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Hellenism and Reconciliation in Ireland from Yeats to Field Day

Hellenism and Reconciliation in Ireland from Yeats to Field Day

Nathan Wallace

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Largely inspired by the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the 1990s, scholars from a range of disciplines have produced numerous books and conferences on the topic of reconciliation around the world over the past two decades.

This book provides a literary genealogy of the concept in Ireland, where W.B. Yeats, Conor Cruise O'Brien, Tom Paulin, and Seamus Heaney have all associated it, paradoxically enough, with Sophoclean tragedy. Key features of the book are: Revises traditional understandings of Yeats's literary theory under the Free State, by relating his famous "poetics of the emblem" to Arnoldian cultural Hellenism. Draws connections between Conor Cruise O'Brien's writings on Greek Drama and the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and his experiences with the United Nations in Africa during the early 1960s. Investigates Seamus Heaney's poetry of Human Rights, including interviews with Irish Human Rights lawyers and activists who have worked with him.

Draws on extensive research in the Field Day Archive, to place Seamus Heaney's 1990 play, The Cure at Troy, in the context of internal debates within the Field Day Board of Directors. In the early twentieth century Yeats borrowed a theory of cultural Hellenism from Matthew Arnold in order to promote the Abbey Theatre as a reconciling institution in the Irish Free State. In the 1960s Conor Cruise O'Brien espoused Arnoldian Hellenism but nevertheless used Antigone as an analogy for explaining why reconciliation in Northern Ireland was impossible.

In the 1980s, the Field Day Theatre Company revived the Aristotelian notion that drama — exemplified by Sophoclean tragedy — was a civic art that could promote the cause of reconciliation. For example, in his The Riot Act: A Version of Sophocles' Antigone (1984), Tom Paulin explored the conflict between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft. Heaney was also at that time beginning to associate Sophoclean choruses with the poetry of human rights.

This study culminates with a genealogical analysis of Heaney's The Cure at Troy: A Version of Sophocles' Philoctetes (1990), a play whose 'hope and history' chorus came to be often quoted during the Northern Irish peace process.

Additional Information

Author Nathan Wallace
Publisher Cork University Press
Publication date 26 Jun 2015
Format Hardback
ISBN/EAN 9781782050681

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