BL. W. B. Yeats

14. Two Plays for Dancers. Churchtown, Dundrum: Cuala, 1919.

Both works are reprinted in Four Plays for Dancers and Plays and Controversies.

An edition of 400. Both works are reprinted in 17 and 20.

a. The Dreaming of the Bones. Critics who suggest that At the Hawk’s Well (12) is the closest Yeatsian drama comes to the nô fail to understand the degree to which the ontology of the mugen nô parallels important features of Yeats’s occultism, particularly as outlined in Per Amica Silentia Lunae (13), and how this informs both structure and theme here. Mugen nô posits that the spirits of the dead may remain bound to earth by the memory of a tragic moment—what in Per Amica Yeats calls the ‘dreaming back’ of the dead—and are condemned to relive that moment, at a place that has become sacred through association with it, until their memory of it is quelled in an act of forgiveness or repentance. This play, modelled, as has been noted often, on Pound’s version of Nishikigi (BK8; see BL102, 114, 180, 202, 236, 243, and 250), draws explicitly on the ontology of the ‘dreaming back’ of the nô of ghosts, and on dramatic conventions that have given it voice. The work was written mainly in 1917, first published in Little Review in January 1919, and first performed, in Dublin, in 1931. See also A32, BK81f, 153, 207, BL17b, 34, 38b, 44, 48f-g, 62, 64, 84, 86, 99-101, 104, 106, 110, 111, 113, 116, 131, 141, 149, 151, 153, 154, 158, 160, 161, 166, 167, 172, 174, 185, 188, 192, 197, 199, 201, 204, 211, 216-19, 222, 226, 230, 233, 246-48, and 252.

b. The Only Jealousy of Emer. The case for influence from the nô in Yeatsian verse drama often has been overstated, even in reference to the plays that followed closely on his early enthusiasm for the form. Like the other ‘plays for dancers’, this work—a continuation of the ‘Cuchulain cycle’ (see 12)—employs masks to emphasise archetype, and Yeats’s use of the device, on his own evidence (see 11), derives largely from his study of the nô. Beyond this, the play follows conventions he developed under the influence of the nô in At the Hawk’s Well (12), minimalist stage design, setting for performance in a drawing room, dance, a chorus of musicians, musical accompaniment, the ritual of the folding and unfolding of the cloth (see 12), and recalls the concept of the dreaming back of the dead. The work itself, however, beyond relying on these conventions and the concept that the dead may inhabit a dream life until the passions of life are expiated, is neither structurally nor thematically indebted to the nô. Taylor (180), Miyake (BK187), and others contend that the woman of the Sidhe was inspired by the Rokujô of the Pound/Fenollosa Awoi no Uye (BK22); Tsukimura (see 180a3) suggests that Kanawa, which was among the Fenollosa manuscripts synopsised by Pound (in BK24d), is a ‘supplementary source’; and Wilson (102) finds ‘exact correspondence[s]’ in the symbolism here and in Hagoromo (BK13d), and argues that the first chorus ‘would hardly have been possible without the sophisticated Japanese source’ (a point that Arcais [162] supports and Komesu [223] disputes). Ultimately, however, the work is not in any significant way like the nô. While the play no doubt would have differed or perhaps would not have been written at all had Yeats not been introduced to the form, it is an influence here only secondarily, Yeats writing in a form augmented by his understanding of the nô, but drawing more on his own earlier experiment with it than on the Japanese drama itself. The work was first published in Poetry in January 1919, and first performed, in Amsterdam, in 1922. It was revised, in prose, for performance at the Abbey Theatre, as Fighting the Waves (35a). See also A32, BK153, BL44, 48g, 62, 64, 84, 86, 87, 99-101, 104, 106, 110, 113, 116, 130, 131, 134, 141, 151, 153, 154, 158, 167, 172, 185, 192, 199, 201, 204, 211, 218, 222, 226, 227, 230, 233, 236, 246, 247, 250, 252, and 259.





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