The Anti-Theatre and its Double

  • Gregory N. Eaves
Part of the Yeats Annual book series (YA)


AT A TIME OF RENEWED INTEREST in his plays, Yeats’s The Only Jealousy ofEmer deserves re-examination not only for the most familiar of reasons, its immense beauty and difficulty, but also in response to the recent publication of much of the textual material preliminary to the writing of A Vision (1925).1 George and W.B. Yeats’s sittings with spiritual Instructors, recorded in what is known as the ‘Automatic Script,’ have been known for a long time to have provided the immediate inspiration for the writing of A Vision and to have generated much of the raw material for Yeats’s (W.B.’s) poems, plays, and prose of the 1920’s and 1930’s. One of the major surprises for those of us acquainted for the first time with the automatic materials (courtesy of George Mills Harper and his team of editors) has been the sheer prominence of The Only Jealousy of Emer—the most frequently indexed of all Yeats texts. The writing of this play coincided largely with the first six months of the Automatic Script and prompted numerous exchanges recorded in its sessions.2 Yet the play is mentioned only once in the 1925 edition of A Vision; by this time the preoccupations shared between play and Script—frequently autobiographical and with marital and sexual implications—had presumably been worked out by the Yeatses.3


Female Character Stage Manager Lunar Phasis Dramatic Action Theatrical Metaphor 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 5.
    Knowland and Martin are notable exceptions. See A. S. Knowland, W. B. Yeats: Dramatist of Vision (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1983), p. 127,Google Scholar
  2. and Heather C. Martin, W. B. Yeats: Metaphysician as Dramatist (Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier U.P., 1986), pp. 61–2. Even so, I suspect that their analyses of Bricriu would have been considerably expanded had the Script been as available to them. The epithets quoted are from F. A. C. Wilson, Yeatss Iconography (New York: Macmillan, 1960), p. 76, and Leonard E. Nathan, The Tragic Drama of W.B. Yeats: Figures in a Dance (New York: Columbia University Press, 1965), p. 228.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Wilson, in Yeatss Iconography pp. 112–13, established this phasal correspondence. See also Helen Vendler, in Yeats’s‘Vision’ and His Later Plays (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1963), pp. 221; Knowland, Dramatist of Vision p. 125; and Nathan, The Tragic Drama p. 233. These later critics agree about the exactitude of the Bricriu-Fand opposition but seem hesitant to ascribe Bricriu a phase other than phase 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 7.
    Reg Skene, The Cuchulain Plays of W.B. Yeats: A Study (London: Macmillan, 1974), p. 210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 15.
    OJE was first published in several editions, the earliest of which was William Butler Yeats, Two Plays for Dancers (Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala Press, 1919). Most critics of the play have focussed on the later version, which first appeared in The Collected Plays (London: Macmillan, 1934), 279–96. I shall refer mostly to the earlier version for reason of its contemporaneity with the Script, but will identify any occasion when a discrepancy between the two versions is pertinent to my discussion. In general, Bricriu is more conspicuous as surrogate dramatist in the 1919 version. But even in the 1934 version he runs the show, and he maintains the same daimonic relationships with the others; his presence is now more shadowy, though, for he is given fewer lines and is no longer singled out by Fand for attack.Google Scholar
  6. 19.
    AVB 67. Yeats is quoting Heraclitus, Fragment 25 from (probably) John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, (London: Adam & Charles Black, 1892, YL 308), 136. Hereafter, Burnet.Google Scholar
  7. 22.
    Ex 430. I have found most helpful a discussion of the philosophical implications of the rhetorical figure of chiasmus in Rodophe Gasché’s ‘Introduction’ to Andrzej Warminski, Readings in Interpretation: Hölderlin, Hegel, Heidegger, Theory and History of Literature, Vol.26 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), xvi–xix. Using Heraclitus, Gasché develops this definition of chiasmus: ‘opposites are linked into pairs of parallel and inverted oppositions on the ground of an underlying unity, a tauto, which manifests itself through what is separated’ (xvii).Google Scholar
  8. 30.
    This is an over-simplification. Sometimes one has to reserve a complex analysis for a later occasion. In terms of Yeats’s mature aesthetics, Bricriu, as well as Fand, is essential for the work of art, as, I think, ‘The Double Vision of Michael Robartes’ demonstrates. Still, even in that programmatic poem it is the dancer’s image of P15 that lingers in the speaker’s mind. See Peter Allt and Russell K. Alspach, eds., The Variorum Edition of the Poems of W.B.Yeats (London: Macmillan, 1956), 382–84.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gregory N. Eaves

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations