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Chapter 6 - ‘Now for Our Irish Wars’

Shakespeare, Colonialism, and Nationalism in Ireland

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2023

Amy Lidster
Affiliation:
University of Oxford
Sonia Massai
Affiliation:
King's College London
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Summary

This essay tracks the conflicts that have taken place in Ireland over a period of several centuries, examining the ways in which Shakespeare has, himself, engaged with these conflicts, and the ways in which his work has been recruited by those participating in the conflicts – on both sides. The importance of Shakespeare to the identity formation of the colonial community in Ireland is noted, and the increasing appropriation of Shakespeare by nationalists from the end of the eighteenth century onwards is registered. A particular point of focus here is the nineteenth-century nationalist militant and land-rights activist Michael Davitt. Davitt’s possession of several photographic images relating to Shakespeare is noted, as is his general acquaintance with the playwright’s work. The essay also discusses the importance of Shakespeare to later nationalists, such as Patrick Pearse, executed for leading the 1916 uprising against British rule in Ireland. That one contemporary unionist commentator unexpectedly offered a cautious celebration of Pearse’s self-sacrifice by drawing a comparison between the militant and Julius Caesar’s Brutus is a telling sign of the extent to which Shakespeare served as a kind of common cultural reference point over the course of Ireland’s fraught, conflictual history.

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Chapter
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Shakespeare at War
A Material History
, pp. 61 - 70
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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