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THE LADY GREGORY LETTERS TO G. B. SHAW THE SECOND LETTER IN THE FOLLOWING SELECTION is characteristic of the relationship between Lady Gregory and G. B. Shaw-it is a request for advice. Shaw was frequently asked about theater matters, for, as Lady Gregory once pointed out, she could not go to the Author's League, since, as the owner of a theater, she was considered the author's legitimate enemy. Problems were constantly cropping up-money matters, salaries for author and actor, audience hostility, and the need for new plays. It was this need for plays, perhaps, that first involved Shaw with what has become known as the Irish Renaissance. The Abbey patent restricted the theater "to exhibit plays in the Irish or English language written by Irish writers on Irish subjects, or such dramatic works of foreign authors as would tend to interest the public in the higher works of dramatic art...." The small repertory company assembled by the Fay brothers precluded any ambitious undertaking ; moreover, there was no tradition in Ireland for the kind of plays the theater needed. Yeats asked Shaw for help, and he responded with John BuZZ's Other Island. When the Abbey received the play, Lady Gregory, Yeats and the Fay brothers realized that it was beyond the resources of the stage and the ability of the players-specifically, they had no one to play Broadbent; they had to tell Shaw that they could not produce the play properly. As C. B. Purdom, editor of G. B. Shaw's Letters to Granville Barker (New York, 1957) points out, Shaw had developed the play to a point that was "far beyond what was possible in Dublin." (p. 24) There were twelve actors required, with six extras; five scenes, one of which Shaw felt required machinery-altogether too ambitious an undertaking for Fay's company. Moreover, Shaw was extraordinarily concerned with the casting of the play when it was put into rehearsal in London. Letter after letter to Granville Barker deals with casting the parts, with Shaw suggesting and rejecting actor after actor. Shaw undoubtedly appreciated the honesty and integrity of a small, beginning theater that would refuse a play of his because they thought they could not stage it properly, and his friendship with Lady Gregory in particular and his interest in the Celtic revival in general develop from this refusal. He helped to smooth over some of their constant quarrels with Miss Horniman, 331 332 MODERN DRAMA February advised them on the handling of the actors, and set up royalty scales for the theater when they began to pay playwrights. The Abbey repaid these kindnesses when the Lord Chamberlain refused in 1909 to license The Shewing-up of Blanco Posnet. The Abbey offered to produce the play, the Lord Chamberlain having no jurisdiction in Ireland. Shaw accepted. The Abbey's announcement that it intended to produce the play created a furor that threatened the Abbey's patent, as the following letters show. Lady Gregory and Yeats decided, however, to risk the production to test the principle of the theater's freedom from both the Lord Chamberlain and the Lord Lieutenant, who, acting for him, threatened to close the Abby and levy a fine of £ 300. Lady Gregory produced the play herself, the first play she had ever undertaken to produce alone: I began to find an extraordinary interest and excitement in the work. I saw that Blanco's sermon, coming as it did after bustling action, was in danger of seeming monotonous. I broke it up by making him deliver the first part standing up on the Sheriff's bench, then brihging him down to sit on the table and speak some of the words into the face of Elder Posnet. After that I sent him with a leap on the table for the last phrases (Lady Gregory, Our Irish Theatre [New York, 1956], pp. 141-142). Although nothing came of the threats, and the play was produced without hindrance, Shaw was extremely grateful to the Abbey and to Lady Gregory. Thus when Lady Gregory approached him about payment for the play he said, "I will do as you and Yeats do, and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 331-345
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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