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The most common term used in connection with John O’Keeffe’s plays was ‘eccentric’, a descriptor used by his London critics to convey what they saw as the critical unorthodoxy and improbability of his popular drama. This chapter argues that in his pastoral dramas in particular, this irregularity registers the impact of a vernacular form of cosmopolitanism, the type of global consciousness that emerged in the eighteenth century as displaced populations began to make their way into metropolitan centers, bringing with them their culturally specific stories, loyalties and experiences. In O’Keeffe’s case, this imported body of knowledge came out of the culture of the Irish Catholic dispossessed and, as demonstrated through an analysis of The Shamrock (1783), The Poor Soldier (1783) and The Prisoner at Large (1787), this immigrant playwright used the pastoral genre initially to plead the case of the Irish masses. Arguments for tolerance, liberty and justice, however, become increasingly universalised in O’Keeffe’s later pastoral drama as evidenced by Wild Oats (1791) and The World in a Village (1793). In these two dramas, Burke suggests, the village is a global space, one that dramatises the discontents as well as the possibilities inherent in Enlightenment and modernity.
Macklin’s Henry the VII (1746) has received little critical attention. This chapter reads the play as part of a tradition of Irish history plays that were influenced by Joseph Addison’s Cato (1713). Addison’s themes of personal self-sacrifice, love of country and resistance to tyranny proved inspirational for Irish dramatists in the wake of the Declaratory Act (1720) as can be seen in William Philips’s Hibernia Freed (1722) and Henry Brooke’s Gustavus Vasa (1739). History plays then might offer an alternative genealogy of eighteenth-century Irish theatre which is often focused on comedies.
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