BL. W. B. Yeats


5. Deirdre. London: Bullen, 1907.

Yeats’s retelling of the legend of Deirdre and Naoise more clearly than any work demonstrates the degree to which he had already put into practice much of what he later discovered in the nô (see also 2-4). In earlier plays he had drawn on Celtic legend, but this work marks his first use of a chorus of musicians, who open the play by establishing the scene, and provide throughout exposition and commentary on the action. The protagonists are archetypal figures caught in circumstances of tragic inevitability, and the action rises to climax in a single moment of passion, Deirdre’s ritualised suicide. Stage settings varied in different productions. Performances in 1911 featured moveable screens by Craig (see D17), but all had in common stylised and anti-realistic patterns and shapes rather than natural representation. The imagery both verbal and visual is more unified than in Yeats’s earlier drama, revolving around a chessboard and a brazier of fire set on opposite sides of the stage, representative of ritualised combat on the one hand and the mystery of supernatural forces on the other. Some of these parallels to the nô, and to Yeats’s later experiments in adapting it, have been noted by several commentators, but Sekine (233) puts the case in the most absolute terms: not only is this play closer to the nô than Yeats’s later plays modelled on the form, it is in fact, according to Sekine, ‘the Irish equivalent of a Noh play’. See also 2, 7, 12, and 131. Reprinted in 19.



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