Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Moseley, Virginia Douglas, 1917-||James, Eugene Nelson, 1919-2013

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of English


Yeats; W. B. (William Butler); 1865-1939; Chuchulain (legendary character)


Yeats wrote exclusively for the Irish literary Theater for a period of about ten years. Always an enemy of the commercial realistic theater, he hoped to effect reforms through poetic-symbolic drama. Ireland was to be united and its former greatness restored. For this purpose he needed, as subject matter, Ireland's traditional heroic figures presented in a quasi-religious atmosphere, which he felt the theater afforded. Cuchulain, a descendant of the solar-god Ingh and Yeats' acknowledged anti-self, offered the greatest possibilities for a cycle of plays commemorating the greatness of Ireland. The source for his plots was Guchulain of Muirthemne by Lady Augusta Gregory, but the poet was not slavish in the use of his source. Instead, he molded the legends to his purposes. On Baile's Strand and The Green Helmet were written in the tradition of the conventional theater before he learned of the Noh technique and are, therefore, called the pre-Noh dramas. Both plays are strongly national and personal. The Green Helmet deals with the divisions of Ireland, with Cuchulain as a symbol of a unifying power. On Baile's Strand deals with the conflict of generations, with Cuchulain as a tragic hero forced to act against his own instincts and will. Yeats was to insist, however, in his later years that this drama dealt with characters as shadows of one another, generating the forces which propel the Wheel of life, his symbol for historical, personal, spiritual, and mental cyclical changes. The later dramas, At the Hawk's Well and The Only Jealousy of Emer were written in the Noh conventions. With simplified and symbolic settings, the use of masks, music, stylized movements, and the dance, Yeats was able to add greater depth to his symbolism. He believed that, in order to avoid artistic sterility, a symbol must be dynamic. Although both plays may have several interpretations, the former appears to deal mainly with the hero and his Destiny, and the latter with reincarnation, showing Cuchulain as the objective man undergoing changes bringing him to the phase of utmost subjectivity. The Death, of Cuchulain, Yeats' last drama, written twenty years after The Only Jealousy of leer, shows Yeats as the Prologue, and Cuchulain and his intimates after complete changes in character and, therefore, at the point of reversal. Cuchulain's death brings him into an incarnation on the Solar Wheel, the antithesis of the Lunar Wheel, as explained in Yeats' Vision. The Cuchulain cycle may be interpreted as the changes a hero undergoes in life's progression. Cuchulain is at first an Irish hero and demigod. Later the sun images used to describe him and relate Mm to his divine parent are abandoned. He seems, then, to represent humanity progressing through phases on Yeats' Wheel of Life, both in the Lunar and in the Solar dispensation.


Includes bibliographical references.


vi, 52 pages




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