Edward Martyn Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edward Martyn is known exclusively as a playwright, although he also published a novel, Morgante the Lesser (1890), under the pseudonym Sirius. The novel’s combination of wit and scatology makes Martyn a remote relation of Jonathan Swift and François Rabelais, and as a shaggy-dog story, it owes a debt to Laurence Sterne. In addition, the novel belongs to a rich Gaelic and Anglo-Irish tradition of satires on learning. Its interest is confined exclusively to literary history, however, thanks to its turgid style and flaccid pace. Perhaps its most surprising aspect is its authorship. Nothing in the rigorous Ibsenite realism of his major plays or in the ascetic idealism of his private life would lead one to suspect that Martyn ever perpetrated a work that might well be ascribed to Alfred Jarry.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edward Martyn has a permanent, if minor, place in the history of the Irish Literary Renaissance . Because this cultural phenomenon undertook no less than to change, or indeed to review, the mind of a nation, a minor contribution to it should not necessarily be considered negligible. William Butler Yeats, in one of his summaries of Martyn’s achievements, dismissively mentions Martyn merely as one of Lady Augusta Gregory’s neighbors who “paid for our first performances” (those, that is, of the Irish Literary Theatre, the company that in 1904 became the Abbey Theatre). In fact, Martyn was a founding member of the Irish Literary Theatre , and his play The Heather Field was the company’s second production. Moreover, Martyn brought to the company a set of theatrical ideals, heavily influenced by the drama of Henrik Ibsen, which offered an alternative to Yeats’s concept of “peasant drama.” This alternative remained underdeveloped, and partly as a result, Martyn’s playwriting career stagnated. In The Heather Field, however, Martyn demonstrated, intriguingly but embryonically, how his approach could have spoken in realistic terms about contemporary Irish idealism.

Far from being merely the nascent Irish theater’s well-disposed financier, Martyn was as committed to the renaissance as was any of its other initiators. Despite more lasting contributions to other spheres of Irish culture and the fact that he was, by temperament, better equipped to be a critic than an artist, Martyn’s position in the anterooms of fame is assured. He gave significant impetus to one of the twentieth century’s most distinctive theatrical undertakings.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Courtney, Marie Therese. Edward Martyn and the Irish Theatre. New York: Vantage Press, 1956. A detailed portrait of Martyn in the context of Irish theatrical history. Courtney examines his involvement in the establishment of a national theater movement from both a biographical and an artistic point of view and assesses the eventual effect of that involvement on Martyn. All Martyn’s dramatic works are thoroughly evaluated.

Feeney, William J., ed. Edward Martyn’s Irish Theatre. Vol. 2 in George Spelvin’s Theatre Book. Newark, Del.: Proscenium Press, 1980. These essays examine the Irish Theatre established by Martyn and discuss plays of its writers, including Martyn’s Romulus and Remus and Thomas MacDonagh’s Pagans.

Gwynn, Denis. Edward Martyn and the Irish Revival. 1930. Reprint. New York: Lemma, 1974. An early attempt to describe Martyn’s role in the Irish Literary Renaissance. Much of the focus is on Martyn’s contributions to the development of Irish drama. The study, however, also contains information on his other cultural commitments, with the result that an overall sense of Martyn’s cultural context emerges.

Hogan, Robert, and James Kilroy. The Irish Literary Theatre, 1899-1901. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1975. Contains a considerable amount of detailed information regarding Martyn’s involvement in the events that led to the eventual formation of Ireland’s national theater. Includes accounts of the production and reception of Martyn’s plays. The volume also provides extensive scholarly support for the study of the formative period of modern Irish theater.

Setterquist, Jan. Edward Martyn. Vol. 2 in Ibsen and the Beginnings of Anglo-Irish Drama. 1951-1960. Reprint. New York: Gordian Press, 1974. The impact of Henrik Ibsen’s revolution in the social and critical role of the drama on the fledgling Irish theater is examined. Martyn’s complicated attitude toward Ibsen’s example is central to this study’s argument, and Martyn’s plays are also seen in the context of the Ibsenite dimension of the contemporary Irish drama.