascendancy insult is the standard explanation and one from which we would not wish substantially to demur. But beyond this clearly perceived...
(The entire section is 9305 words.)
SOURCE: McDiarmid, Lucy. “The Abbey and the Theatrics of Controversy, 1909-1915.” In A Century of Irish Drama: Widening the State, edited by Stephen Watt, Eileen Morgan, and Shakir Mustafa, pp. 57-71. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, McDiarmid argues that three early controversies—the censorship of Shaw's The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, the American response to Synge's Playboy, and the debate over whether to produce Shaw's play, O'Flaherty VC—helped the Abbey define itself artistically and strategically as a national theater.]
The history of the early Abbey Theatre offers a good means of understanding the way controversies, like theatre itself, transform the belligerent into the ludic. Three successive controversies in particular constitute a little sequence of causes and effects: the controversy over Bernard Shaw's play The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet, which was banned in England for blasphemy and obscenity but which was performed in Ireland in 1909; the controversy over the Philadelphia performance of John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World in January 1912; and the 1915 debate over whether Shaw's O'Flaherty VC should be produced at the Abbey. Controversies, as these examples show, are not a means of resolution but rather a sign of its absence, functioning as a conduit of strong feeling....
(The entire section is 7490 words.)
Criticism: Artistic Vision And Significance
SOURCE: Kavanagh, Peter. “A Poetic Theatre.” In The Story of the Abbey Theatre, pp. 81-90. New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1950.
[In the following essay, Kavanagh describes Yeats's interest in producing poetic works and the Catholic Church's suspicions of the Abbey's early plays.]
During the early years of the twentieth century the minds of the Irish people were occupied with problems of business and politics. They were thinking only of how they might get on in the world. In the evenings, the peasants would gather round their fires—not to tell stories of romantic Ireland but to listen to someone read The Freeman's Journal, which told them of the struggle for home rule. They had become realists and were applying their newly discovered standard to everything: does it pay? Romance was departing from their lives, and Ireland, like England, was turning into a nation of businessmen.
Irish idealists perceived the danger in this heresy. The Gaelic League believed the best answer to it would be to make the country completely Gaelic speaking. Sinn Fein maintained that an Irish republic would cure all her ills. Both groups were so concerned with discussing how Ireland could be saved that romance fled from them, and they consequently produced a negligible literature.
Yeats stood aloof from all their arguings. For him, a high art was the answer to everything; it...
(The entire section is 3556 words.)
SOURCE: Miller, Liam. “W. B. Yeats and Stage Design at the Abbey Theatre.” Malahat Review, no. 16 (October 1970): 50-64.
[In the following essay, Miller—a stage designer—discusses the “pioneering work in stage design” that occurred at the Abbey Theatre during the Irish Literary Renaissance.]
Among the earliest published works of W. B. Yeats are three dramatic poems, “Mosada,” privately printed for the poet's father in the 1880's with a frontispiece showing Yeats at the time, “The Island of Statues” and “The Seeker,” none of which had been attempted on the stage, when, on July 1, 1887, he wrote from London to Katharine Tynan:
I do not think I shall ever find London very tolerable. It can give me nothing; I am not fond of the theatre, literary society bores me, I loathe crowds and was very content with Dublin, though even that was a little too populous
… but, although the twenty-two year old poet did not then realize it, elements of his life and work, his concern for Ireland and the ideals of his friends, were to make him, during the next twelve years, the acknowledged leader of the movement to establish a National Theatre in his native land.
I propose to look at the approach to stage design in that Theatre, principally as it was for so many years directed and shaped by Yeats. But first, it...
(The entire section is 6216 words.)
SOURCE: Flannery, James W. “W. B. Yeats and the Abbey Theatre Company.” Educational Theatre Journal 27, no. 2 (May 1972): 179-96.
[In the following essay, Flannery considers the political context in which the Abbey was established, focusing particularly on conflicts about the artistic vision the Abbey was to follow.]
1902-1905: THE POLITICS OF CREATING A THEATRE
From the very outset of his dramatic endeavors Yeats was determined to have his own theatre. After unsuccessful attempts to produce his plays in London during the 1890s and in Dublin with imported English professional actors at the Irish Literary Theatre (1899-1901), he set out to achieve his original intention with a plan of action that was as skillful as it was bold.1 Yeats turned his attention in 1902 to a politically motivated Irish company of amateur actors under the direction of Frank and William Fay. Within a year Yeats secured a certain measure of control over the repertoire of the company, which was renamed the Irish National Theatre Society. New plays by Yeats, Lady Gregory and John Synge were performed. But the greatest boost to the efforts of the little company was the extraordinary critical response to its first London appearance, a one-night stand on Saturday, May 2, 1903. Largely due to Yeats's literary reputation and his genius with public relations, such an urbane English critic as Alfred...
(The entire section is 10308 words.)
SOURCE: Hunt, Hugh. “The Free State Theatre, 1923-1932.” In The Abbey: Ireland's National Theatre, 1904-1979, pp. 119-44. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan Ltd., 1979.
[In the following essay, Hunt—the director of the Abbey Theatre from 1935 to 1971—recounts the plays performed in the early years of the Irish Free State, which was formed in 1923 as a result of the Anglo-Irish War.]
‘A NATION ONCE AGAIN’
Ireland in 1923 was not just a nation once again, it was a very different nation from the one about which the founders of the Abbey had written their plays. No longer a romantic anachronism perched on the fringes of western civilisation, the new Ireland was preparing to take its place in a not very ‘brave new world’. It was this reality that the younger dramatists endeavoured, however inadequately, to express: no longer the twilight legends of a heroic past, nor the shebeens of a picturesque peasantry, for Cuchulain had died in the G. P. O. and ‘the springtime of the local life [had] been forgotten, and the harvest [was] a memory only, and the straw [had] been turned to bricks’.
The Civil War ended in the spring of 1923 but the bitterness remained—the bitterness and the disillusion. Reality now lay in a nation divided against itself: antagonism between Orangemen and Catholics in the North, Free Staters and Republicans in the South, between...
(The entire section is 9314 words.)
SOURCE: Saddlemyer, Ann. “The ‘Dwarf-Dramas’ of the Early Abbey Theatre.” In Yeats, Sligo and Ireland: Essays to Mark the 21st Yeats International Summer School, edited by A. Norman Jeffares, pp. 197-215. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom: Colin Smythe Ltd., 1980.
[In the following essay, Saddlemyer discusses contemporary artistic and political reactions to the poetic and peasant plays produced by the Abbey Theatre during the early years of the Irish Literary Renaissance.]
‘No one act play, no dwarf-drama, can be a knockdown argument’.
With these words James Joyce dismissed Riders to the Sea and, by implication, the Irish dramatic movement, adding that Ireland needed ‘less small talk and more irrefutable art’.1 Yet when this discussion between Synge and Joyce took place in Paris early in 1903, W. G. Fay's small company of nationalist amateurs had already started to make its name with one-act plays in both Irish and English: Douglas Hyde's Casadh an Tsugáin, AE's Deirdre, Yeats's Cathleen ni Houlihan, The Pot of Broth, The Hour-Glass, James Cousins's The Sleep of the King and The Racing Lug, P. T. McGinley's Eilis Agus an Bhean Déirce, and Lady Gregory's Twenty-Five. Synge's In the Shadow of the Glen and Seamas MacManus's The Townland of...
(The entire section is 7422 words.)
SOURCE: Dalsimer, Adele M. “Players in the Western World: The Abbey Theatre's American Tours.” Eire-Ireland: A Journal of Irish Studies 16, no. 1 (1981): 75-93.
[In the following historically-grounded essay, Dalsimer argues that the Abbey's American tours between 1911 and 1914 (at the height of the Irish Literary Renaissance) and between 1931-1938 consolidated the Abbey's international reputation but alarmed Irish nationalists, who feared that the Abbey's representation of Ireland and the Irish would adversely affect American support for Irish independence.]
Between 1911 and the outbreak of World War II, the Abbey Theatre made seven tours of the United States and Canada—three between 1911 and 1914, and four between 1931 and 1938.1 Undertaken at times when the Abbey's fiscal situation was most grave, the American visits were crucial to the Theatre's survival, yet its historians and critics have paid the tours little attention.2 Their neglect is more surprising when one considers the unusual, if fortunate, relationship that developed between the Abbey Theatre and its American audience during those seven stays.
The initial tour of the United States in 1911-1912 resulted from the Theatre's need to develop a reputation outside of Ireland in order to gain financial support within the country. The tour produced shock waves in both theatrical and Irish-American...
(The entire section is 7152 words.)
SOURCE: McClintock, Cara B. “‘It Will Be Very Difficult to Find a Definition’: Yeats, Language, and the Early Abbey Theatre.” In W. B. Yeats and Postcolonialism, edited by Deborah Fleming, pp. 205-19. West Cornwall, Conn.: Locust Hill Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, McClintock explores Yeats's changing attitudes toward the Irish language as a nationalist who insisted on “art over politics.” The author argues that Yeats's written dialogue attempts to capture the rhythm and sound of the Irish language in English, which both resolved and created certain difficulties for performers and their audiences.]
In her introduction to the correspondence of W. B. Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and John Millington Synge, Ann Saddlemyer writes that the Abbey Theatre represented “a turning-away from sterile compromise towards a re-examination and re-rooting of culture; in Yeats's words, ‘Repelled by what had seemed the sole reality, we had turned to … the nobility of tradition’” (9). Yet it might fairly be asked of Yeats: a return to which tradition? Yeats embodies Nationalist instincts, yet he is a Nationalist of a peculiar sort: a man who, in his efforts to create a new national identity for his country and his countrymen, revived a traditional mythology of the people but not the traditional tongue of the people. Further, Yeats was an Abbey Theatre dramatist who, although his two...
(The entire section is 5980 words.)
FitzGerald, Mary. “How the Abbey Said No: Readers' Reports and the Rejection of The Silver Tassie.” In O'Casey Annual No. 1, edited by Robert G. Lowery, pp. 73-87. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan Press, 1982.
Explores the politics and personalities behind the Abbey Theatre's rejection of Sean O'Casey's 1929 play The Silver Tassie in the waning years of the Irish Renaissance.
Peterson, Richard F., and Gary Phillips. “W. B. Yeats and Norreys Connell.” In Yeats Annual No. 2, edited by Richard J. Finneran, pp. 46-58. London, United Kingdom: Macmillan Press, 1983.
Considers the relationship between Yeats and Norreys Connell, whom Yeats hired as a managing director after John Millington Synge's death in 1909, and suggests that Connell found his brief tenure at the Abbey Theatre to be a frustrating experience, although he maintained his friendship with Yeats.
(The entire section is 131 words.)