Fresh Perspectives on Irish Literature
Edited By Paddy Lyons and Alison O'Malley-Younger
These shifts in culture have given Irish literature the opportunity to look afresh at its own past and, thereby, new perspectives have also opened for Irish Studies. The contributors to this volume explore these new openings; the essays examine writings from both now and the past in the new frames afforded by new times.
Willy Maley A Few Shakes of a Bard’s Tale: Some Recent Irish Appropriations of Shakespeare 69
A Few Shakes of a Bard’s Tale: Some Recent Irish Appropriations of Shakespeare Willy Maley What Ish My Motivation? This essay is about relations between Irish writers and Shakespeare, at times anxious and obsessive, giving rise in recent years to more irreverent and oblique responses. If Macmorris and Caliban are the two Shakespeare characters most readily associated with Ireland, then they bring with them different kinds of confusion. Macmorris is the Irish captain in Henry V who asks ‘What ish my Nation?’ (3.3.61), Caliban the colonial servant who cries ‘You taught me language, and my profit on’t/ Is I know how to curse’ (1.2.366–7). Nation and language were for a long time at the root of Irish responses to Shakespeare – Yeats famously declared that ‘Ireland had preserved longer than England the rhythmical utterance of the Shakespearean stage’ (Yeats, ‘An Introduction for My Plays’: 407) – but there has arguably been a change in recent years. I shall focus on four texts – a novella and three plays – all published in the 1990s, in which Irish writers spar with the shadow of Shakespeare. These responses range from explicit adaptations to more edgy appropria- tions, often scurrilous and scatological. First, though, I’d like to look at the variety and vibrancy of performance culture in the Ireland of Shakespeare’s day, a versatility, volubility and capacity for ventriloquism that remains a key feature of Irish culture. Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist famously starts with a fart, a sort of alchemy in reverse, but that unsubtle...
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