Friday, January 26, 2007

Not what they expected

It's the 100th anniversary of the opening of The Playboy of the Western World at the (old) Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Declan Kiberd has a (subs. req'd) account in the Irish Times of contemporary reactions to the play, beyond that of the infamous (and exaggerated) "riots" at the Abbey on the first few nights. For example --

The poet Philip Larkin downed a second gin-and-tonic during the interval of The Playboy at the Oxford Playhouse, decided that it was "all balls", and didn't go back in for the second half.

Anyway, allowing for home bias, the play still surely has relevance with its device of notoriety arising from a claim of murder, and Kiberd explains its more subtle mockery of Celtic hero myths, notably that of CĂșchulainn. Incidentally, Kiberd doesn't pursue a fairly obvious link between one specific aspect of these myths that Synge was making fun of -- the appearance of multitudes of virgins at crucial times for the hero -- and the similar folklore that motivated the 9/11 hijackers. Thankfully, the observance of the anniversary seems more restrained than some other recent festivals (ReJoyce, anyone?) which hopefully will allow a little more time for contemplation of the play's meaning.

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