- Editor's ForewordIreland and O' Neill
This issue of the Eugene O'Neill Review draws from the Eugene O'Neill Society's tenth international conference held at the National University of Ireland Galway on July 19–22, 2017. The conference represented a nod to O'Neill's Irish heritage, of which he was conscious of despite never having physically visited Ireland. The conference's theme endeavored to encourage discussion of Ireland's relevance on O'Neill and his work, being simply: Ireland: The Constant Presence. While the conference was also open to papers on any subject concerning O'Neill's work, it is from the papers that directly sought to explore the conference theme that this volume is composed, being selected papers and presentations on O'Neill and Ireland.
The conference's Irish endeavors, in addition to its theme and location within the beautiful and generous National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), included a keynote address by the premier Irish literary scholar Declan Kiberd, as well as a speech by Michael D. Higgins, president of Ireland. As co-editors of this volume, we express our deep thanks and appreciation to both Professor Kiberd and President Higgins for allowing us to include their significant contributions to the conference within this volume.
In approaching the organization of this special edition of the Eugene O'Neill Review, as editors we sought, as we did in organizing the conference (with the gracious assistance of Patrick Lonergan and Ian Walsh of NUIG), to promote and provoke debate on O'Neill and Irish identity, which works its way through the pages that follow via a series of gifted scholars. But such consideration is wrought with issues in that, despite the blood in his veins and the lineage of his parents, O'Neill was an American playwright above [End Page v] all else. Yet O'Neill, like a number of would-be American theater artists in 1911–12, witnessed performances by Dublin's Abbey Theatre during its first United States tour—a tour that featured plays written by John Millington Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory, George Bernard Shaw, William Butler Yeats, and T. C. Murray. The influence of that tour on American theater cannot be understated, regardless of whether those being influenced identified themselves as Irish or not. O'Neill himself commented in 1926: "As a boy I saw so much of the old, ranting, artificial, romantic stage stuff that I always had a sort of contempt for the theatre. It was seeing the Irish players for the first time that gave me a glimpse of my opportunity."1 The Abbey influence was without question.
And yet, the famous and prosperous New York Irish-American attorney John Quinn, who had for years financially assisted Yeats, Gregory, Synge, and the Abbey itself—even defending the Abbey in a Philadelphia court when its actors were arrested for indecency during that first American tour over performing Synge's The Playboy of the Western World—could not disassociate himself from his comfortable class when commenting in 1917 to Ezra Pound on the theater artists who were generating noncommercial theatre—in the Abbey's tradition—in New York's Washington Square. This was of course where O'Neill's plays were first performed in New York in 1916, when the Provincetown Players moved to MacDougal Street. Quinn noted to Pound:
I don't know whether you know the pseudo-Bohemianism of Washington Square. … It is a vulgar, disgusting conglomerate of second and third-rate artists and would-be artists, of IWW [International Workers of the World] agitators, of sluts kept or casual, clean and unclean, of Socialists and near Socialists, of poetasters and pimps.2
Clearly Quinn interpreted Synge by the bourgeois starched collars he wore for formal photographs over the leftist slants within his plays, as he no doubt ignored the socialist element in Dublin's 1916 Easter Rising. O'Neill, of course, would be different from the bourgeois Quinn, as he forged his way into theater by fearlessly portraying the working classes within the bowels of a ship, and leading his writing to a fading actor of proletariat stock who had once held...