One of the primary features of the Irish literary renaissance was the discovery, regeneration, and translation of ancient Irish myths into modern forms. Among the great Celtic legends, perhaps the most popular was the tragic love story of Deirdre, The Troubler, and her lover, Naoise. Probably the greatest artistic representations of this fable of fate, love, betrayal, and death are the dramatic versions by William Butler Yeats (Deirdre, 1906) and John Millington Synge (Deirdre of the Sorrows, 1910). However, although James Stephens’s prose interpretation of the myth may lack the austere poetic grandeur of Yeats’s play or the tragic intensity of Synge’s, it has a psychological penetration and lively narrative thrust that makes it not unworthy of mention alongside those great predecessors.
In many ways, Stephens’s version is the most modern one of the Deirdre legend. Although very different from each other, both Yeats and Synge sought to capture the atmosphere of the romantic Irish past of legend and folklore in their plays. Stephens, however, is more interested in a modern psychological analysis of the characters and their actions. At the same time, he does not ignore the flavor of archaic Celtic myth; in developing his story, he takes great pains to present the medieval culture and background as authentically and thoroughly as he could. Deirdre, therefore, contains that mixture of the lyrical and the realistic, the ancient and the modern, and the solemn...
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