- Theatre of Crisis: The Performance of Power in the Kingdom of Ireland, 1662–1692
Focusing on the interrelationship between cultural and political events in Ireland from 1662–1692, Patrick Tuite’s new book is a welcome addition to existing scholarship in theatre and performance in Ireland. Framed by the Restoration and the Williamite War, Tuite deftly negotiates the complicated and dynamic landscape of Irish political and cultural geography, providing in-depth historical context, new readings of play texts and performances, and a fresh look at the performative aspects of the various media available in the late seventeenth [End Page 225] century. While the work of Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre provides the foundation for Tuite’s explorations, he also identifies print media, state pageantry and military displays, civic building projects, and Church of Ireland rituals and sermons as cultural productions—performative media through which cultural codes of behavior and an understanding of social stratification were delivered.
Tuite lays out his argument and methodology in a comprehensive introduction. Noting the political instability of Ireland in the seventeenth century, he asserts that cultural productions “served to establish an authoritative description of Ireland’s social structure” (19). Tuite focuses primarily on the efforts of the conforming Protestant minority of Ireland, who employed every available means to demonstrate, inculcate, and validate behavioral codes in order to establish and maintain their political and cultural superiority. To explain and amplify the ways in which the various media operated, Tuite indicates that he will examine the historical context surrounding cultural productions, as well as the messages generated, and the methods through which each medium distributed those messages to its audience.
Chapter one delves more deeply into the historical circumstances leading up to the Restoration as well as the events that occurred between 1662 and 1692. Additionally, the production of plays, the writing and publishing of histories of Ireland, and the drawing of maps are all discussed as ways in which the struggle to control Ireland’s government is evident. In a very interesting discussion of a production of Othello in 1691, Tuite suggests that this play “provided the means to express the kingdom’s newly established power structure, a hierarchy that depended upon the identification of distinct ethnic, confessional, and political differences among the kingdom’s various subjects in order to remain stable” (30).
In chapter two Tuite details the people responsible for the productions at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. While this information has certainly been covered in other accounts of Irish theatre, Tuite points out that “no history has examined how ideological concerns shaped the production and reception of these narratives during this period” (59). A discussion of the ideological differences of two of Dublin’s leaders and the effects of their conflicting beliefs on these productions is particularly enlightening.
Chapter three, according to the introduction, “provides a close reading of the plays staged at Dublin’s theatre” and examines “[h]ow the performance of specific texts in an Irish context supported the Anglo-Protestant discourse found in other media” (22). Although there is a great deal of information regarding the physical aspects of the theatre and a helpful breakdown of the types of plays produced at the Smock Alley Theatre during this time, there is little to be found by way of a close reading of any one play. Instead, many different plays are referred to briefly in support of one idea or another. Many of these ideas are interesting, but it is difficult at times to make the connections Tuite seemingly takes for granted. [End Page 226]
“The City as Stage,” chapter four, expands the discussion to include public spectacles, pageants, military displays, and religious ceremonies. In one of the most clearly written chapters, Tuite aptly describes the close ties many of the men behind these spectacles had to England and the influence those ties had on what, who, where, when, and for whom these large-scale spectacles were performed.
Tuite concludes the book...