Theatrical Discourse and National Development in Ireland, 1919-1932

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This dissertation argues that theatre was a vital element of postcolonial culture in Ireland in the years 1919-1932, the period in which the Irish nation emerged from revolutionary war to become a stable postcolonial state. Although critics have bemoaned the rising dominance of conservative, anti-modernist playwriting and production in Ireland's post-independence period (drawing unfavorable contrast with the early years of the Abbey Theatre), a more productive approach is to ask why such styles were popular in these particular historical moments. Examining a range of theatrical productions throughout Ireland in the period, I contend that postcoloniality was the crucial influence upon Irish theatrical discourses during these years, resulting in theatrical formations centered upon realism, escapism, domesticity, and nostalgia for a particular vision of a safe, rural life. Through these formations, Irish theatre of the 1920s reflected, circulated, and helped to create cultural discourses that contributed to the stabilization of the new Irish state. Thus, 1920s theatre functioned as a potent element of nationalist culture, and should not be dismissed. Plays like P.J. Bourke's melodrama <em>Kathleen Mavourneen</em> and George Shiels's comedy <em>Paul Twyning</em> exemplify the mainstream theatre's contributions to the stabilizing cultural discourses of the Irish Free State. Theatre was also involved with political issues like the revival of the Irish language (in the founding of Galway's state-supported An Taibhdhearc theatre) and censorship (manifested in unofficial but intriguing ways in regard to works like Sean O'Casey's <em>The Plough and the Stars</em> and <em>The Silver Tassie</em>). Because postcoloniality, with its driving impulse toward unity, was the dominant cultural influence, modernism could have little role in the Irish theatre. Productions like W.B. Yeats's <em>The Player Queen</em>, the work of the Dublin Drama League, and three early productions of the Dublin Gate Theatre - <em>Peer Gynt</em>, <em>Diarmuid and GrĂ¡inne</em>, and <em>The Old Lady Says "No!"</em> - demonstrate the ways in which modernism was sequestered as (at best) a niche element in Irish theatre. Drawing upon theories from the fields of historiography and literary and performance studies, this dissertation analyzes theatrical productions as case studies of the ways in which culture and the state interact in postcolonial societies.

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  • 08/16/2018
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