The Landscape of Tragedy: Three Dance Plays

  • Maeve Good
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature book series (MSAIL)


In the last chapter, I explored Yeats’s search for a new method of dramatic presentation. In this search, I suggested, Yeats concentrates on vision, leading his hero towards revelation. Cuchulain moves from an abundance of life and gesture into a place of emptiness, a suspension in the light of a judgement day, a waste land. Such transformation is achieved in the tragic moment, when the everyday world is left behind. This chapter explores three plays, At the Hawks Well (1917), The Only Jealousy of Emer (1919) and The Dreaming of the Bones (1919). Heavily influenced by the Japanese Noh theatre, these plays show Yeats’s discovery of a form which removes all reference to a naturalistic imitation of the world. The problems Yeats had encountered with character, linear time and place are now resolved. Yeats is able to concentrate on the moment of tragic recognition, on the tragic encounter between the hero and his opposite. But in this development, it may be argued, Yeats’s hero loses stature, power and, significantly, accessibility to the audience. The new structure of presentation, which appeals to the ‘mind’s eye’ of the audience, may be seen as counterproductive.


Everyday World Waste Land Ideal Beauty Universal Order Twin Image 
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  1. 4.
    Barton R. Friedman, Adventures in the Deeps of the Mind: The Cuchulain Cycle of W. B. Yeats (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1977) p. 8.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Richard Taylor, Irish Myth and the Japanese Nō (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966) p. 119.Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    Vendler (ibid., pp. 254–255) refers us to T. S. Eliot’s After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy (London: Faber, 1934) pp. 45–6, where he quotes this passage.Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    An interesting study of Yeats and the Japanese Noh theatre is offered in Akhtar Qamber’s study Yeats and the Noh: With Two Plays for Dancers by Yeats and Two Noh Plays (New York: Weatherhill, 1974). Of particular interest is his description of Noh plays in performance (pp. 51–5). Qamber speaks throughout with great enthusiasm as a devotee of the Noh theatre, but he concludes that Yeats’s experiment ultimately fails because of‘the absence (in the West) of centuries of tradition, both social and artistic’ (p. 112). Finally, ‘The Noh plays of Japan and Yeats’s plays for dancers are brilliant spots of eccentricity in theatre’ (p. 114).Google Scholar
  5. 14.
    David R. Clark, W. B. Yeats and the Theatre of Desolate Reality (Dublin: Dolmen Press, 1965) p. 47.Google Scholar
  6. 26.
    Certain Noble Plays of Japan, from the manuscripts of Ernest Fenellosa, chosen and finished by Ezra Pound, with an introduction by W. B. Yeats (Dublin: Cuala, 1916; facsimile by Irish University Press, 1971) pp. 1–16.Google Scholar

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© Maeve Good 1987

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  • Maeve Good

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