Theatre and Performance Panel

Theatre and Performance Panel


The Space-Minded Dramaturgy of At the Hawk’s Well - Theory vs. Practice

Melinda Szűts (Eötvös Loránd University)

Yeats’s plays are often considered too theoretical and predominantly text-centred, and are thus usually analysed on the basis of their written material alone. They are also generally regarded as ultimate examples for bookish, literary plays, whose essence lies in the play text itself. Although the importance of words in Yeats’s theatre is indisputable, I see the nature of his play texts in a different light.

Yeats wrote his plays in an age when there was a general striving to create a total theatre whose composition was based on artistic collaborations. Beside the written word, performance elements such as movement, music or space also carried meaning and were composed into the whole of the play text. Yeats, mostly as a result of being a man of the theatre himself, had a performance-based approach and a spatial imagination, and composed his plays for space. The main argument of my paper is that when we approach a Yeats play either as a literary critic or as a director, we should discover its spatial relations first, as they can give us the most important keys for interpretation.

To see how this “space-mindedness” of Yeatsian theatre works in practice, I would like to raise some questions with regard to space dramaturgy, using my production of Yeats’s first dance play, At the Hawk’s Well as an example. What happens to artistic freedom when you have to stage and perform “spatially encoded plays”? How much of Yeats’s space-constructions are there in the text and what are the variable elements? Can these restrictions of dramaturgy be related to the unpopularity of Yeats’s plays on the world’s stages?


The  “dancing voice” of the Written Speech: Yeats’ Theatre of Transfiguration 

Pierre Longuenesse (Université d’Artois)

Yeats life-long attraction to occult activities as well as his eagerness to bring Celtic legends to the stage lead him to create a dramaturgy based on a dialectic between the visible and the invisible, shadow and light, between what is hidden and what is revealed. In his first plays, many characters look through windows or curtains at a strangely disturbing Other, creating a frame within a frame effect and mise en abyme of the narrative. Later, as in Plays for Dancers, this dialectic becomes more complex: gesture of the narrator-musicians of looking at, seeing and indicating – reminiscent of the Noh – brings to the foreground the opsis principle of representation. However, this gesture in Yeats’ context is in fact paradoxical, as it is executed blindly, eyes wide shut.

It is this paradox that we will be analysing in this study. It is the spoken word in Plays for Dancers rather than looks and gesture that brings the narrative to light. It is the syntactical genius of Yeats’ “written speech” that led the poet to explore what he was already touching on in 1893: “the subtelty, obscurity, and intricate utterance […] of our moods and feelings which are too fine, too subjective, too impalpable to find any clear expression in action or in speech tending towards action” (Uncollected Prose, 1970, 271). It is this language, wielded by the narrative voice, which is scored through the nuance of cadence and song, that makes corporeal the body of the protagonist, metamorphosed by dancing: “The voice as becoming, portraying, embodying, incarnating another spirit. The dancing voice” (Meredith Monk, in Jowitt, 1997). And so, an alternate world is expressed on the physical stage, and we touch on The Other, which is not visible, and yet not invisible, in rare and beautiful moments where presentation, something all spectacles do, becomes transfiguration.


W.B.Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan and Rabindranath Tagore’s Red Oleanders: A Comparative Study

Ragini Mohite (University of Leeds)

W.B. Yeats’s Cathleen ni Houlihan (1902) and Rabindranath Tagore’s Red Oleanders (1926) have significant symbolic similarities. Written twenty-four years apart, both plays engage with the Nationalist climate of Ireland and India in their contemporary period. In this paper, I carry out a comparative examination of the two protagonists — Cathleen and Nandini — through whom the authors depict the threat posed to imposing social and political structures. While both authors employ nationalist rhetoric (and the familiar nationalist trope of depicting the nation as a woman), there is also a subtle engagement with the discourse on women and women’s rights that, in Yeats’s case, was to follow in his Senate Speeches post 1922.

Yeats, my thesis argues, frequently emphasizes the vulnerability of social and architectural structures by placing them in the ownership of women. This paper investigates the manner in which both authors present threats to interior spaces in their defence of the nation. While Tagore’s Nandini has access to the King’s inner chambers, they converse through a screen.  Cathleen, framed in the doorway, is similarly restricted as she invades the Gillane home in order to enlist Michael’s assistance. Their roles as the voices of dissent are also self-reflexive modes of discourse which critique the corporeal and symbolic reliance on the male characters and nation. That these protagonists manage to break down such opposition, I argue, reflects not only their ideological Nationalist status, but predicts the resistance females may pose to the suppression of their lived status in Ireland and India respectively. 


The Ghost of Fenollosa in the Wings of the Abbey

Sean Golden (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona)

Ernest Fenollosa’s unpublished manuscripts on Noh theatre influenced W.B. Yeats explicitly in 1913. Prior to that, Fenollosa’s publications on Chinese and Japanese art, and his theories of design, also influenced the works of Yeats. Correspondence among Yeats, Frank Fay, J.M. Synge and Lady Gregory in November 1904 regarding tree wings for the Abbey Theatre finds Yeats searching for an effect from Japanese prints he was researching at the British Museum and he confides in the taste of Pamela Colman Smith, in his own words, the only person who understood what he was seeking. In March 1909 Yeats is discussing Laurence Binyon’s Painting of the Far East, published in 1908, the year that Fenollosa died. Binyon wrote an obituary for Fenollosa in Littell's Living Age, and the Introduction to that book announces forthcoming studies on Chinese and Japanese art that Fenollosa’s widow would publish posthumously, prior to passing his papers on to Ezra Pound. Binyon’s studies draw heavily on Fenollosa’s published work. Pamela Colman Smith collaborated with Jack B. Yeats, and Lily Yeats, as well as W.B. Yeats. She studied design at the Pratt Institute in New York with Arthur Wesley Dow from 1893 to 1897, shortly before becoming involved with the Yeats circle and Edward Gordon Craig’s family. That was when Dow assisted Fenollosa in cataloguing East Asian art in Boston. Dow’s textbook on Composition draws heavily and explicitly on Fenollosa’s theories. The extent to which Fenollosa’s ghost inhabits the wings of the Abbey deserves greater scrutiny.