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  • Shaw and Modern Irish Drama
  • Nelson O’Ceallaigh Ritschel (bio)
Anthony Roche. The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899–1939. London: Bloomsbury Methuen Drama, 2015. 260 pages. Cloth $86.00, paper $29.95.

To be blunt, Anthony Roche’s The Irish Dramatic Revival 1899–1939 is a brilliant assessment of the modern Irish drama movement. The work carefully and methodically follows the movement from the late nineteenth century to the Second World War, and encompasses all of the important players that created and shaped this most important Irish movement. Roche takes us to the origins, to Yeats as the “Founder and Playwright” and on to J. M. Synge. Fresh from his remarkable Synge and the Making of Modern Irish Drama (2013), Roche makes the impassioned case that Synge influenced most, if not all, of the important Irish dramatists who followed him. The book also, in its extremely valuable consideration of women (offstage and on) who impacted and furthered the movement, contributes a stunning chapter on Lady Augusta Gregory. This is followed by a chapter on Sean O’Casey and the urban working-class drama; then onto Denis Johnston and what Roche identifies as “Yeats’s Endgame.” The latter, arguably, represents one of the finest assessments of W. B. Yeats’s Purgatory undertaken to date. Overall we are presented with a solid and well-researched portrait, carefully analyzed, of modern Irish theater. And true to Roche’s plenary lecture at the International Shaw Society’s 2012 Dublin conference, Shaw is also situated in this study and hence recognized as playing a crucial role in Dublin.

In noting Shaw’s place in modern Irish, or Dublin, drama, Roche faces a daunting process. For example, his book was favorably reviewed in the important Irish literary journal New Hibernia Review (spring 2016), where many of its strengths are carefully singled out, along with an outline of most of the chapters. After noting Roche’s powerful Synge chapter (the book’s third), the reviewer (Mary Ann Ryan) states that “in the next chapter, Roche makes the case for including Shaw in the canon of Irish playwrights of the Revival” and then immediately moves into a discussion of the Gregory chapter, with no discussion of Roche’s Shaw contentions. Shaw, in his chapter 4, received only the one sentence, plus an obligatory mention in the litany of playwrights the reviewer alludes to in the concluding statements. Not to take anything away from the reviewer, whose review is succinct and useful, Shaw in the Irish context was again cast aside. The effort to place Shaw within an Irish context and literary tradition is one to which some, including myself, have made recent contributions, and it was the agenda [End Page 318] of the aforementioned 2012 conference hosted by Audrey McNamara at University College Dublin—a conference that is proving to have been extremely influential, given the number of books and chapters that have grown or are growing from its program. So, to embrace this agenda once again, the remainder of this review focuses on Roche’s chapter 4, “Shaw and the Revival: The Absent Presence.”

To open his Shaw chapter, Roche refers to Declan Kiberd’s highly relevant works, Inventing Ireland (1995) and Irish Classics (2000), to remind us of Kiberd’s argument that Shaw “be considered an Irish writer.” Nonetheless, Roche contends that Shaw still received only passing mention in late twentieth-century studies on the modern Irish drama movement by noted scholars, including D. E. S. Maxwell, Christopher Murray, and Robert Welch. Roche maintains that one of the main reasons for excluding Shaw from the Irish dramatic canon was due to an anti-Shaw prejudice by “virtually” every major post-Revival Irish dramatist, the most famous being Samuel Beckett and Brian Friel. But then, naturally, Roche goes to perhaps the main culprit behind this anti-Shaw prejudice of the twentieth century, which predates the Irish Dramatic Revival: Yeats and his reported 1894 nightmare, recounted in his autobiography, of being pursued by Shaw in the form of a smiling and clicking sewing machine.

Roche goes on to explore John Bull’s Other Island and poignantly asks what the opening night of the Abbey Theatre—Ireland’s national theater...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1480
Print ISSN
0741-5842
Pages
pp. 318-321
Launched on MUSE
2016-11-15
Open Access
No
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