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Title:Waking the dead: funerary performance, classical appropriation, and gendered embodiment on the early Abbey stage
Author(s):Cooper, Rachel Sinead Price
Director of Research:Robinson, Valleri
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Robinson, Valleri
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Stevens, Andrea; Jordan, Eamonn; Mahaffey, Vicki
Department / Program:Theatre
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Lady Gregory
J.M. Synge
Maud Gonne
Greek tragedy
Sacrificial drama
the Abbey Theatre
Abstract:Funerary performances loom large in the earliest accounts of Ireland and Irishness that come down to us. In colonial Ireland, unregulated wakes and funerary traditions endured in spite of legal and ecclesiastical attempts to police death’s meaning according to the interests of the dominant power structure. By the time Anglo-Irish playwrights re-discovered the mourning practices of the Irish people at the end of the nineteenth century, they had largely been forced into obscurity. William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Lady Augusta Gregory's plays frequently and selectively refer to two such vernacular traditions: the caoineadh and the Irish wake. This study analyzes plays produced by the Abbey theatre during its formative years that intermingle observations of vernacular funerary performances in rural Ireland with ancient Greek precedents. I argue that this intertextual brand of theatrical lamentation frequently constructed gender according to certain bodies' imagined proximity to corporeality. Analyzing the onstage presence, or lack thereof, of the predominantly male "dead" body alongside animate, female characters' performance of mourning makes visible the ways in which these performance texts place women in a bind between asserting themselves as particularized, intending subjects in their own right and characters’ whose actions are circumscribed by a predetermined social role that is bound up in the flesh. The Gregory, Synge, and Yeats plays addressed in the following chapters each stage a funerary scenario where women actors are evaluated as appropriate producers and caretakers of human bodies, both living and dead, in relation to classically endorsed, gendered divisions of labor and embodiment. In contrast, idealized masculinity is achieved through the loss of corporeality. This configuration reiterates a platonic vision of mind-body dualism, which defines human interiority as superior and distinct from human biology. When humans are signified dualistically and the concept of the eternal soul is understood through its binary opposition to the finite body, an asymmetrical relationship emerges that can result in the devaluing of characters aligned with corporeality and physical longevity in comparison to the tragic figure who achieves apotheosis and spiritual survival through premature death. The funerary mode remains a prominent of feature in representations of Irishness today. The Irish obsession with commemorating dead men is perhaps symptomatic of a pervasive cultural tendency to disassociate from human embodiment. This study engages with the status of the flesh when the theatrical trope of masculine death is so frequently reiterated alongside feminine performances of bereavement.
Issue Date:2016-03-14
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Rachel Price Cooper
Date Available in IDEALS:2016-07-07
Date Deposited:2016-05

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