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A Concise Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Drama von Holdsworth, Nadine (eBook)

  • Erschienen: 12.04.2013
  • Verlag: Wiley-Blackwell
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A Concise Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Drama

Focusing on major and emerging playwrights, institutions, and various theatre practices this Concise Companion examines the key issues in British and Irish theatre since 1979. Written by leading international scholars in the field, this collection offers new ways of thinking about the social, political, and cultural contexts within which specific aspects of British and Irish theatre have emerged and explores the relationship between these contexts and the works produced. It investigates why particular issues and practices have emerged as significant in the theatre of this period.

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A Concise Companion to Contemporary British and Irish Drama

Chapter 2
'I'll See You Yesterday': Brian Friel, Tom Murphy and the Captivating Past
Claire Gleitman
'The time is not come for impartial history', remarked Robert E. Lee in 1868, three years after the end of the American Civil War. 'If the truth were told now, it would not be credited' (Macrae 1952: 222). One might argue that the same has been true for centuries in Ireland, where the question of what constitutes 'impartial history' is a hotly contested one. Indeed, in 1980 Brian Friel (b. 1929), who was then and remains the most celebrated dramatist writing in Ireland, offered an observation about his country's relationship to its past that corresponds strikingly to what Lee noted in 1868: 'The inherited images of 1916, or 1690, control and rule our lives much more profoundly than the historical truth of what happened on those two occasions' (Agnew 1980: 60). Of course, Lee's remark was made just three years after the traumatic conflict that he believed Americans could view only obliquely, whereas Friel refers to events decades and even centuries old that feel vividly current to many Irish citizens (that is, the battle of the Boyne of 1690 and the Easter Rising of 1916 1 ). A scene from Someone Who'll Watch Over Me , by Friel's younger contemporary Frank McGuinness (b. 1953), neatly encapsulates the cultural condition. This 1992 drama concerns an Englishman, an Irishman and an American who are taken hostage by Lebanese terrorists. In the midst of a debate about Irish - English politics, the Englishman says the following about the potato famine of 1845 - 50:
The Irish Famine was a dreadful event. I don't dispute its seriousness. But... [i]t was a hundred and fifty fucking years ago.
The Irishman counters 'It was yesterday', to which the Englishman replies: 'You are ridiculous, Edward.' Edward's succinct retort is: 'I am Irish' (McGuinness 1992: 30).
The compulsion to remember, or misremember, Ireland's past has been the subject of numerous plays by such authors as Friel, Tom Murphy (b. 1935), Anne Devlin (b. 1951), Sebastian Barry (b. 1955), McGuinness and many others. 2 In this chapter, I will focus upon Friel and Murphy, who came of age in the mid-twentieth century and made their dramatic reputations virtually simultaneously. Friel's first successful play, Philadelphia, Here I Come! (1965), was written just four years before Murphy wrote A Crucial Week in the Life of a Grocer's Assistant; both plays concern a young man's struggle to decide whether to leave an economically and emotionally stultifying, but still captivating, Ireland. Yet, although they have intersected thematically more than once, the two playwrights are generally contrasted rather than compared, with Friel commonly deemed the lyrical mourner of a vanishing pastoralism and Murphy described as the angrier voice of mid-century Ireland, the 'dramatist-as-Irish-thug' (as Fintan O'Toole describes Murphy's alleged persona) - whom Kenneth Tynan once said he 'would hate to meet in a dark theatre' (O'Toole 1987: 9). But, for all their apparent differences, both authors have shown a persistent interest in the 'making' of history (personal and public), and in the capricious role of memory in determining its shape. In the early 1980s, each produced a play that takes as its subject the frozen backward stare that McGuinness's Englishman indicts as 'ridiculous' but which his Irish counterpart views as an essential component of his identity. As I shall argue, both Friel's Translations (1980) and Murphy's Bailegangaire (1985) address the question of whether clinging to the past life of a cultur

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