Irish Dramatic Movement in English Literature

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      The Celtic revival in Ireland was a deliberate attempt by a group of Irishmen to give Dublin a national theatre. It is ironic that it was founded by people whose origins were not Celtic and whose knowledge of their tradition was slight. Despite the fact, that their involvement was quite an emotional nothing to do with political movements. Ireland provided them with stuff for their art. It is same as they had colors but not the paper to draw their thoughts. Although they believed that they were glorifying the Irish peasant.

Irish Drama before the Revival

      It is difficult to explain precisely the reason for this sudden outpouring of talent in England but one thing is sure that the history of Irish drama was scarcely separable from the history of English Drama because of the lack of individuality. The play of Ibsen and other imitators was on the vogue. Yeats planning of “building a little theatre somewhere in the suburbs to produce romantic drama encouraged Lady Gregory, Edward Martyn, George Moore and J.M. Synge to work and Irish culture thus led to the formation of Irish literary Theatre as well as the Irish National Theatre Society.

Phases of the Development

      In 1891-92, the two literary societies were founded by Yeats in London and England respectively. The founder members of the movement—Lady Gregory, W.B. Yeats, George Moore and Edwin Martyn, discussed the want of a theatre separately for the Irish plays written on Irish culture. The movement coincided with the Irish National movement for independence, though they must not, on that account be identified with each other. With the mixed contribution of the members (mentioned above), the Irish literary Theatre came into being in 1899. At this stage, they felt the need for actors and a theatre not on much expenses due to the financial weaknesses. Somehow, they arranged for the requirement and the plays were chosen for performance of Yeats's The Countess Cathleen and Martyn’s Heather Field. Moore entered on the picture at Martyn’s invitation and took charge of the arrangements of English actors. In the meantime, Edward Martyn was granted a license to produce plays in the Ancient Concert Rooms in May. The first production of these plays took place for the half month of May, 1899. Moreover, even though their original manifesto announced that their theatre would produce “a Celtic and Irish dramatic pieces of literature” the plays faced much of the hostility from the critics, clergy and from Irish nationalists.

      Edward Martyn had conceived the idea that Yeats play, which is about a woman who offers her soul for her people was heretical. A pamphlet entitled Souls for Sale by Frank Hugh O’ Donnell attacked Yeats Countess Cathleen. The same problems arose when Synge’s Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World was performed. But despite these problems, the Abbey Theatre became home to a distinguished drama, where Synge worked as director and William fay was its first manager.

The Irish National Theatre Society

      English actors used to perform for the Irish plays which gave ideas to Yeats and Moore, for the foundation of an Irish Company of actors London actors were selected for the purpose, who were trained for the Irish plays under the guidance of William and Frank Fay. Thus the Irish National Theatre Society, was founded where the actors were prepared with good expressions and well speaking of verses. The result of it was praiseworthy as Deirdre by A.E. was applauded by the audience, for its well stage setting and the style of acting.

The Abbey Theatre

      The society founded earlier, tried to acquire a building of its own, which was provided by Miss Horniman and the theatre was named as The Abbey Theatre, of which Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory were directors. Thus, the dream of creating a new drama, was fulfilled.

Sensational Drama

      The Abbey Theatre Company had established itself and performed in London, Cambridge, Oxford, Manchester, Glasgow and other British cities. The plays familiarized people with the life of the simple, unspoiled peasants of today with all their superstitions and customs. But the plays were attacked for the subject matters and the use of language, which was developed by Lady Gregory and J.M. Synge because the old Gaelic was too difficult and too rarely understood. The new plays showed a collision of views between the enlightened artists and Irish nationalists on the one hand and the clergy class on the other. Production of The Playboy of the Western World, led to the hostile reception of it not only in Ireland, but also in America where the Irish Nationalists showed fierce resentment over the performance. But the directors remained determined and soon the names of the leading playwrights Yeat’s and Synge, became household words and their plays got space in the books of Universities. Yeat’s Countess Cathleen and Synge’s The Shadow of the Glen also received same hostility and many times it looked as though the theatre would be closed due to continuous rebels against their satiric vision. Yet somehow it was able to withstand the opposition.

Artistic Fervour in Playwrights

      The plays written by the Abbey dramatists reflected the artistic fervor which sustained the movement. Their mission was not only to create good plays, different from the traditional stuff but also to change the taste of the audience. Lady Gregory described the whole mission in a line, “what we thought good until it became popular”. These dramatists aimed at two things: to draw the emotional experiences undergone by Irish people and to use the Irish language: which later conceived as difficult for the foreign audiences so modified to some extent which became popular in Irish dramatists. In the drama of Yeats and Synge, we have poetry in the truest senses though Yeat’s dramatic gifts were limited to mostly with Irish legends or were simply morality plays in verse. They are probably more satisfying to read than to see. George Russel (A.E.) produced the play Deirdre which marks the beginning of the Irish Theatre Movement. Lady Gregory wrote a number of slight peasant comedies some noteworthy plays such as The Rising of the Moon and Gods and fighting Men but her contribution in the establishment of new literary movement is exemplary.

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