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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Renegotiating National Identity: Modern and Contemporary Irish Drama and Performance

  • Author(s): White, Bryan Curtiss
  • Advisor(s): McDonald, Marianne
  • et al.
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Following nearly eight hundred years of British colonial rule, the twentieth century for Ireland was a time of political and cultural re-invention and re-creation. However, independence for the majority of the island came at a price: six counties continue to remain under British authority as the separate country of Northern Ireland; thus, the utopic vision of a united Republic of Ireland remains incomplete. In the following, I explore the ways in which drama and performance featuring the Irish in the twenty and twenty-first centuries have worked to make sense of, and recover from the traumas inherent in, Ireland’s colonial past while envisioning a more positive post-colonial future. With that said, I argue that just as the nation continues to be fragmented, so too are the dramatic responses to the national trauma, and therefore any attempt toward a construction of a cohesive national identity as was the goal of early Irish writers such as Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats will be imperfect. Nevertheless, I argue that each attempt toward a creation of national identity through the dramatic arts is both a necessary and useful step toward re-claiming and re-constructing a colonized past. To this end, the first chapter deals with Irish writers both adapting key works from the ancient Greeks as well as adapting events from Irish history for the purpose of creating a new historic truth. Next, using Sigmund Freud’s theoretical approach toward humor, I argue that certain bleakly comic Irish plays both are responding to the violence of the Troubles as well as helping viewers, and playwrights, to recover. Next, I explore the extreme violence of the Great Famine and The Troubles and analyze how playwrights reckon with it. Finally, I consider the hunger strike of Bobby Sands as performance and argue that by effectively staging that which was invisible, Sands made the plight of Irish republicans visible on an international level.

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This item is under embargo until June 21, 2021.