Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Cathleen ni Houlihan written by the Irish playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and Lady Gregory, and produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on April 2, 1902

A scene from Cathleen ni Houlihan (the nationalistic and republican play) written by the Irish playwright William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) and Lady Gregory, and produced at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, for the first time on April 2, 1902


"Yeats devoted significant creative energy to writing plays. He worked with playwright Lady Gregory to develop works for the Irish stage, the two collaborating for the 1902 production of Cathleen Ni Houlihan. More works soon followed, including On Baile's Strand, Deirdre and At the Hawk's Well."
"1902 April The one-act Cathleen ni Houlihan, written mostly by Lady Gregory but credited publicly to Yeats, is performed in Dublin on the same bill as George William Russell’s (“Æ”’s) full-length Deirdre by the Irish National Dramatic Company, formed by William G. and Frank Fay. The presentation is a notable first: the plays were written by Irishmen, performed by Irish actors, and directed by Irishmen. After the union of the Fays with Yeats and Lady Gregory of the now-defunct Irish Literary Theatre, the group is renamed the Irish National Theatre Society. Through mid-1904, the INTS will present eight series of performances, with plays by a variety of Irish writers in its repertory.
The public reaction to the political implications of Cathleen ni Houlihan (billed as Kathleen . . .) leads Yeats to reflect, “Did that play of mine send out / Certain men the English shot?” The portrayal of a spirit-of-Ireland figure luring a peasant family’s son away to fight for her—and the fact that a notorious agitator against British rule in Ireland, Maud Gonne, played the role of Cathleen—caused the play to be received more as a political incitement than a work of dramatic art. Yeats had announced in the United Irishman that his subject is "Ireland and its struggle for independence," but at an inquiry into a possible violation of the theatre's patent, he defends the play against the charge that it was meant as political propaganda. "I took a piece of human life, thoughts that men had felt, hopes they had died for, and I put this into what I believe to be a sincere dramatic form. I have never written a play to advocate any kind of opinion and I think that such a play would be necessarily bad art. . . . At the same time I feel that I have no right to exclude, for myself and for others, any of the passionate material of drama."
In the second number of Samhain Yeats replies to Martyn’s contention (in United Irishman) that actors should train themselves for “the modern drama of society” rather than “plays of heroic life or plays like Cathleen ni Houlihan, with its speech of the countrypeople”: “Our movement is a return to the people, . . . and the drama of society would but magnify a condition of life which the countryman and the artisan could but copy to their hurt. The play that is to give them a quite natural pleasure should tell them either of their own life, or of that life of poetry where every man can see his own image, because there alone does human nature escape from arbitrary conditions. . . . We should, of course, play every kind of good play about Ireland that we can get, but romantic and historical plays, and plays about the life of artisans and countrypeople, are the best worth getting. In time, I think, we can make the poetical play a living dramatic form again, and the training our actors will get from plays of country life, with its unchanging outline, its abundant speech, its extravagance of thought, will help establish a school of imaginative acting.” "

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