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«Mirror up to Nature»

The Fourth Seamus Heaney Lectures


Edited By Patrick Burke

Ours would appear to be an era of unprecedented variation in the mediation of meaning – television, computer, the older forms of radio and print.

Since, however, such profusion of resources has not of itself guaranteed enhanced profundity or sophistication in our modes of understanding – psychological, sociological, philosophical, historical, and theological – the issue of the continued relevance of cultural forms, dependent both on the human voice and on ritualization, presents itself for consideration. How may modern people most tellingly relate to such overwhelmingly verbal processes as teaching, be it an erudite lecture or a classroom lesson with infants? Is singing, in the words of Tom Murphy, ‘the only way to tell people who you are’? What, in particular, is the contemporary usefulness for the building of societies of one of our oldest and culturally valued rituals, that of drama?

The Fourth Seamus Heaney Lectures, ‘Mirror up to Nature’: Drama and Theatre in the Modern World, given at St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, between October 2006 and April 2007, addressed these and related questions. The gifted play director, Patrick Mason, spoke with exceptional insight on the essence of theatre. Thomas Kilroy, distinguished playwright and critic, dealt with the topic of Ireland’s contribution to the art of theatre. Two world authorities, Cecily O’Neill and Jonothan Neelands, gave inspiring accounts of the rich potential of drama in the classroom. Brenna Katz Clarke, Head of English at St Patrick’s College, offered a delightful examination of the relationship between drama and film. Finally, John Buckley, internationally acclaimed composer, spoke on opera and its history, while giving an illuminating account of his own Words Upon The Window-Pane.

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1 | Keeping Faith: ‘It is required. You do awake your faith...’ The Winter’s Tale

1 |Keeping Faith:


‘It is required. You do awake your faith...’

The Winter’s Tale

Patrick Mason

Titles matter. The test of a good title in the commercial theatre used to be to add the proposed name to the phrase ‘Could I have two tickets for…’. If the completed sentence didn’t roll easily – inevitably – off the tongue (‘Two tickets for Cats’; ‘Two tickets for Private Lives’), the received wisdom was that you’d never sell it. Then came Dancing at Lughnasa. And although there were attempts by Broadway producers to re-entitle the play Dancin’ (‘Could I have two tickets for Dancin’?’), all such attempts were, thankfully, thwarted by a determined author. So, despite the desperate variations it inspired at the box office window (‘Two tickets for Lugnasa; or Lugnahasy; and even, on one memorable occasion, two tickets for Lufthansa’), Dancing at Lughnasa went on to break one rule but prove another: titles are signifiers. They are pointers to meaning and theme, keys to hidden connections and symbolic significance. They are also a kindly hint by the author/playwright as to his/her larger purpose: a vain attempt to head off the inevitable misreadings of the work, – wilful or otherwise.

This talk, which I am now presenting with some trepidation as a published lecture, has three titles: one public, one semi-public, and one private. Private, that is, until now. The semi-public title was a ←5 | 6→working title supplied by St Patrick’s College when I was first invited...

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