31 December 2008

21. Some Irish Plays

Not really worth an entry by themselves because some of them are three pages long, I list and comment on them here and count them all together:

The Rising of the Moon by Lady Gregory: A cop with a family to feed has to decide if he turns in a rebel for a reward and promotion or lets the man go. If he lets him go it's good for a free Ireland. If he turns him in the cop is just a bitch for the British, the Man, and the oppression of the Irish.

Cathleen ni Houlihan by Yeats: An old lady comes to a tavern on the eve of a man's wedding and tries to persuade him to fight for a free Ireland. She is not just an old lady, but Ireland herself and the man can never come home and is likely to die. implied is that this is the question all young Irishmen must face.

Riders to the Sea by J. M. Synge: Set on the Aran islands just to the west of Galway in the violent and stormy Irish Sea. With three sons already gone a mother tries to persuade her only remaining son to stay home and not go fishing.

Playboy of the Western World by J. M. Synge: This play set off riots when it was played in Dublin because the main character says that he is so in love with a girl that if some one set up all the girls in Mayo in front of him, and them wearing only their nightgowns, he would still choose her. Scandalous. A guy comes to a small pub and tells a story of killing his dad. The daughter of the pub owner falls in love with the wild traveler and breaks up with her steady, local boy. The townies celebrate his bravery and honesty. But then the traveler's dad shows up very much alive and the townies try to run the son out. But then the son actually kills the dad! And then the townies try to hang the son (for doing the very deed they were celebrated but an hour ago)!

Juno and the Paycock by Sean O'Casey: Might be my favorite of the lot, though I do like the ethical dilemma posed by The Moon Rising. First, paycock as in peacock pronounced with an Oirish accent. We have a family here on the brink of disintegration. Father: drunk, lazy, selfish. Son: a rebel, haunted by the fact that he turned in his best friend (who was killed) for being a rebel. Daughter: dating a fancy-pants Englishman. Mother: working hard to keep it all together. Then a settlement is promised and the dad goes on a spending spree. Settlement falls through! Daughter gets knocked up! Englishman flees! Son is abducted by his fellow rebels for being an informer! What's a mother to do?

These were all part of an Irish Renaissance class I was taking. I quite enjoyed the curriculum and I'm glad I read these. I had read Riders to the Sea a long time ago, what with it being about boaters and fishermen and men of the sea and all, but I absolutely did not get it. I definitely needed the economic and political context that I got from being in the class. I also benefitted from the Norton editions of these plays. I do not work for Norton. But the Norton anthologies give tons of context and criticism, the bread and butter of literature students and teachers, without overdoing it and killing all the joy of discovery of the lit.

I liked the symbolism of Riders to the Sea and Cathleen ni Houlihan, and the gritty realism of The Moon Rising and Juno.

1 comment:

Olman Feelyus said...

I think I would rather be Scottish than Irish.