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  • The Censorship of O'Flaherty V.C.
  • Lauren Arrington (bio)

When opposition arose to the Abbey Theatre's scheduled production of Bernard Shaw's new play, O'Flaherty V.C., the theater had very little impetus to fight the objections. Ireland was in the midst of a heated debate over the country's involvement in the Great War, and even though Shaw's satire of Irish politics was "evenhanded," as described below, it was nevertheless unwelcome. Shaw and the Abbey had been partners in controversy before, when Dublin Castle, the seat of the British administration in Ireland, objected to the production of The Shewing-Up of Blanco Posnet in 1909. At that time, when Lady Gregory was summoned to the castle, she was able to present the administration with two irrefutable arguments: the Abbey enjoyed the patronage of notable figures in Dublin society, and the theater was in an increasingly firm financial position, contributing "over £1500 a year" to the Dublin economy.1 The production went ahead in defiance of government opposition and was a great financial success for the theater. Neither of these arguments—patronage nor financial stability—was available to the Abbey in November 1915. An evaluation of correspondence between the Abbey's directors, the financial records of the theater, and the actions taken by the British military and civil authorities in Dublin reveals that the censorship of O'Flaherty V.C. was a product of Shaw's protagonist's stance that "no war is right" and the Abbey Theatre's state of financial crisis, brought on by the war, which prevented the theater's directors from risking the production.2

The Financial Crisis

While a detailed examination of the Abbey Theatre's financial circumstances may seem tedious, it is nonetheless vital because the theater's fiscal [End Page 85] straits were a major contributing factor to the successful censorship. The outbreak of the Great War had severe financial ramifications for the Abbey. Tours to England, on which the directors relied to finance the theater in Dublin, were no longer profitable. An unsigned fragment of a letter most likely written by Andrew Patrick Wilson to W. B. Yeats paints a vivid picture:

The Zeppelin raid of Tuesday seems to me to be merely a trial trip. By May raids may be happening every night, or twice nightly for the matter of that, and Londoners will be even less keen to go to Theatres than they are now; and, so far as I can see, it is bad enough now in all conscience . . . we have got to face the fact that practically all the Theatres in London doing anything like decent business just now are doing so at reduced prices. It seems to me then that we have got to consider the advisability of cutting out the entire London season this year. By doing so while gaining nothing else, we might cut down our losses, and that seems to me the most we can hope for.3

As early as September 1914, Yeats and Lady Gregory drafted a letter to the Irish Times declaring an impending financial emergency.4 Although in years past Yeats in particular had emphasized the aesthetic contribution that the Abbey made to Irish national life, he and Lady Gregory cleverly changed tack: "Leaving aside the loss to the artistic life of Dublin, it would be a considerable industrial loss, and throw many people out of employment at a time when employment is difficult to find." The letter also included a statement for the fiscal year ending 28 February 1914.5 The report listed only expenses, which amounted to over £9,000, and did not include any revenue or receipts. The directors claimed that their small—undisclosed—amount of capital would not "last very long" if the theater continued running at those costs. The greatest expenditure for the Abbey was salaries for the acting company, at £5,793.5.2., underlining the directors' claim of commitment to the Dublin workforce.

If the public letter solicited any sympathy from Dublin audiences, the appeal raised little actual effect. The Abbey's mounting debts drew the attention of the Munster and Leinster Bank, and the bank manager approached the...


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