- Theatre Business. The Correspondence of the First Abbey Theatre Directors: William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and J.M. Synge ed. by Ann Saddlemyer (review)
- University of Toronto Quarterly
- University of Toronto Press
- Volume 52, Number 4, Summer 1983
- pp. 434-435
- View Citation
- Additional Information
434 LETTERS IN CANADA 1982 To what extent The Celtic Consciousness, as a whole, establishes the soundness of its editor's assumptions, aims, and method is an issue obviously too vast for even perfunctory consideration here, but, among the gallowglasses and kerns of Celtic Studies, one likely to provoke lively and sustained altercation. In layout and design, this is an impressive volume that would not disgrace a reasonably sturdy coffee-table. O'Driscoli 's own scholarly contributions are helpful; his occasional editorial intrusions, discreet. Not so, however, his blatantly defensive and, ultimately , patronizing Epilogue, 'The Celtic Hero: a forlorn attempt to gild the theatrical cactus that masqueraded as a centrepiece of the 1978 symposium: here, O'Driscoll's editorial acumen deserts him. Would that he had left ill enough alone. (S.F. GALLAGHER) Ann Saddlemyer, editor. Theatre Business. The Correspondence of the First Abbey Theatre Directors: William Butler Yeats, u.dy Gregory and J.M . Synge Pennsylvania State University Press. 330. $20.00 The first decade of this century saw in Ireland the calculated establishment ofa dramatic movement, with social and political as well as aesthetic consequences, complete with new dramatists, a professional company, and sometimes daring experimentation with scenery and costume. At the heart of that movement were W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and j.M. Synge, the triumvirate of Abbey directors whose correspondence from early 1897 to Synge's death in March 1909 Ann Saddlemyer has selected and edited. Her title comes from Yeats's poem, 'The Fascination of What's Difficult: where he offers his 'curse on plays I That have to be set up in fifty ways, I On the day's war with every knave and dolt, I Theatre business, management of men.' Even the more mundane problems and daily frustrations of running a theatre contribute to the shaping of Yeats's symbolic system. Yet Saddlemyer's selection reveals little of dramatic principles, preoccupied instead with practical matters like the constitution of the Irish National Theatre Society, the Abbey Theatre patent, Miss Horniman's subsidy, temperamental players, skirmishes with the Church and the Gaelic League, rehearsals, tours, and the constant shortage of money. This edition remains a selection only, though expanding upon Saddlemyer 's Some Letters ofJ.M. Synge to LAdy Gregory and W.B. Yeats (Cuala 1971), while 'the letters to and from Synge [constitute] the controlling pattern' (p 21). Consequently, of 200 letters, those by Synge consist of almost half, suggesting a centrality which, as Saddlemyer indicates, belonged more properly to Yeats. Nevertheless, the correspondence, often previously unpublished, extends further our appreciation of the Irish dramatic movement and, with the retention of errors in spelling HUMANITIES 435 and punctuation, 'the flavour and immediacy' (p 19) are vividly present. The relationship between the three directors remains remarkably formal throughout, lacking the expressions of friendship and shared aims in other correspondence between Yeats and Lady Gregory or the intimacy of Synge's letters to Molly Allgood. Yet the directors' daily striving, against often petty obstacles, to make the Irish theatre 'a place of intellectual excitement' (Yeats, Sarnhain, 1903) is certainly captured. Through Molly, Synge served to link directors and players and to maintain company peace. Yeats, on the other hand, proved 'too impetuous' (p 93), with Lady Gregory 'acting as drag' (p 94). With Yeats insisting that 'this theatre must have somebody in it who is distinctly dangerous' (p 88) or describing 'the country towns in Ireland [as] ... mainly animal' (p 124), Synge's nerves were frequently strained. 'Peace comes: Lady Gregory lectured Padraic Colum in 1906, 'not from trying to please one's neighbours , but in making up one's mind what is the right path and in then keeping to it' (p 104). Indeed, all three directors spoke of 'the enemy' and conceived of their desperate struggles in terms of warfare. Yet what Saddlemyer calls 'Synge's self-protective withdrawal' (p 13) could at times be dismissed as pusillanimousness (Lady Gregory, p 193 n 1) 'egotism' (Yeats, p 195 n 1) even 'cowardice' (Miss Horniman, p 199 n 1). Synge may have been the least political and nationalistic of the directors , yet it was he who commented, properly enough, of company discipline, 'coercion...