William Shakespeare (23/4/1564-23/4/1616)


The Martin Droeshout Engraving – William Shakespeare First Folio

‘To the Reader
This figure that thou here seest put,
It was for gentle Shakespeare cut,
Wherein the graver had a strife
With Nature, to out-do the life:
O could he but have drawne his wit,
As well in brasse, as he has hit
His face; the print would then surpasse
All that was ever writ in brasse:
But since he cannot, reader, looke
Not on his picture, but his booke.
B. J.’

William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire and was baptised on 26 April 1564. His father was a glovemaker and wool merchant and his mother, Mary Arden, the daughter of a well-to-do local landowner. Shakespeare was probably educated in Stratford’s grammar school. The next documented event in Shakespeare’s life is his marriage in 1582 to Anne Hathaway, daughter of a farmer. The couple had a daughter the following year and twins in 1585. There is now another gap, referred to by some scholars as ‘the lost years’, with Shakespeare only reappearing in London in 1592, when he was already working in the theatre.

Shakespeare’s acting career was spent with the Lord Chamberlain’s Company, which was renamed the King’s Company in 1603 when James succeeded to the throne. Among the actors in the group was the famous Richard Burbage. The partnership acquired interests in two theatres in the Southwark area of London, near the banks of the Thames – the Globe and the Blackfriars.

Shakespeare’s poetry was published before his plays, with two poems appearing in 1593 and 1594, dedicated to his patron Henry Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton. Most of Shakespeare’s sonnets were probably written at this time as well. Records of Shakespeare’s plays begin to appear in 1594, and he produced roughly two a year until around 1611. His earliest plays include ‘Henry VI’ and ‘Titus Andronicus’. ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, ‘The Merchant of Venice’ and ‘Richard II’ all date from the mid to late 1590s. Some of his most famous tragedies were written in the early 1600s including ‘Hamlet’, ‘Othello’, ‘King Lear’ and ‘Macbeth’. His late plays, often known as the Romances, date from 1608 onwards and include ‘The Tempest’.

Shakespeare spent the last five years of his life in Stratford, by now a wealthy man. He died on 23 April 1616 and was buried in Holy Trinity Church in Stratford. The first collected edition of his works was published in 1623 and is known as ‘the First Folio’. (BBC history)

I’m in the process of viewing Hamlet (Derek Jakobi/Claire Bloom version recommended by my tutor) on DVD and reading the play. So thus felt the need to get a feel for the author and the times he lived in, before embarking on same.

So – if luck would have it, whilst in the library the other day searching for the text, I spotted a thoroughly researched book by James Shapiro, which specifically deals with the year 1599, in which the author reckons, Shakespeare doubtless would have lived.

James Shapiro worked tirelessly for fifteen years on the background of the book, and also taught Shakespeare in schools. So – what a perfectly nice introduction to the bard, from someone who is clearly dedicated to Shakespeare. Shapiro won the 2006 Samuel Johnson Prize as well as the 2006 Theatre Book Prize for his work 1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare.

I read the preface/prologue of the book. I discovered that Shakespeare was a shareholder/involved in the Globe/Rose theatres, which produced plays by the new time. One year alone, sixty plays were written between all the dramatists and their competitors.

I also learned that if somebody murdered a person and was able to quote the bible in Latin he was spared the prospect of hanging. Actors were privileged in that sense, as they were scholarly and had to read Latin as part of their job. One such actor at Shakespeare’s theatre was saved from a hanging after an on-stage argument with a fellow actor/dramatist, because of a loophole in the medieval law in place at the time. An ancient law which allowed ministers to escape executions on the grounds that they were touched by God and therefore above human laws. In fact – it was Ben Jonson,author of the recitation directly under the etching of Shakespeare up above. He was branded with a “T” on the base of his thumb, which was indicative of Tyburn. It intimated that if ever he as much as engaged in a similar crime – his fate would definitely be the gallows at Tyburn. Scary!  Apparently, the actor that he murdered (Gabriel Spencer) had also taken the life of another person in the past. Life in those days was very cheap and people murdered each other at random for small misdemeanours.

Ben Jonson (1572–1637) was sometimes Shakespeare’s friend but always his rival. Or, rather, Jonson set Shakespeare up as his rival. History would remember him as “the next” greatest playwright of the English Renaissance.

A very shrewd incident occurred in the aftermath of Shakespeare’s team finding themselves at a ‘theatre crossroads’. You see – when the theatre lease had run its course, the team were sent packing by the miserable owner of the land, despite the former having built the theatre themselves when they were leaseholders. They knew that Allen was a nasty piece of work, so they plotted to take the theatre down when they knew he went away for the duration of Xmas. The snow was thick on the ground and the Thames was frozen over when they speedily got to work, it was really hard-going for the helpers, as they pulled down the timber in such adverse weather conditions that blighted London. News got to Allen and an attorney came and accused them of trespassing, but they simply ignored the latter.

When they finally had all the postings and timber down, they fled off on horses to a secret warehouse on the opposite side of the Thames, where they stashed the timber out of sight of Allen and his cohorts. Rumour had it that they had crossed over the frozen Thames, however that would have been nigh impossible with the weight of the horses/men and timber. The new theatre, that became the infamous Globe was eventually built at the end of that summer. That shook Allen!

Shakespeake was touring with his theatre group when his one and only twin son, Hamnet died. The twins were named after two very close friends of William: a baker named Hamnet Sadler and his wife, Judith. Tragically, Hamnet Shakespeare died in 1596 at the age of eleven.

The plague and early deaths were common-place in those days. The mid-forties was the average age of life expectancy.

Elizabethans were very fond of the theatre, and came out in their thousands each week to see them. Plays were changed on a daily basis and so many of them were discarded with if they proved unpopular. The playhouses also attracted a fair amount of riff-raff. A play was even banned, ironically Ben Jonson was embroiled in it and ended up in prison.

A Swiss tourist (Platter) pointed out at the time that the English learned about the rest of the world via the stage plays.

There is also a lot about Shakespeare as a person/personality that is unknown, as only very famous people lives, such as royalty, for example, were recorded in those days and he was far from being royal. He earned a very good wage from the theatres as a playwright. He travelled between London and Stratford,* the latter of where his wife Anne Hathaway and his children, Susanna, Judith and Hamnet resided.*

*Sometime during the eighties, I recall seeing Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard, at Stratford-upon-Avon, with my friend, Jenni Armstrong. I remember being very clueless about the play due to its language complexity. The play expands upon the exploits of two minor characters from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the courtiers  Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

Whilst in Stratford-upon Avon in the past, I also visited Anne Hathaway’s Cottage.

Now that I will be again introduced to the bard’s minor characters in Hamlet  I’m prepared to rise above the difficult language barrier – with the help of my tutor, to explore the meaning of the play.

Time is Like a Promise.

I listened to Time is Like a Promise being sung by Scullion [male equivalent of scullery-maid] on Miriam Meets this Sunday morning. Scullion: Sonny Condell, Philip King & Robbie Overson. It was very nostalgic.

Time Is Like A Promise

[Lyric by Tír na nÓg]

If rain will fall high up here upon the mountain.

Grass will grow and shepherds will be thankful.

And our love will cover up for the mountain.

For time is like a promise it tries all your strength to keep to.

Before she came I lived alone upon the mountain.

Raven heard your voice high upon the wind.

Then one day you came to lay upon the mountain.

For time is like a promise it tries all your strength to keep to.

Your sun goes down and shadows soon are inter-weaving.

But she lies so deep inside my love – surrounds

Time will out-do us – this I only know too well.

For love is like a promise it tries all your strength to keep to.

If rain will fall high up here upon the mountain.

Grass will grow and shepherds will be thankful.

And our love will cover upon the mountain.

For time is like a promise it tries all your strength to keep to.

The guitar-playing, singing and visuals in the YouTube video are stunning. I think the stills could be from Co Wicklow. As I think I recognise the Wicklow Mountains and Laragh Lake. The author, Sonny Sondell derives from Laragh, Co Wicklow. It’s not too far from Rathdrum, where Goldenbridge children went each year on summer holidays.

I adored singing (high harmony) and playing guitar to this beautiful song with my English friend, Jennifer Armstong, when we both lived at St. Louise’s Hostel, (Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De-Paul) Medway St. Victoria, London, during the seventies. Jenni, was absolutely brilliant on acoustic guitar and had such a powerfully deep-soulful singing voice. The amazingly strong voice seemed so at variance with her gentle demeanour and frame. We derived great joy singing and playing folk-songs.

When I listened to the song I was reminded of the tremendous amount of genres of music we enjoyed in those long distant days of our youth. Jenny was all into Janis Joplin/Joni Mitchell, classical music, Bob Dylan, Barclay James Harvest and the great American Blues singers. I was into Joan Baez, Barclay James Harvest, Simon & Garfunkel, classical music, Bob Dylan, Irish/English/Welsh/Scottish/International traditional folk-singing; sacred religious and choral music, Gilbert & Sullivan, Godspell; Musicals and Mozart; Janet Baker, Joan Sutherland, Vienna Boys Choir, Welsh Male Choirs, Benjamin Britten/Robert Tear, John McCormac, Bernadette Greevy, Frank Patterson, Irish Rebel/Sean Nós songs, the latter refers to “old style” Irish song and dance, Fiddler on the Roof, Ralf McTell and the then very exotic Eurovision Song Contest, Edith Piaf and Brahms – the list goes on ad infinitum. Such a proliferation of music was soaked up by me. I made up for the lack of it, in my childhood. We even dabbled in song/lyric writing. At the time, I was very close to getting two of mine published. They were of a religious dimension, as I was all into the Charismatic Movement. The music/guitar playing, I guess, drew me to it like a magnet. Although, underneath it all, there was a kind of scepticism lurking around in my mind. Need I say more? I knew no better how to manage ambivalent feelings. If I had been aware of Celtic mysticism at the time, perhaps I could have gone down that road.

When I heard the song once again on Miriam’s brilliant programme and subsequently viewed the video, I was also instantaneously transported back to that era in London; when I used to wear a very ‘mod’ Afghan-embroidered-suede coat and a navy duffel coat with hood and Russian-style boots; flared torn jeans and embroidered jackets. I was so stylishly hippyish. I loved patchouli perfume and burning joy-sticks. I used to give poor old Sister Raphael headaches from the strength of the perfume, whenever she happened to have crossed my path. Jenni went on to study the humanities at Bristol university.

It was rather ironic, that some years later we should both accidentally encounter each other in Bournemouth. We were both with our mothers. I recall having to quietly explain to J that it was a long story about how my mother came into the picture. [Old photos of my mother reveal a striking resemblance in dress and appearance to Bernadette Greevy, when she was young.]  As far as Jenni was concerned I did not have any relations, as I’d never discussed my past in Ireland. It had been blocked out. Jenni’s mother had always been very kind and had invited me to her home in Hampshire. She even made me a Jane Austen doll.

I learned that Sonny Condell of Scullion is author of the song and it has an Irish Celtic theme. The song is forty years old and I still enjoy listening to it now as I did, when it originally came out in the seventies.

I was in an Irish traditional/folk music shop in Abbey St, Dublin, approximately a month ago, and asked the assistant about the history of Scullion, as I’d seen For Time is Like a Promise on the CD sleeve. She had no knowledge. I should have googled it. Well – we live and learn from the radio.

He who sings scares away his woes. Cervantes

What Were They Like? Denise Levertov

Did the people of Viet Nam use lanterns of stone? 

Did they hold ceremonies to reverence the opening of buds?

Were they inclined to quiet laughter?

Did they use bone and ivory, jade and silver, for ornament?

Had they an epic poem?

Did they distinguish between speech and singing?

Sir, their light hearts turned to stone.

It is not remembered whether in gardens

stone lanterns illumined pleasant ways.

Perhaps they gathered once to delight in blossom,

but after their children were killed

there were no more buds.

Sir, laughter is bitter to the burned mouth.

A dream ago, perhaps. Ornament is for joy.

All the bones were charred.

it is not remembered. Remember,

most were peasants; their life

was in rice and bamboo.

When peaceful clouds were reflected in the paddies

and the water buffalo stepped surely along terraces,

maybe fathers told their sons old tales.

When bombs smashed those mirrors

there was time only to scream.

There is an echo yet

of their speech which was like a song

It was reported their singing resembled

the flight of moths in moonlight.

Who can say?

It is silent now.

Anna McPartlin

I listened to the very courageous Anna McPartlin this morning, telling her extraordinary childhood story, to the RTÉ One (As Gaeilge, RTÉ a hAonRaidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ)] renowned presenter Marian Finuchane.

She endured great suffering  as a child. Her mother separated from her father, when she was only five years old. She thus moved with her mother from Kerry to Glasnevin, Dublin, to the abode of her grandmother, where she sat on the wall outside her new home for a whole fortnight, waiting for her father to arrive. Alas, he never did come. Anna, thereafter became stoically minded and never enquired after him anymore.

Anna’s mother – soon after her marriage separation was diagnosed with MS. So from a very a young age, Anna had responsibility of caring and worrying about her mother and grandmother, the latter of whom wasn’t exactly copus-mentis at the best of times and inevitably resulted in a few falls and forgetfulness. Pulling her grandmother up off the floor, despite her heavy weight was the least of Anna’s worries – she says, with great laughter to Marian. The latter too was a ‘great aul gas’; and very fond of an ‘aul tipple’. She recounts her childhood to Marian in a most philosophical way. Cognizant of the fact that she never remembered it any other way – it was part and parcel of her young life.

When people remarked at how difficult life had been for her as a child, she always made it clear at how much loved she was by all those around her in her young life, excepting, of course, her Dad, with whom she had a personality clash.* [One can see where it stems from indeed.]

Her mother, who was so remarkable, was one of the great loves of her life.

AMcP also related to Marian some funny, awkward and poignant moments she had regarding her absent-minded grandmother and mother. For example, her grandmother had the propensity for literally getting her knickers in an ‘up’ ‘down’ negotiation twist and mother pleaded with Anna to go to her aid. Anna laughed her head off as she reminisced about the grandmother to the presenter. One day when she came home from school her mother was on the floor – due to spasmodic muscle problems, and she called to the child to come and lie on the floor beside her to tell her all about her day. It was a touching moment with her mother, who evidently loved her so dearly.

There was no sense of bitterness in Anna’s voice at all as she regaled to Marian the responsibilities that unfortunately due to adverse circumstances were visited upon her from a young age. She seemed to have taken it all in her stride and got on with it – come what may. The mother’s very strong love doubtless grounded Anna and gave her great strength of character.

Her mother/grandmother sadly deteriorated that Anna McPartlin reluctantly was left with no option but to move to Kenmare, Kerry, to live with her kind aunt [father’s sister] and five cousins. She was naturally heartbroken and pined away for her dearest loving mother. She was so used to being a caring person in the lives of her mother/grandmother and was worried silly about how her mother she was managing without her in the nursing-home. Anna was still only ten years old. She was in regular contact with her mother, though, via letter-writing, who was in a nursing home in Dublin, approximately 80 miles away. This is where Anna’s love of writing began.

Her father came to visit her, perhaps once or twice annually, but there was no rapport between them at all. Her father met another woman and everyone in the town of Kenmare knew that Anna had a half-sister, except Anna herself.

She once went on a caravan holiday with her father and his partner, the latter of whom Anna really liked; and found herself having to grab her father by the scruff of the neck out of the pub, because she couldn’t bear to see his partner humiliated and suffering. He had spend the whole day in the pub and was plastered. The very next day she packed her bags and went off to Kenmare.

Her father was the one person who had the capacity to rile her so much and she found herself reacting to him, by physically lashing out. She said that it was so alien to her mild nature.

Her mother eventually died when Anna was seventeen years old.

Marian said that another person would have been on their knees with all Anna had to put up with and instead, she is a bundle of fun and joy.

Anna went on to become a comedienne and a successful writer. She’s very popular with Germans, whom she says, really ‘get it’ when it comes to dark v light humour in her books.

I will watch out for her books.

Anna McPartlin is an inspiration to all those who have had to overcome difficulties in their childhoods.

*[One can see where it stems from indeed.]

A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen [Act 11]

Act Two 

The same room. In the corner by the piano stands the Christmas tree; it is stripped and dishevelled, with the stumps of burnt-out candles. Nor’s outdoor clothes are on the sofa.

[NORA, alone in the room, walks about restlessly. Eventually she stops by the sofa and picks up her cloak.]

NORA [letting the cloak fall again]: Someone’s coming! [She goes to the door to listen.] No – there’s no one there. Of course no one would come today. – not on Christmas Day. Nor tomorrow either.  But perhaps… [She opens the door and looks out.] No, there’s nothing in the letter-box – it’s quiet empty. [Coming back into the room] What nonsense – he can’t really have meant it  A thing like that couldn’t happen. It isn’t possible – I have three children!

 [The NURSE comes in from the room on the left, with a huge cardboard box.]

NURSE: I’ve found the box with the fancy-dress at last.

NORA: Thank you; put it on the table.

NURSE: [doing so]: but it’s in a terrible state.

NORA: I should like to tear it all to pieces

NURSE: Heaven forbid!  It can soon be put right. – it only needs a little patience.

NORA: Yes, I’ll go and get Mrs Linde to help me.

NURSE: You’re never going out again – in this awful weather? You’ll catch your death of cold, Miss Nora, Ma’am!

NORA: Well, there are worse things than that. How are the children?

NURSE: The poor little mites are playing with their presents,  but –

NORA: Do they ask after me very much?  [pg. 181 Penguins Classics]

NURSE: You see, they’re so used to having their Mamma with them

A Dolls House by Henrik Ibsen.

I

I’ve just finished two – of a three act play A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen who was a 1879 Norwegian playwright. It’s about an apparently typical housewife, with three children, who becomes unenthusiastic and malcontent with her supercilious husband.

CHARACTERS:

TORVALD HELMER, a lawyer

NORA, his wife

The couple’s three children, EMMY, BOB and IVAR.

DR. RANK

NILS KROGSTAD, a barrister

MRS. KRISTINA LINDE

ANNA-MARIA, the nurse

HELENA, the house-maid

A porter

The action takes place in the married couple’s flat.

ACT 1

Set at Christmas time, Nora Helmer arrives home after shopping, she’s full of the joys of spring. Her husband calls out

HELMER [from his study]: is that my little skylark?

NORA [busy opening the parcels]: It is.

HELMER: Scampering about like a little squirrel?

NORA: Yes.

HELMER: When did the squirrel get home. [pg. 148]

NORA: Just this minute. [She slips the bag of macaroons in her pocket and wipes her mouth.] Come in here, Torvald, and you can see what I’ve brought.

HELMER: I’m busy! [ A moment later he opens the door and looks out, pen in hand.] Did you say ‘bought’? What, all that? Has my little featherbrain been out wasting money again?

He goes on to tell Nora that she mustn’t waste money. She reminds Torvald, that surely they can waste a little now – just the teeniest bit seeing that he was going to earn a big salary, and that they’ll have lots of money again. He points out that it will be a whole quarter before he gets paid.

Penguin Trilogy Classics:

NORA: Pooh, we can always borrow till then.

HELMER: Nora! [He goes to her and takes her playfully by the ear.] The same little scatterbrain. Just suppose I borrowed a thousand kroner today and you went out and spent it all by Christmas and then on New Year’s Eve a tile fell down on my head, and there I lay –

NORA [Putting a hand over his mouth]: Sh! Don’t say such horrible things! [ pg. 148]

The bold writing is there to highlight the condescending way Torvald talks to his wife, who – through her lack of wisdom – plays along with being his object.

cjperez8 says:

It is a modern realistic play loosely on women’s rights. It addresses recurrent belief in male’s power, control and dominance as well as husband’s superiority over wives, mostly when it comes to monetary possession; evident in constant metaphors and references to frail creatures to signify Nora, such as ‘little skylark’, ‘little squirrel’ and ‘featherhead’, alongside other deprecating terms as ‘spendthrift’; emphasizing women’s gender inferiority.

An old [widow] friend from her past, Mrs. Linde, who has travelled a long distance, calls to the house [at the same time as a daily friend, Dr. Rank] and is hoping to find a job. Nora’s husband, Torvald, who is a lawyer, has just recently earned a promotion in the bank, so, Nora gladly finds employment for Mrs. Linde. When her friend moans about how difficult the years have been, Nora says that her life has also been fraught with difficulties.

 

herappleness

Teacher

Graduate School

Editor Emeritus, Debater, Expert, Educator, Scribe

Henrik Ibsen uses characterization effectively in A Doll’s House to enhance the role of each character and the effect they play on the main character, Nora.

Equally, he uses Nora as a way to bring out the main theme of the play, which is the unfair consequences that happen to people that may have their hearts in the right place, but their actions are still in direct contrast with social expectations.

Nora is characterized as a childish and oblivious young wife and mother whose role is to please and entertain her husband and children. However, when she oversteps the social expectations of servitude placed upon women  by acting on behalf of her husband (something as simple as borrowing money to save her husband), she gets immediately chastised As a result of seeing her efforts unappreciated, Nora leaves her family in a state of disillusion, depression, and disorientation. Although she does not know what her next step is going to be, it is obvious to her that anything is better than to be insulted by the one person for whom she gave up her right to be happy.

Mrs. Linde is characterized as Nora’s foil. Her character is meant to be the opposite of Nora. She has lived through painful times and has already learned about the cruelties of life. Mrs. Linde serves as a guide to Nora’s inner thoughts, and not as a judge of them. She seems to expect very little of Nora, as well. She represents a real,  warm-blooded woman. Nora, in contrast, shows us the silliness of her person through her nonsensical behavior towards her husband, and the world.

Helmer is an enabler to Nora. He gives her a false sense of control over him by allowing her to serve as his personal entertainment; as a “doll in a doll’s house”. He reasserts his role as “the man of the house” by belittling Nora’s role as a caretaker. The way he does this is by giving her pet names that reflect his condescension. As the main bread-winner, he may also feel as if he deserves that  much from Nora. When he sees that there is more to Nora than just a “lark”, or a “squirrel” of his own, his manhood becomes affected and he decidedly rejects to appreciate the sacrifices that she made for him. In the end, he ends up alone and abandoned  by a disillusioned Nora.

Like Linde, Dr Rank represents a foil of Nora in that he has had to face reality as it comes. Terminally ill, he is hopelessly in love with Nora. He also represents the cruelties of nature, since his disease was inherited from the excessive behaviors of his father. His character represents the inevitability of fate, and the sad reality of nature. When he leaves his last scene, he accepts his role as a recluse to life, and he leaves with as much sadness as he enters.

So what we basically have is that the character of Nora, immature, oblivious, belittled, and seemingly naive, is surrounded by characters with possible emotional and social control over her. In order for Nora to break free she would have needed to learn the realities of each of them, apply their lessons to her own life, and learn to face reality for what it is. Ultimately, that is exactly what she did. And she became free.

Another professional contributor/editor at e-notes had this to say about the play.

When looking for the importance in Act One of a play, you should note the introduction of characters and the set up of a major problem which will be the main event of the play.

Act One of A Doll’s House introduces:

  • Nora, a seemingly flighty wife and mother who hides a secret that belies her carefree exterior
  • Torvald, her husband and an up and coming banker who revels in his position at home as the king of his castle
  • Mrs. Linde, the hard-working, impoverished school chum of Nora
  • Krogstad, a bank associate of Torvald’s with whom Nora has a secret bond of collusion
  • Dr. Rank, an old family friend of Nora and Torvald’s who also has a secret crush on Nora.

The main events of significance to the plot throughout the rest of the play are:

  • Torvald has received a raise, which will drastically change the Helmers’ financial situation.
  • Nora confesses to Mrs. Linde that she has “saved” her husband by borrowing money to take him on a rest cure trip, money that she has scrimped, saved and worked to pay back.  She is ecstatic that this money will now be easily paid back through Torvald’s raise in salary.
  • Krogstad is revealed as the man who lent Nora the money she needed for Torvald’s rest cure, and he demands that she help him (by influencing Torvald) re-instate himself in his lost position at the bank or he will reveal their secret.

This last bit of information, coming at the end of the Act, is the most important for building suspense in the audience about what will happen next in the play.  This is an important dramatic device, intended to hold an audience’s interest during the interval between Acts.

I have provided a link below to the Enotes full summary of Act One (and analysis) for more detail.

sparknotes:

Summary & Analysis

Dancing at Lughnasa [Act 11] by Brian Friel.

ACT 11.

Early September; three weeks later. Ink bottle and some paper on the kitchen table. Two finished kites – their artwork still unseen – lean against the garden seat. [pg. 43]

They are the work of wee Michael. The boy and Maggie are messing about telling riddles, then Chris, the boy’s mother comes into the room and tells Michael that his father is going to bring a bike for him when he returns from his new job. She says in an excited manner to the bored boy,

‘now that you’ve seen him what do you think of him? Do you remember him?’

Michael says he never saw him before. She reminded him that he saw him about five or six times and he saw him when his father was at the foot of the lane.

‘He thinks you’re very handsome.’

She told him his father says he had got his mother’s eyes.

The kite in the picture above would represent one that young Michael was creating in the garden, all by himself. Obviously the kite symbolises freedom.

Jack tells the sisters all about the Ryangans. He reckons they are a remarkable people; and that he thinks there is no distinction between the religious and the secular in their culture. And their capacity for fun and laughter. He considers them in some respect to be like them.

‘You’d love them, MAGGIE. You should come back with me’. [pg. 48].

It’s clearly obvious to the reader that Jack is not a well man and is definitely not going back to the people he dearly loved in Africa.

Gerry is still about the house trying to embrace Chris.

She keeps avoiding him. Gerry is a professional dancer. He keeps trying to flirt with the mother of his child.

GERRY: You know you’re a great dancer, Chrissie.

CHRIS: No I’m not.

GERRY: You should be a professional dancer.

CHRIS: You’re talking rubbish.

GERRY: Lets dance around the garden again.

CHRIS: We’ve done that; and down the lane and up again – without music. And that’s enough for one day. Tell me about signing up. Was it really in a church.

GERRY: I’m telling you – it was unbelievable.

CHRIS: It was a real church?

GERRY: A Catholic Church at that.

During all this flirtatious conversation between them, the reader is introduced to the state of the wider world outside the wee town of Ballybeg. As we see when Gerry relates to Chris the following questions, he was asked by his prospective recruiter to the army.

GERRY:  Do you offer your allegiance to the Popular Front?

CHRIS: What is the Popular Front?

GERRY: The Spanish government, that I’m going to keep in power. ” I take it you as a Syndicalist”  No,  Anarchist? ‘No,’ A Marxist?’  ‘No.’  ‘A Republican, a Socialist, a Communist?’ ‘No.’ Do you speak Spanish? ‘No.’  ‘Can you make explosives?  ‘No.’ Can you ride a motor-bike? ‘Yes,’ Your in. Sign here. [pg. 50]

Not only does Gerry flirt with Chris, but he also tries to also mess about in the same fashion with her sister, Aggie, when he is up on top of the sycamore tree, trying to fix the radio ariel. He calls out to Aggie.

GERRY: Up here, Aggie.

AGNES: Where?

GERRY: On top of the Sycamore.

AGNES: Mother of God.

GERRY: Come up and join me. [pg. 53]

Chris spots his shenanigans when he dances with Aggie in the house. She becomes very aloof thereafter with Gerry. Reality rings home. The reader is left wondering if he could ever really make a decent woman out of her at all.

Danny Bradley, a married man from nearby Ballybeg, gave Rose a Christmas present of a silver medal. She had it pinned to her gansey (jumper) along with her miraculous medal. She cherished it, and was convinced that he was in love with her. One day Agnes and Rose went out for the afternoon to pick bilberries. Agnes noticed that Rose was all dressed up to the nineties. She was not wearing her wellies, but good Sunday shoes, etc. When they got to the old quarry, Rose feigned tummy illness and said that she wanted to go home to have a lie down. Rose had other things on her mind, to be sure – and went off instead, to meet Bradley up the back hills at Loch Anna.

The family went into a state of sheer panic when they later discovered, on Aggies arrival home, that there was no Rose to be had sleeping in her bed. Kate suggested that the police be called and Maggie would hear nothing of it at all. Did she want to bring notice to their family, what would the neighbours think at all.

CHRIS: She has some silly notion about that scamp, BRADLEY,. She believes he’s in love with her. He gave her a present last Christmas.

KATE: (To Agnes) what do you know about this Bradley business?

AGNES: I know no more than CHRIS has –

KATE: I’ve often seen you and ROSE whispering together. What plot has been hatched between ROSE and MR. BRADLEY.

AGNES: No plot…please, KATE –

KATE: You’re lying to me, AGNES! Your witholding! I want the truth.

A few seconds later.

CHRIS: There she is! Look – look! There she is!

She had seen ROSE through the window and is about to rush out to greet her. MAGGIE catches her arm and restrains her. The four sisters watch ROSE as she crosses the garden.

She is dressed in ‘good clothes’ described by Agnes and they have changed her appearance.

There is a change alright in the person whom one would least expect change to occur. The mood of the play also changes too because of the sister’s insight into Rose’s unusual behaviour. In a sense, though, they are gobsmacked by it,  but to the back of it – it was also staring them in the face.

Rose openly tells them all about her afternoon spent with Bradley at Loch Anna. They are all dumbfounded.

Kate says very profound words:

What has happened to this house? Mother of God, will we be ever able to lift our heads again….?

Dancing at Lugnasa is a Memory play. Michael the narrater tells the story of his life as a   child (unseen in play) at Ballybeg in dialogue format.

The following night of the Aunt Rose incident that Vera McLaughlin arrived and explained to Agnes and Rose why she couldn’t buy their hand-knitted gloves anymore… Most of her home-knitters were already working in the new factory and she advised Agnes and Rose to apply immediately.

The Industrial Revolution had finally caught up with Ballybeg.

They didn’t apply, even though they had no other means of making a living, and they never discussed their situation with their sisters. Perhaps Agnes made the decision for both of them because she knew Rose wouldn’t have got work there anyway. Or perhaps, as Kate believed, because Agnes was too notionate to work in a factory. Or perhaps the the two of them just wanted…away.

Not only has change occurred in the family with respect of the time Rose decided to go off for the day with a married man. There is also change about to happen in the life of Michael’s father, who is going off to Spain. There is also change in work practices with the onset of the industrial revolution. We see this with the arrival of the messenger Vera McLaughlin, when she tells Aggie and Rose that their knitting services are no longer required. Even Jack has had his Roman Catholic mind changed by his quarter of a century in Africa. Chris too has a mind-change when she sees Gerry cavorting with her sister before her very eyes. Kate signifies stability. But her brand of stability is stifling, to say the least, to the sisters

The continuation of the dialogue with the narrator reveals the most poignant part of the play altogether.

Anyhow, on my first day back at school, when we came into the kitchen for breakfast, there was a note propped up against the milk jug: ‘We are gone for good. This is best for all Do not try to find us.’ It was written in Agnes’s resolute hand.

Of course they did try to find them. So did the police. So did our neighbours who had a huge network of relatives in America. But they had vanished without trace. And the time I tracked them down-twenty-five years later, in London, – Agnes was dead and Rose was dying in a hospice for the destitute in Southwark.*

Aside: *I used to frequent Southwark Cathedral when I lived near Victoria in the seventies. My hostel friend played guitar and sang in folk-choir there.) (When I did the Crisis at Christmas annual week-end 60 mile walk, it started at Southwark Cathedral and finished at Canterbury Cathedral. It is very apt that Brian Friel should mention Southwark regarding Rose and her sad ending. I did the Crisis at Christmas sixty mile walk three times. It consisted of sixty-eight miles all told, but legally, 60 miles was the limit over a weekend period.

I was devastated when upon reading the above, I could feel so much for the characters and how their lives in London would have panned out, especially because of the fact that they had no education and skills and knowledge of the big metropolis. Also because they were Irish. I could identify with their difficulties, having almost gone through similar stuff.

The two sisters had ended up doing the most menial of jobs in London. The world is a friendless place to the unwise and uneducated. It soaks up their inadequacies and drains them to the point of being swamped up. It has no use of the likes of Rose and Aggie. They had worked as cleaning women in public toilets, in factories, in the Underground. Then when Rose could no longer get work, Agnes tried to support them both, but couldn’t. From then on, I gathered, they gave up. They took to drink; slept in parks, in doorways on the Thames Embankment. Then Agnes died of exposure. Then two days after I found Rose in that grim hospice – she didn’t recognise me, of course – she died in her sleep.

This dialogue with Michael is so utterly traumatic. It’s only a play, and still I’m feeling shattered reading about these two characters. They are indicative of so many Irish people who went to London between the 30-80’s. I’m also reminded of the free choice their older brother made to leave his native land. Also that he inherited the house, because he was male, and irrespective of his religious status in life; whereas the sisters were forced out of their home because of difficult circumstances.

I added an excellent Old Vic Dancing at Lughnasa snyposis link in opening line in Act 1 and here. I skimmed through it and will definitely read it at leisure at a later stage. It looks very good and exactly what I think is needed for the Leaving Cert.

I note that Andrea Corr – of the famous Irish Corr’s music group – was one of the actors in the Old Vic stage play. She is obviously multi-talented. She comes from not too far from fictional area where play was set, so it should be right up her street in understanding the background to Friel’s play. (I encountered AC some years ago walking outside the Dail) (I spent many years in Ballyjamesduff, Co Cavan, and would have a grasp of the nature/lingo (gimp) of the Mundy sisters and the rural life they lived.)

So the radio, the factory, religion, etc all have huge significances in the play.

Dancing at Lughnasa by Brian Friel.

Dancing at Lughnasa is a (1990) play by dramatist Brian Friel. It tells the story of five unmarried sisters; who eke out their simple lives, two miles outside the small fictional town of Ballybeg, Donegal, Ireland in 1936. They range in ages from 26-40. There is also a priest, who is their much older brother – he was sent home from the missions in Africa. He suffers with Malaria. He had worked in a leper colony for nigh on 25 years. It turns out in a comical way during the course of the play that he was being converted to the ways of the Africans, as opposed to the other way around. He is owner of the house. The youngest sister, Christina (Chris) has a wee boy of seven, called Michael, whose grown-up self acts as the play’s narrator, looking back on the tumultuous summer in his childhood when everything changed for ever.

The only real one bringing in a proper wage to the Mundy household is the oldest sister, Kate, who teaches at the local school. Agnes and Rose, earn a wee bit of money knitting gloves, whilst Maggie, the second oldest, who is housekeeper, earns nothing. So the clothes of all the sisters reflect the mean circumstances.

Rose, who is slightly retarded wears wellies all the time despite the warm weather of late summer. Maggie wears long boots with long, untied laces. Rose, Maggie and Agnes, the drab wrap-around aprons/overalls of the time. (I remember Mrs Boyne, who took me out of Goldenbridge at week-ends, also wore similar attire). All the sisters are very kind and protective towards Rose, but Agnes has taken on the role of main protecter.

The play’s title comes from a pagan Irish festival, celebrating the harvest, and the contrast between Catholicism and pagan ritual is a constant theme of the play.

The Welsh father of the child, Gerry Evans, turns up at the house and there is much ambiguity on the part of Kate, who fears he will upset the equilibrium, whatever little there is of it – anyway. However – she does tell Chris, that there is a bed for him if he wants one, though, in the outhouse. He tells Chris that he is off to the army, and he wants to marry her when he comes back.

I read Act 1 in the library today and was inwardly joyfully spaced out reading [pg. 21-22]. I felt myself on the verge of aping the behaviour of the sisters, as they incessantly leapt about the house and shouted and let rip to the tune of ‘The Mason’s Apron’ and other popular tunes of the day, such as The Isle of Capri sung by Frank Sinatra.

`Twas on the Isle of Capri that I found her
Beneath the shade of an old walnut tree
Oh, I can still see the flow’rs bloomin’ round her
Where we met on the Isle of Capri

She was as sweet as a rose at the dawning
But somehow fate hadn’t meant her for me
And though I sailed with the tide in the morning
Still my heart’s on the Isle of Capri

Summertime was nearly over
Blue Italian sky above
I said “Lady, I’m a rover,
Can you spare a sweet word o’love?”

She whispered softly “It’s best not to linger”
And then as I kissed her hand I could see
She wore a lovely meatball on her finger
’twas goodbye at the Villa Capri

Summertime was nearly over

Blue Italian sky above
I said “Lady, I’m a rover,
Can you spare a fine word o’love?”

She whispered softly “It’s best not to linger”

And then as I kissed her hand I could see
She wore a plain golden ring on her finger
’twas goodbye on the Isle of Capri
’twas goodbye on the Isle of Capri
’twas goodbye on the Isle of Capri

It was so infectiously healing. So good for pent-up emotions! They were truly drunk on some kind of Lughnasa potion and were on another planet. (Children in Goldenbridge learned their reels to the tune of The Mason’s Apron, etc.)

Act 1 

[Pause]

KATE: Is it working now, Christina

CHRIS: What’s that?

KATE: Marconi.

CHRIS: Marconi? Yes, yes,…should be…

( She switches the set on and returns to her ironing. The music, at first barely audible, is Irish dance music – ‘The Mason’s Apron’ played by a ceili band. Very fast; very heavy beat; a raucous sound. At first we are aware of the beat only. Then, as the volume increases slowly, we hear the melody. For about ten seconds – until the sound has established itself – the women continue with their tasks. Then MAGGIE turns around. Her head is cocked to the beat, to the music. she is breathing deeply, rapidly. Now her features become animated by a look of defiance, of aggression; a crude mask of happiness. For a few seconds she stands still, listening, absorbing the rhythm, surveying her sisters with her defiant grimace. Now she spreads her fingers (which are covered with flour), pushes her hair back off from her face, pulls her hands down her cheeks and patterns her face with an instant mask. At the same time she opens her mouth and emits a wild raucous ‘Yaaaaah!’ – and immediately begins to dance, arms, legs, hair, long bootlaces flying. And as she dances she lilts – sings-shouts and calls, Come on and join me! Come on! Come on! For about ten-seconds she dances alone – a white-faced freakish dervish. Her sisters watch her.

Then ROSE’S face lights up. Suddenly she flings away her knitting, leaps to her feet, shouts, grabs MAGGIE’S hand. They dance and sing-shout together; ROSE’S wellies pounding out their own erratic rhythm. Now after another five-seconds AGNES looks around, leaps up, joins MAGGIE and ROSE. Of all the sisters she moves most gracefully, and sensuously. Then after the same interval CHRIS, who had been folding JACK’S surplice, tosses it quickly over her head and joins in the dance. The moment she tosses the vestment over her head KATE cries out in remonstration, ‘Oh CHRISTINA–! But her protest is drowned. Agnes and ROSE, CHRIS and MAGGIE, are now all doing a dance that is almost recognizable. They meet – they retreat. They form a circle and wheel round and round. But the movements seem caricatured; and the sound is too loud; and the beat is too fast; and the almost recognizable dance is made grotesque because – for example – instead of holding hands, they have their arms tightly around one another’s neck and another’s waist. Finally KATE, who has been watching the scene with unease, with alarm, suddenly leaps to her feet, flings her head back and emits a loud ‘Yaaaaah!’

KATE dances alone, totally concentrated, totally private’ a movement that is simultaneously controlled and frantic; a weave of complex steps that takes her quickly around the kitchen past her sisters, out to the garden, around the summer seat, back to the kitchen’ a pattern of action that is out of character and at the same time ominous of some deep and true emotion. Throughout the dance, ROSE, AGNES, MAGGIE, and CHRIS shout-call sing to each other. KATE makes no sound.

With this too loud music, this pounding beat, this shouting-calling-singing, this parodic reel there is a sense of order being consciously subverted, of the women consciously and crudely caricaturing themselves, indeed of near hysteria being induced. The music stops abruptly in mid phrase. But because of the noise they were making the sisters do not notice and continue dancing for a few seconds. Then KATE notices — and stops. Then AGNES. Then CHRIS. Then MAGGIE. Now only ROSE is dancing her graceless dance by herself. Then finally she, too, notices and stopped. There is no sound but their grasping for breath and short bursts of static from the radio. They look at each other obliquely, avoid looking at each other; half smile in embarrassment; feel and look slightly ashamed and slightly defiant. CHRIS moves first. She goes to the radio.)

CHRIS: It’s away again, that aul thing. Sometimes you’re good at it, AGGIE.

AGNES: Feel the top. Is it warm?

CHRIS: Roasting.

AGNES: Turn it off till it cools down. (CHRIS turns it off and slaps it)

CHRIS: Bloody useless set, that.

KATE: No need for corner-boy language, CHRISTINA.

AGNES: There must be some reason why it overheats.  [pg. 21-22]

Despite being very true to their Catholicism, the sisters also have their pagan side. In the play’s most powerfully elated scene in the 1st Act, they dance like raging, out of their mind, whirling, stamping dervishes to the ceili reels coming out of their antique radio, a tumultuous celebration of life and wildness with more than a hint of chronic sexual frustration about it.

ACT 1

We learn more about Father Jack’s time out in Africa, as his voice was a little better.  He was reminiscing to Chris about their mother.

Do you think perhaps Mother didn’t believe in ancestral spirits? [pg. 39]

KATE chimes in Ancestral – !

What are you blathering about, JACK? Mother was a saintly woman who knew she was going straight to heaven. And don’t you forget to take your medicine this evening.  Your supposed to take it three times a day.

AGNES: That’s ROSE’S pet rooster. Keep away from that thing.

MAGGIE: Look what it did to my arm, JACK. One of these days I’m going to ring its neck.

JACK: That’s what we do in Ryanga when we want to please the spirits – or appease them: we kill a rooster or a young goat. It’s a very exciting exhibition – that’s not the word is it? – demonstration? – no – show?  No, no; what’s the word I’m looking for? Spectacle? That’s not it. The word to describe a sacred and mysterious…? ( Slowly, deliberately) You have a ritual killing. You offer up sacrifice. You have dancing and incantations. what is the name for that whole – for that -? Gone. Lost it. My vocabulary has deserted me. Never mind. Doesn’t matter… I think perhaps I should put on some more clothes.

Dancing At Lughnasa is on the Irish Leaving Certificate 2012 curriculum. I shall look forward to reading the second act.

Hanahoe: ‘Nothing to fear for Dubs’.

Up the Dubs!

Comhghairdeas! Baile Átha Cliath (Dublin) who, as I momentarily write, went on to claim their first All-Ireland title since 1995.

During the week Tony Hanahoe (right) who was captain of All-Ireland Dublin’s three-times winning team in the seventies, was speaking at Vodafone’s preview event for the decider, he said, he was

“comfortable with Dublin’s position” going into the game”

Hanahoe also stated:

“Both teams will endeavour to use what is advantageous to them to the ultimate. They both have advantages for different reasons. The game doesn’t necessarily go according to plan.

“Even when you are the best team you need a bit of luck on the day and particularly in finals. Both teams have their worries too and their confidences”

Commiserations to Ciarraí (Kerry) – who are ordinarily the best team, there was after-all only one point between them and Dublin on the day. The pressure, though, was surely on Dublin, seeing, that they were the underdogs against the great giants.

The photo of the two legendary Gaelic footballers, Mick O’Dwyer, past Kerry Manager and Tony Hanahoe, past Dublin Captain/Manager is classic.*

An aside: *Tony Hanahoe has also done gargantuan work – in a professional capacity – for survivors of industrial schools. I know him very well.