The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Grania meets Finn on the eve of their wedding. She tells Finn that she chose to marry him because she longs for the good life at Almhuin, Finn’s home and the center of his soldier-community, famous for poets, heroes, and comradeship. Finn tells her that the man she will admire most in Almhuin is his kinsman, Diarmuid; then he asks if she has ever loved any man. Grania says there was a man once, a visitor to Tara, but she only saw him briefly and never heard his name. They are interrupted by Diarmuid’s arrival with jewels and gifts for the wedding. Grania immediately recognizes Diarmuid as the man she had seen at Tara. Shocked, she shrinks back. Finn calls her forth and places a crown on her head, but, looking at Diarmuid, she feels the crown too heavy. She is suddenly tired and begs Finn to postpone their wedding. He refuses, and she withdraws.

Finn confides in Diarmuid that he finds himself falling in love with Grania. He wonders if love is appropriate at his age and looks to Diarmuid for reassurance. Finn says he fears love, because it unseats other loyalties. Diarmuid swears his loyalty to Finn but asks to be excused from attending the wedding and sent instead to fight the king of Foreign. Finn reluctantly agrees but orders Diarmuid to rest until dawn. Covering himself with a cloak, Finn watches over Diarmuid.

Grania enters, mistakes Finn for Diarmuid, and confesses she can no longer bear to marry Finn, for she knows her heart belongs to Diarmuid. As Finn reveals both his identity and his anger, Diarmuid wakes. Grania chooses a life in the wilderness alone, but Diarmuid vows to go with her and protect her, while respecting her as Finn’s queen (that is, he will not have sexual intercourse with her). As proof of his faithfulness to Finn, Diarmuid pledges to send an unbroken cake of bread every full moon for as long as he and Grania are together.

When the second act begins, Grania and Diarmuid have been living in the woods, fugitives from Finn’s wrath, for seven years; for the past month they have been living as husband and wife. Grania chides him, “It was not love that brought you to wed me in the end,” but...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Grania is a play in which two dramatic devices predominate: characterization and the use of poetic language quite outside common English usage. These devices make possible the staging of a three-act play with only three speaking roles, little in the way of plot, a minimum of suspense (the legend and its outcome were known to Lady Gregory’s audience), and relatively little action, which is nevertheless tense with dramatic conflict and stirring to the ear.

Each of the three characters is multidimensional and is transformed by the course of the action, though it is certainly Grania who changes most. In order to give her characters room to grow, Lady Gregory sets them up as models of simplicity at the start of act 1. Finn, far older and more courageous than Grania, is respectful of the power of love and jealousy but holds both at a distance. Grania, all innocence and directness, expects never to know what love is but to live in domestic harmony with Finn. Diarmuid, whose soldier-spirit is dauntless, has but one emotion: loyalty to Finn. Lady Gregory develops and exposes the complexity of her characters by introducing a rapid series of tests, inner conflicts, doubts, and disappointments for each one. Finn’s vulnerability and self-doubt countermine his courage; Diarmuid’s passion and jealousy undercut his loyalty; and Grania’s innocence disappears as her self-determination grows. Every moment of the play reveals some new disillusionment, risk,...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Coxhead, Elizabeth. Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait. 2d ed. London: Secker & Warburg, 1966.

Kohfeldt, Mary Lou. Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance. New York: Atheneum, 1985.

Malone, Andrew E. “The Folk Dramatists.” In The Irish Drama. Reprint. New York: B. Blom, 1965.

Mikhail, E. K. Lady Gregory: Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. Troy, New York: Wilson, 1982.

Mikhail, E. K. Lady Gregory: Interviews and Recollections. Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Saddlemyer, Ann. In Defense of Lady Gregory, Playwright. London: Oxford University Press,