William Butler Yeats



  • (1865 - 1939) Irish poet and playwright, who led the Irishdramatic renaissance in the early 20th century and, with the helpof Lady Gregory, created the Abbey Theatre. Thefirst play performed at the Abbey (on 27 December 1904) was Yeats'sOn Baile's Strand. It remained part of the theater's repertoirewith his other works, which include The Land of Heart's Desire(1894) and Deirdre (1907). Yeats, who was awarded a Nobel Prizefor Literature in 1923, gave strong encouragement to other Irish playwrightsincluding J. M. Synge and Sean O'Casey.

    The first of his 30 plays was the symbolist drama The CountessCathleen (1892), the heroine of which was modelled on Maud Gonne,a beautiful nationalist friend who remained a source of inspirationthroughout Yeats's life. In 1902 Maud took the title role in his fiercelypatriotic play Cathleen ni Houlihan. Yeats reacted stronglyagainst the fashion for naturalism in the theater; in hislater works he aimed to create a form of ritual drama analogous tothe Japanese Nō, making use of dance, poetry, andmasks. Many of his plays deal with themes from Irish mythology (seeCuchulain).

    Yeats was a great stickler for detail. The actor Sir CedricHardwicke recalled him trying for hours to find the right lightingeffect for a sunset. After the electricians had tried all the possiblecolour combinations, Yeats saw a glow and shouted, "That's it! Holdit, hold it!" A stage hand gave a quick embarrassed reply, "Wecan't hold it, Sir. The bloody theater's on fire."