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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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3 | The Mythic and the Mundane: The Transforming Power of Theatre and Process Drama

3 |The Mythic and the Mundane:

the transforming power of Theatre and Process Drama


Cecily O’Neill

This paper reflects on the transforming power of drama and theatre, the significance of imagination in the curriculum and the importance of our cultural heritage in sustaining our sense of ourselves in the Ireland of the 21st century.

In his poem ‘Real Names’, dedicated to his friend the playwright Brian Friel, Seamus Heaney recalls school productions of Shakespeare and the transformations wrought upon his schoolfellows:

Enter Owen Kelly, loping and gowling,

His underlip and lower jaw ill-set,

A mad turn in his eye, his shot-putter’s

Neck and shoulders still a schoolboy’s.

I won’t forget his Sperrins Caliban,

His bag-aproned, potato-gatherer’s Shakespeare:

And I with my long nails will dig thee pig-nuts.

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