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“Westward ho!”: The Only Jealousy of Emer, From Noh to Tragedy

Alexandra Poulain
Affiliation:
Université Charles de Gaulle–Lille 3 (France)
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Summary

Yeats's introduction to Certain Noble Plays of Japan (1916)—the collection of four Japanese Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenollosa and published by Yeats's sister in Ireland—is not actually about Noh theater. Rather, Yeats writes about his own playwright's practice, and the inspiration he finds in this theatrical genre from the distant East: “In the series of books I edit for my sister I confine myself to those that have I believe some special value to Ireland, now or in the future. I have asked Mr. Pound for these beautiful plays because I think they will help me to explain a certain possibility of the Irish dramatic movement” (CNPJ I). Noh is not envisaged as a model he seeks to emulate, but rather signals the “possibility” of an alternative to that sort of theater which was then being staged in England: that is, naturalist theater, which Yeats loathed, and with which he believed the Irish theatrical movement must break in order to invent a language of its own. Yeats's enthusiasm when he first came upon Noh theater was the natural outcome of his previous experiments in dramaturgy. Yeats had been strongly influenced by the radical views of Edward Gordon Craig, with whom he had collaborated between 1910 and 1913. Craig, who shared Yeats's distaste for naturalism, proposed that elaborate theatrical sets should dispensed with, and replaced by mere lighting effects; he advocated the use of masks and of a restricted range of symbolic movements, in order to display the artificiality of the theatrical performance; this should be unified by the all-encompassing vision of the director, a total artist who must control the various aspects of the spectacle (set-designing, costumes, lights, acting). In order to snatch the theater from the corrupting influence of naturalism, Craig even conceived of a theatrical utopia, an impracticable but eminently desirable ideal, whereby the human actor would be replaced by the “über-marionette,” an acting machine which would be free from the human actors’ “frantic desire to put life into their work” (Craig 75).

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Writing Modern Ireland , pp. 95 - 103
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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