Deirdre (DEER-druh), a young queen. The drama’s tragic conclusion seems unalterable, but Deirdre struggles valiantly against it. At first apprehensive of King Conchubar’s false offer of safety, she is quick to discover that she and Naoise have been snared in a trap. She attempts to rouse Naoise to flight, to no avail, then to persuade Conchubar, her captor, to release them. When that proves useless, she begs him to free Naoise. Finally, confronted by Naoise’s murder and her imminent vassalage as a captive queen, she pretends to accede to Conchubar’s desires, only to gain a moment of privacy in which to take her life. Her suicide is presented as a victory of the transcendent imagination over spiritual defeat.
King Conchubar (KAWN-chew-bahr), a crafty, ruthless, patient, and vengeful old king out of the province of Uladh (ancient Ulster). He is based on a character from Celtic literature. Conchubar is first memorably represented in the words of the First Musician as a jealous old man, apparently constructing a sensual bridal chamber to share with Deirdre, whose betrothal to Naoise he allegedly has countenanced. Acting duplicitously in the thrall of lustful passion, Conchubar seems a figure of dread, a projection of Deirdre’s and Naoise’s fears. Although he is no warrior, Conchubar easily manipulates Naoise and Fergus, demonstrating his superior, and perhaps unassailable, power. His cold-blooded execution of Naoise similarly demonstrates his single-minded, lawless passion. Although he looms as...
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