Major Irish Dramatists: in English Literature

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W.B. Yeats

      It was W.B. Yeats who advised Synge when he was in Paris to go to the Ireland and to work on the region ignored i.e. penetrate to the beliefs and half-hidden secrets and the customs and superstitions of the folk. So, not surprising for Yeats's brain behind the Irish Dramatic Movement. His Countess Cathleen might have received the hostility from the mob and several new agencies but his instinct towards the mystical caught the attention of the intellectuals. Not only that he encouraged writers like J.M. Synge to set forth a new drama in the English literature. Yeats started his dramatic career with The Counters Cathleen which was a great controversy when it was performed in the Abbey Theatre. His other drama Cathleen Ni Houlihan is an allegory in which the spirit of Ireland is personified by an old woman who stimulates the native to attain the lost independence. Other joint works of Yeats and Lady Gregory contain; Deirdre, The Hour Glass, King Oedipus, The King's Threshold, On Baile's Strand The Pot of Broth, The Unicorn from the stars and Where there is nothing. Numerous plays were the output of his single brain: The Green Helmet, At The Hawk’s Well, The Player Queen. The Hour Glass, The Only Jealousy of Emer, The Dreaming of Bones, The Cat and the Moon, Carthy, Resurrection, The Words Upon the Window Pane etc.

      The poetic drama gave much satisfaction to Yeats’ soul, thus rendering amazing expressions to his work. He looked towards the Greek dramatists for the inspiration to write Irish legends and myths, which, inherited all the symbols from the Greek sources and the output is of eternal value.

J.M. Synge

      J.M. Synge, the innovator of the Irish Literary Movement, got inspiration from Yeats to describe the life of the people, who are the beautiful amalgamation of ideal and actual; love and hatred; sorrows and ecstasies. J.M. Synge went to the Aran Island and his first visit in 1898 lasted from May 10th to June 25th with two weeks spent on the main island and four on the middle island. His book The Aran Island is based on his first four visits. In 1907, he wrote to a journalist: “I look on The Aran Islands as piece of work-it was written before any of the plays. In writing out the talks of the people and their stories in this book—and in a certain number of articles on Wicklow peasants which I have not yet collected—I learned to write the peasant dialect and dialogue which I use in my play.”

      Synge’s canvas is limited but the range of his experience is wide, varied and deep. None of the seven plays deals with the economic, social or political movement of his time. He did not invent his stories but the raw for the plays were taken from the daily routine of Irish people. He had no sympathy with the drama dealing with the ‘reality of life in joyless and pallid words’ Art for him was “the expression satisfying and abiding of the zest of life as told by George Gissing. The last of his plays Deirdre of the Sorrows, dealt with the old legend of a beautiful lady who caused the destruction of the Island. In doing so he tried to follow the Greek tragedians but the work was the least satisfactory as the playwright had used to make ordinary men into heroes but here he had attempted to turn the heroes into ordinary men. Other plays of Synge have won the appreciation from not only the Irish people but also from the people who were aligned to the folklore of Ireland.

      If we consider the success of Synge only due to his subject chosen from the land which was full of myths and folk tales) then it would be unfair because his sympathetic observation of the material, his sensitiveness and his creative imagination rendered a remarkable design to his work embodied with the universal appeal.

      The Playboy of the Western World might have been greeted with violent protests by the Irish people even when some cuts were made by Synge himself who told that his purpose in writing the play was “to represent Irish life as it is lived....” Despite of all the controversy The Playboy is a treasured classic.

Lady Gregory

       After marrying Sir William Gregory in 1881, Miss Augusta Persse acquired a new recognization as Lady Gregory. The Irish National Theatre Society, could not be emerged without the benign help of her. Not only she establish the theatre on the Irish themes but also her addition in the catalog of Irish plays is praiseworthy. Except her one play The Rising of the Moon, are work of little acquaintance. This play can be listed in the series of tragi-comedies. The meeting of Synge with Lady Gregory took place in the Arans and the outcome of the mutual understanding, came into being as The Irish National Theatre Society including Edward Martyn and George Moore. Her literary career does not flourish but her role in the emergence and sustenance of the Irish Literary Theatre is significant and can not be ignored.

Edward Martyn and George Moore

      Edward Martyn and George Moore could not give much to the Irish literature but their contribution to the Irish Dramatic Movement, if we do not exaggerate, is the maximum. They put their efforts to materialize the plans of Yeats and Synge. Edward Martyn took the responsibility of paying the deficit which the sale of the tickets did not cover. Martyn is described as a “wealthy County Galway landowner, whose contribution to the Irish literary. Theatre was considerable. His plays The Heather Field, Maeve and The Bending of the Bough are great successes but later dramatic works are underestimated than Moore due to the lack of the required coherence.

Sean O’Casey

      O’Casey despite his hand in the establishment of the Irish literary Theatre is also noted for his three great plays—The Shadow of a Gunman Juno and the Pay Cock; and The Plough and the Stars written on the theme of death, like Synge’s dramas.

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