Yeats Annual pp 257-262 | Cite as

Sandra F. Siegel (ed.), ‘Purgatory’: Manuscript Materials Including the Author’s Final Text by W. B. Yeats The Cornell Yeats

  • Richard Allen Cave
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


A first glance might suggest we possess a peculiarly full array of materials from which to reconstruct the creative process that went to the shaping of Purgatory: scenarios; a sketch for a possible stage-setting; two verse drafts; four typescripts with holograph revisions; page-proofs corrected by Yeats of the ill-fated Longford edition of On The Boiler in which the play was designed to appear first but which was abandoned and, with the exception of a handful of copies, destroyed at Mrs Yeats’s request after the poet’s death; the Alex. Thom edition of On The Boiler; and the Cuala Last Poems and Two Plays of 1939. However, the complex and messy publishing history of the play and the absence of two crucial and related items complicate matters considerably. Composition of Purgatory as with The Death of Cuchulain was remarkably intense. The scenarios create with surprising fullness the plot-line of the play which underwent little change as the initial idea was realised as a dramatic text; amplification and revision were directed at character-delineation primarily; the quality of the handwriting suggests composition in energetic bursts. The manuscript materials intimate an acute imaginative engagement on Yeats’s part — an excitement growing out of sustained reverie. Soon after the play’s conception Yeats sensed its relation to the pattern of ideas that had gone into the writing of On The Boiler which he was completing alongside the drafting of the drama between March and May of 1938. A decision to stage Purgatory at the Abbey with a revival of On Baffle’s Strand in that August seems to have clarified in Yeats’s mind the decision to publish the play and essay together to coincide with the performances so that audiences might read Purgatory as well as see it and above all else set the play in the intellectual continuum in which it was conceived.


Extant Material Lethal Force Ancient Race Stage Direction Holograph Revision 
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Copyright information

© Warwick Gould 1988

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  • Richard Allen Cave

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