Yeats: Four Plays For Dancers

Pdf Yeats, W.B., Four Plays For Dancers, London: MacMillan and Co. Ltd, 1921
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Four Plays For Dancers by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939) was published in 1921. The four plays are At The Hawks' Well, The Only Jealousy Of Emer, The Dreaming Of The Bones and Calvary .

The four plays are centred on the medium of dance which was unusual for Yeats who knew little about dancing and detested contemporary ballet. He chose to centre his dramas on dance because he rejected the naturalistic theatre of his Anglo-Irish contemporaries George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde.

Yeats wanted his plays to create an almost magical mystical experience which put the audience in a trance through poetry without words. In his idiosyncratic philosophy, the temporal world was transitory while the spiritual world was eternal. He wanted his theatre to communicate experiences which were outside the scope of reason, experiences which evoked as he put it “intimacies, ecstasies and anguish of the soul-life.”

In the plays the dancers are elaborately dressed in masks and costumes as mythical and imaginative characters mimicking the Noh drama of Japanese theatre introduced to him by his American friend and fellow poet Ezra Pound. The imagery of the poetic text reappears in symbolic visual designs or is coordinated with music and dance in the production of the plays.

In At The Hawk's Well, the Gaelic hero Cuchulainn ignores the advice of The Old Man who has waited for 50 years to drink the miraclous youth giving waters of the well guarded by a hawk-like woman. The guardian is a magical creature and is pursued by Cuchulaiin who misses his chance to drink the rising waters.

The Only Jealousy Of Emer, deals with sexual jealousy. Cuchulainn has many lovers but his wife Emer is only driven to jealousy when he falls for Fand the wife of Manann, king of the sea. She is moved, when she discovers Fand loves him too, to give him up. Fand takes pity on Emer and a magic ritual is performed so Cuchulaiin can forget his love for Fand and return to Emer.

The Dreaming Of The Bones, is set in 1916. A young rebel is confronted by two masked ghostly figures who turn out to be Diarmuid McMurrough and his wife Dervla. Diarmuid, King Of Leinster stole her from the King Of Breffni, Tiernan O'Rourke, sparking a war. McMurrough invited Richard De Clare or 'Strongbow' to fight for him in return for his daughter Aoife and the crown of Leinster . Thus began the conquest of Ireland which the two ghosts ask the rebel to forgive them for causing but he refuses.

In Calvary Yeats meditates on the crucifixion of Jesus as the end of the freedom of the pagan world. God becomes man and dies and men who die in imitation of Christ become immortal like God. Yeats who had rejected Christianity from an early age compared the Christian concept of resurrection to a phantom with a beating heart.


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