Plays and Players
Before her marriage to Sir William Gregory of Coole Park, Lady Gregory had been Augusta Persse and her home had been Roxborough, a neighboring estate. Another near neighbor was Edward Martyn of Tullira whose distant cousin was George Moore, an established literary figure well-known in Paris cafés and London salons. Moore's home was Moore Hall in county Mayo, but since 1873 he had spent little time there, living instead first in Paris, then in London, where he saw much of Martyn. By 1900 Moore's published work consisted of more than twenty separate books and a number of items that had appeared in fashionable English periodicals. He also had written, alone and with others, a number of plays and librettos. In 1895 a play on which he had collaborated with Mrs. Pearl Craigie, Journey's End in Lovers' Meeting , had been a success of the London theater season. Martyn, who also had written plays, none as yet produced, often talked to Moore about playwriting, showed him his works-in-progress, and even invited his suggestions. One evening in Moore's London flat, during a conversation about the Gaelic League, Martyn confessed that he wished he could write a play in Irish. As Martyn talked, Moore found himself increasingly fascinated by the possibilities of "a new language to enwomb new thought."
Two years later, on one of his frequent visits to Moore, Martyn was accompanied by Yeats. They had come together to show Moore a proposal for an Irish literary theater which Yeats had dictated and Lady Gregory had typed at Coole Park. Lady Gregory's typewriter had be-
longed to Sir Henry Layard, Sir William Gregory's closest friend; it had been given to her but a few months before on her forty-fifth birthday, March 15, 1897, by Sir Henry's widow, Enid. The proposal Martyn showed to Moore was but the first of many items that would have astonished the conservative Sir Henry, a staunch defender of everything English, had he seen the uses to which his old friend's wife had put his prized typing machine. It described a new Irish theater society that every spring would perform in Dublin "certain Celtic and Irish plays" chosen to appeal to "an uncorrupted and imaginative audience" capable of understanding that "Ireland was not the home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment . . . but the home of an ancient idealism." Following the example of the Gaelic League, the organizers appealed to all Irish people for support for a work which was "outside all the political questions" that might divide them. Signed by Yeats, Martyn, and Lady Gregory, it was intended to solicit the support of potential subscribers.
Moore ascertained, as he questioned Martyn and Yeats about their new Irish theater, that in its first year it would not yet "enwomb new thought in a new language," since none of the organizers could speak (let alone write) more than a couple of words of Irish. yeats and Martyn assured him, however, that Irish plays would follow. Lady Gregory was discussing the subject with Douglas Hyde. Not two months earlier at the end of the summer Hyde had joined them at a "Celtic party" at Tullira. Meanwhile, they avowed, there were many other English-speaking Irish like themselves who would provide an audience for a language, a literature, and a theater that reflected their own distinctive voice. For Yeats his meant writing in English "with an indefinable Irish quality"; for Lady Gregory, bringing into such writing a consciousness of the Irish folk tradition; for Martyn, weaving together Irish past and present and viewing the particulars of Irish life from a broader European perspective. Moore responded especially to this last point. He had been trying to educate his ascetic and reclusive "dear Edward" in the ideas of Ibsen, Zola, and the like; in The Heather Field he thought he had seen a spark.
The Irish Literary Theatre was the formal name of what Hyde knew and already had subscribed to as Lady Gregory's "Celtic Theatre." He had promised to provide her with a list of people who might be interested in contributing to such a project. He also had been intrigued with her idea that the flair for drama and ear for dialogue that she had perceived in his poems, prose, and speeches might be used to produce a simple one-act play written in Irish. A series of such plays might serve
one of the league's most important yet most difficult goals: to bring its members into closer contact with native Irish speakers of the Breac-Ghaeltacht, those areas bordering the Gaeltacht where a degree of bilingualism could be found among both English-speaking and Irish-speaking Irish. It also might provide English speakers with insights into aspects of true Gaeltacht life that their stereotypes obscured.
Lady Gregory's eagerness to involve Hyde in the Irish Literary Theatre stemmed in part from her conviction that Hyde had exactly the talent, skills, and knowledge that were needed to add an Irish-language component to its program, in part from the fact that she genuinely liked him. She could not say the same, she confessed, of her neighbor Edward Martyn. The truth is that although Lady Gregory might not have been fond of Martyn, he was more practical—more like herself—than she admitted. His visit to Moore in London, about two months after his Celtic party, had been undertaken for the specific purpose of drawing into the circle now consisting of himself, Yeats, and Lady Gregory a man who, like Hyde, could serve the proposed Irish Literary Theatre in ways that they could not. Both Yeats and Martyn had been involved in theater in only a marginal way. In 1894, at the Avenue Theater in London, Yeats's Land of Heart's Desire had been performed as a curtain raiser, first for Todhunter's Comedy of Sighs and then for Shaw's Arms and the Man . It had "roused no passions," Yeats readily admitted, but it had "pleased a sufficient minority" for it to be kept on stage throughout the period for which it had been booked. Of Martyn's plays, The Heather Field , although not yet produced, had been considered promising by Moore and others. Lady Gregory had had no previous involvement at all in the world of the theater, but she did have good contacts and she knew something about fund-raising. What was required, all agreed, was someone with practical professional theater experience—someone like Moore. By the time their visit was over, Martyn and Yeats had added another subscriber to their list and aroused Moore's skeptical if ambivalent curiosity—in the Gaelic League, as it turned out, as well as in the Irish Literary Theatre.
In the months that followed, the proposal dictated by Yeats, typed by Lady Gregory, and approved by Martyn became their blueprint for the future. Response to their circular letter soliciting subscriptions was prompt and encouraging, but not yet sufficient to support production. Encouraged by Moore's generally favorable reaction both to the idea of the theater and to his own projected part in it, Martyn underwrote a first season in which his Heather Field and Yeats's Countess Cathleen
were offered. The week-long run in the Antient Concert Rooms in Dublin beginning May 8, 1899, was a success, despite problems in production (resolved by Moore) and public protests: Yeats's play was denounced as heretical by some members of the Catholic clergy and hierarchy because in it the countess of the title sells her soul to feed her starving people; Gaelic Leaguers objected to Irish theater produced entirely in English. The important thing was that crowds were at or near capacity all week and reviews reflected the general enthusiasm of the theatergoing public. T. P. Gill, editor of the Daily Express , gave a dinner in honor of the event to which, in addition to Lady Gregory, Martyn, and Yeats, were invited Douglas Hyde, George Moore, John O'Leary, T. W. Rolleston, J. F. Taylor, John Eglinton, william P. O'Brien, Max Beerbohm, and many others. The founders agreed that a second season scheduled to open on February 19, 1900, in Dublin's larger Gaiety Theatre was clearly indicated.
Hyde could not help but be impressed by these developments and a bit sorry that he had been unable to contribute anything to them. Remembering the success of the Irish play that he and Norma Borthwick had attended in the Donegal Gaeltacht in November and the Punch-and-Judy show that they had presented for the workhouse children of Gort in December, he recognized the potential value of theater in Irish. But the phenomenal growth of the Gaelic League was taking all and more of his time. What had started with a single branch in July 1893 and expanded to more than forty branches by the end of 1897 had tripled by the middle of 1899. It was difficult to keep up with just the task of officially commemorating the establishment of new branches, but in addition there were problems that required his attention. A rift was developing between the Coiste Gnótha (the executive committee in Dublin) and some of the larger branches that were insisting upon greater autonomy. There was continual squabbling among members of different Gaeltachts over whose dialect set the standard by which modern Irish might be judged. Publication of printed material for the use, information, and enjoyment of league members had roused related arguments over typeface and orthography. Stung by the testimony of Trinity scholars at the royal commission hearings—that Irish was not a language but an inferior patois lacking in uniformity and consistency—zealous educators were advocating conformity to the "correct" grammar and usage of printed texts, although the founding purpose of the league had been to dignify and promote the spoken word. It was one thing to put what had been said into print, as in the Gaelic League
pamphlets: even now the one about to be issued drew on a speech Hyde had made concerning university education; others scheduled to follow contained the arguments that had been presented on behalf of the language by himself and others before the royal commission. It was another thing, Hyde believed, to make printed texts the authority for "correct" conversational Irish.
Lady Gregory continued to press Hyde on the subject of a little play in Irish—perhaps for the 1900 program. He continued to make his excuses: There was Úbhla de'n Chraoibh , the little book of poems to which he was now putting the finishing touches; there was the continuing task of editing and translating Raftery's songs and poems. There was also, although he said little about it, the matter of Lucy's chronic poor health. Remembering his own experiences with local doctors (including his uncle-by-marriage, Dr. Cuppaidge), Hyde was unwilling to accept their judgment that nothing was the matter with her. He had asked George Sigerson, an old friend and respected Dublin physician, a specialist in neurology, to examine her.
In August of 1900, six months after the Irish Literary Theatre scored its second success (albeit without a play in Irish), Lady Gregory invited Hyde and Lucy to spend a few days at Coole. She had ordered a headstone for Raftery's grave; she needed help in arranging a ceremony that would establish an annual feis in Raftery's honor; she wanted to discuss the Celtic sagas that she had agreed to retell in English for book publication. She also intended to talk again to Hyde about his contributing a play in Irish to the repertoire of the Irish Literary Theatre. There would be but a small house party, she had indicated, in response to Hyde's concern over Lucy, perhaps just the three of them and Willie Yeats. But Hyde knew that at Coole it was never possible to predict just how many would arrive in the morning or sit down together for an evening dinner or come and go unexpectedly in the middle of the afternoon. It was only possible to say that the conversation, whatever its source, would be interesting. The tablets and powders Sigerson had prescribed seemed to be having a good effect. He pressed Lucy to accompany him and was pleased when she agreed.
Early on August 26 the Hydes set out by train for the meeting at Craughwell and the visit to Coole Park. As their carriage reached the familiar road leading to the Coole estate, Douglas identified for Lucy the lanes he had cycled while collecting the poems of Raftery. Along the avenue the carriage passed under arching ilex trees reminiscent of the arching boughs draped with the banner reading "Fáilte " that had
welcomed Hyde and Lucy over seven years ago, when they had arrived in Frenchpark to take up residence in Ratra. He told her of the Seven Woods with their phonetically spelled Irish names: Kyle Na No (caoile na cnó , "nut wood"), Shanwalla (seanbhaile , "old home"), Kyle Dortha (caoile dorcha , "dark wood"), Pairc Na Tarav (pairc na tairbh , "bull field"), Pairc na Carraig (pairc na carraige , "rock field"), Pairc Na Lee (pairc na lao , "calf field"), Inchy (inis taoide , "tidal island"). Then suddenly, as if it had appeared on cue, there was the house itself, its geometric lines contrasting with the curving drive, the arches of ilex, and the unpruned fullness of the beeches. Taking Lucy's hand, Hyde helped her from the carriage. Very elegant she was, as always, in her stylish hat and well-tailored traveling suit that emphasized her slender waist. Like Lady Gregory, Lucy favored black, but the cut and style of her clothing made clear that her choice was based on fashion in dress, not convention in mourning.
Lucy and Hyde found Coole both gracious and charming. Its spacious, airy rooms were fragrant with flowers from the splendid gardens of which Lady Gregory was justly proud. Willie Yeats was there before them. Tall, thin, and nervous with dark, unruly hair, a pale complexion, and an abstracted look in his eyes, he seemed acutely conscious of the fact that he was both resident poet and housepet. Lucy took an instant and permanent dislike to him, which he in his absentminded manner probably did not notice. In any case, as neither had any reason to be concerned with the other beyond polite nods of greeting or parting, her dislike of him hardly mattered. She preferred the small, plump, slightly imperious but unfailingly cordial Lady Gregory. Her house was pleasant; her servants were well-trained and attentive; and the guests who came and went during the next few days were friendly and agreeable. Hyde, immediately at home, plunged into discussions of Irish folklore, principally with Yeats, and of Irish saga, principally with Lady Gregory. When talk turned to matters that did not interest her, Lucy sat outdoors, reading a book, or excused herself and went to her room to lie down. She no longer entered into conversations with the same enthusiasm and self-confidence that had made her such a favorite with Hyde's sister Annette and his Oldfield aunts when they had met her in Killarney. It was better in any case that she not get involved. It was sometimes hard for her to repress the tinge of sarcasm that now often colored her remarks. She had come to resent these Irish members of literary and nationalist organizations who took so much of Douglas's time yet gave so little in return. She often complained to him that he
had allowed himself to be exploited to the detriment of his professional career.
By August 27 Yeats and Hyde had narrowed their subject to one Irish folktale in particular, "Casadh an tSúgáin" (The twisting of the rope), which both admired but each interpreted differently. Yeats had incorporated references to its well-known story (of how the people of a Munster village tricked a Connacht poet bent on seducing a village woman) into his Red Hanrahan poems; Hyde had printed a version of it in verse in his Love Songs of Connacht . By August 28 Yeats had sketched a scenario based on their discussion. Taking Yeats's scribbled notes to his room, Hyde closeted himself for two days, forgoing shooting, conversation, walks of them. Lake in the afternoon of August 29 he put the finishing touches to his manuscript. Then, so tired from this concentrated effort that he confessed to himself that he felt rather ill, he dressed and joined the others for dinner. A bottle of champagne provided by Lady Gregory to celebrate the event helped restore him in both body and spirit. On August 30 and 31, translating into English, Hyde began dictating his play to Lady Gregory, who had offered to make a clean copy of it on Sir Henry Layard's typewriter. That evening Martyn came to dinner and Hyde read him the translation of his play; Martyn was pleased with it. On August 31, Lady Gregory having finished her typing, Hyde returned to his room and wrote part of another play.
Hyde's simple one-act dramatization of the story "The Twisting of the Rope" combined Hyde's and Yeats's differing concepts of the folktale in a comedy first published in the October 1901 issue of Samhain and first produced—together with Diarmuid and Gráinne , a collaboration between Yeats and Moore—on October 21, 1901, in the Gaiety Theatre. Diarmuid and Gráinne was played by Benson's, a company of professional actors. Hyde played the part of Hanrahan in Casadh an tSúgáin . Other roles were performed by members of the Keating branch of the Gaelic League.
Hyde was happy with the results of this first playwriting effort. In his diary for October 21, 1901, he noted that the Keating branch actors had become so personally involved in making the play a success that they had supplied or made their own costumes. He himself, despite his usual frugality, paid four pounds to a man who supplied the scenery. When the curtain rose, he wrote, still filled with the excitement of the event, "we could see nothing, but went gaily through our piece without a trace of nervousness and the audience loved it. The house
was packed to the doors, and they all said that they preferred 'Casadh an tSúgáin' to 'Diarmuid and Gráinne' Reviews were generally excellent. The nationalist papers were wildly enthusiastic. Writing in the United Irishman of October 26, 1901, Frank Fay declared the evening "a memorable one for Dublin and for Ireland." The Irish language had been heard on the stage of its "principal metropolitan theatre"; "A Nation Once Again," Thomas Davis's rousing lyric set to music, had been sung within its walls. In contrast, he wrote of Diarmuid and Gráinne , "the greatest triumph of the authors lies in their having written in English a play in which English actors are intolerable. . . . The stolid English temperament was . . . at variance with what we wanted." It was a message not lost on the organizers of the Irish Literary Theater, soon to be re-formed as the Irish National Dramatic Company and then the Irish National Theatre, who thereafter used only Irish actors. As for Hyde, he was of course delighted with these reviews but what particularly pleased him were the comments on his acting. It had been more than ten years since he had appeared on the stage of the Mosaic Club in The Heir-at-Law and The Liar . He had had good notices then. Now the Freeman's Journal saluted him as "a born actor . . . whose eloquent tenderness to Una threw into strong relief the fierce savagery and scorching contempt with which he turned on Seamus and his friends."
Hyde's Casadh an tSúgáin was an immediate popular success. It drew on the Irish tradition of paying extravagant respect to a poet; it echoed the people's fear of the poet at the bottom of that respect—the same fear later described by Tomás Ó Crohan in The Islandman : "He's a great poet, and maybe he'd make a rann on you that would stick to you forever, if you were to anger him." It invoked the memory of Finn, a popular hero of Irish folklore, with its description of Hanrahan as like "Ossian after the Fenians." In Hanrahan's derisive song about Munster people who "cannot even twist a sugaun," and Seamus's triumphant final line ("Where's Connacht now?"), it played up, to the amusement of its audiences, provincial rivalry and pride. Its artifact from the Gaelic past—the straw rope with which the Munster villagers tricked the Connacht poet—offered an ironic element lost on neither country nor town audiences. The linking of Una's name with that of Helen of Troy ("my fine Helen," Hanrahan calls her) and allusions to the elopement motif in the Ulster tale of Deirdre and Naoise presented Gaelic myth as the equal of that of the Greeks, a comparison Hyde never had failed to make even before he had heard Standish O'Grady's persuasive arguments on the subject.
In the years that followed, Casadh an tSúgáin was frequently presented by both professional and amateur players in the original Irish and in English translation. It was but the first of Hyde's plays, yet it had all the qualities that assured his success as a playwright: his delicate sense of the parameters of language; his ability, evident in childhood, to orchestrate language for maximum effect; its introduction at a time when thousands of leaguers who had progressed through O'Growney's Simple Lessons were eager for Irish plays that they could enjoy and that also could give them the sense that through language they were now truly in touch with their Irish culture. The simplicity of Hyde's plays also encouraged other aspiring playwrights to try their hand at writing skits and one-act plays and eventually full dramas in Irish. Amateur dramatic societies welcomed the chance to perform in such plays, which also became a popular feature of the annual oireachtas .
Meanwhile, noting the direction in which the cultural life of his native country appeared to be moving, George Moore, still living in England, began to take a greater interest in both the Irish Literary Theatre and the Gaelic League. In 1898, moving quickly to avert disaster, he had taken over as director of Martyn's Heather Field , then in rehearsal in London (together with Yeats's Countess Cathleen ) for the Irish Literary Theatre's 1899 Dublin season. After the success of The Heather Field he had spent the summer of 1899 at Coole Park, working with Yeats on a much-needed revision of Martyn's Tale of A Town , scheduled for production in February 1900 in the Literary Theatre's second annual program. To Martyn's dismay, both Yeats and Moore had judged it hopeless in its present state. With Martyn's permission—he insisted only that his name not be used—it appeared as The Bending of the Bough by George Moore. By that time, outraged by the British army's conduct in the Boer Wars, Moore had decided to move to Dublin. He was still fascinated with the idea of a new language to enwomb new thought. Whether or not he could learn Irish himself (he had begun to have his doubts), he would, he avowed, continue to embrace Hyde's concept of a country enriched by its two languages. Giving up his flat in London, he installed himself in a charming house with a very large garden on Dublin's Ely Place, within easy walking distance of Stephen's Green and the Shelbourne Hotel.
Within months of the premiere of Casadh an tSúgáin , Hyde finished his second play in Irish, An Tincéar agus an tSidheóg (The tinker and the fairy), begun on August 31, 1900, when the excitement of having written his first play was too strong to allow him to concentrate on
much else. Based on a folktale, it tells the story of a fairy queen condemned by a jealous rival to old age and death unless she could, in her last hour, persuade a man to kiss her. In a bold move, Moore proposed to turn his beautiful garden for one day into an outdoor theater for the premiere performance of An Tincéar . He would also, he said, host an elegant by-invitation-only reception for more than three hundred guests; review the English translation of the text; suggest substantive revisions on the basis of his reading of the English translation; and direct the production. The purpose of his plan (amusing to some, diabolical to others) was to force recognition of the Irish language by taking it out of the cottages, huts, and hovels of the Gaeltacht and making it the focus of a major event of the Dublin social season.
Delighted with Moore's plan as well as his purpose, Hyde at first looked forward to the event, set for May 19, 1902. It was arranged that Belinda Butler would translate the Irish script into English for Moore to read. Hyde, as agreed, began to rehearse the part of the Tinker; he was joined by Sinéad Ní Fhlannagáin (later the wife of Eamon de Valera) in the role of the Fairy. But as May approached, Hyde began to dread Moore's almost daily letters. At first these contained only suggestions for minor changes in the text and such queries as whether the meter should be preserved in the English translation and if the dialogue might not be lengthened: the sort of thing, Hyde told himself, that one might expect from a man who was first and foremost an experienced and successful writer whose particular interest for many years had been aesthetics. Hyde not only accepted much of Moore's advice but acknowledged that his opinions had merit. He only wished there could be fewer letters. Real difficulties arose when it became obvious that the two men differed in their concept of the Tinker and therefore on the content of the Tinker's final soliloquy. Of the final scene, Moore wrote, "He is abstract humanity, and you can make him say what you like regardless of individual limitations." Hyde was patient with Moore, but he understood his audience. What he needed, he knew, was not an abstraction but a flesh-and-blood tinker. Finally, just as Hyde was running out of patience, peace returned, for details of the reception diverted Moore's attention. Tincéar was performed as scheduled on May 19, 1902, in a much-publicized and highly successful by-invitation-only social event. Play and reception, author and director, were warmly praised. The Tinker and the Fairy were congratulated on their performances. Irish-language theater had come of age in Ireland.
In quick succession, from 1901 to 1905, Hyde wrote the series of
plays that he had conceived as forming the core of a repertoire for Irish-language drama. Each was also available in English; many were printed in both Irish and English in current periodicals. An Pósadh (The marriage) was presented at the Connacht feis in Galway in August 1902, with Hyde in the role of Blind Raftery. The idea for it had come from a tale told to Lady Gregory, about how Raftery had come to a poor cottage where two young people were to be married, and how by his song and laughter he "had made a feast where no feast was." Like Casadh an tSúgáin , the play calls for a country setting (a cabin kitchen) and three main characters plus "the neighbors." An Pósadh , again like Casadh an tSúgáin , focuses on the traditional fame and power of the Gaelic poet, a rich source of story and history familiar in Ireland that owed nothing to English culture. Observing Hyde in the role of Raftery in a Rotunda production in February 1903, the inveterate Dublin theatergoer Joseph Holloway recalled that he "looked the part to the life" and enacted it "capitally," even to the "natural" way in which he ate a boiled egg. (Hyde credited the verisimilitude to the fact that he had gone on stage without having had a chance to eat dinner.)
In late August of 1902 Hyde was again in Coole Park. His diary entry in Irish for August 25, 1902, reads, "They shoved me into my room and I wrote a small play in three or four hours on Angus the Culdee." Entitled An Naomh ar Iarraid (The lost saint), it was published in the 1902 issue of Samhain and performed in early 1903. A first attempt to adapt for popular theater themes and characters from the Irish manuscript tradition, it drew upon Hyde's reading and research in ninth-century monastic Christianity, especially the legends that had been woven around the figure of Aongus Céile Dé (Oengus the Culdee). In Hyde's simple and stirring modern miracle play, a reworking of an incident from the saint's life as recorded in early Irish hagiography, the "holy saintly man" disguised as Cormacín (a "poor-looking, gray old man" who grinds meal and minds ovens) intercedes with God on behalf of a slow-witted student who has been kept at his desk because he was unable to recite correctly a verse from the saint's ancient feilire , or calendar. Admirably suited for performance by children, it adheres to a formula developed by Hyde especially for amateur productions: its simple setting is a country schoolroom, and the action is carried by three main characters (two adults and one child), yet the stage instructions provide the opportunity to include as many "other children" as there are players available. Encouraged by the ease with which An Naomh had almost written itself, Hyde decided that his next subject
would be the Nativity; his source, a medieval miracle play. Although now it seemed that his muse resided in what had become "his room" at Coole, he could not begin it at once. Guests already were arriving for the feis at Raftery's grave that had been scheduled for August 31.
The feis was itself a theatrical production of sorts on which Lady Gregory, assisted by Hyde, had been working for two full years, although this fact was discreetly concealed on the handsome program that contained only the names of the local committee. It was, as it was designed to be, an Irish affair, complete with prizes for Irish singing, dancing, storytelling, and flute playing. Its stated purpose, printed near the top of the program, was "to perpetuate the memory of Raftery, the Connacht poet, and aid the revival of the Irish language." Added at the bottom was the hope that this "little Feis" might "do something to keep alive . . . the language of Patrick, Brendan, and Colman MacDuagh, of Brian Borumha, Owen Ruadh, and Sarsfield, and to drive from our homes the tongue of Henry VIII, Elizabeth, and Cromwell." In the crowd that gathered, in addition to Lady Gregory and Hyde (by now familiar figures in Craughwell), were W. B. Yeats, his brother, Jack B. Yeats, his father, John Butler Yeats, and a stranger—an American lawyer by the name of John Quinn who was making his first trip to Ireland and who was avidly interested in Irish writing, theater, and art. After the program at the graveside these guests of Lady Gregory returned with her to Coole, where Hyde read his play in Irish and John Quinn was invited to add his initials to those which other favorites of Lady Gregory had carved in the bark of the Coole Park beech tree. Eager to return to his playwriting, Hyde was not yet aware of the significance those initials would assume in the lives of everyone present, including himself.
Dráma Breithe Chríosta , Hyde's nativity play, was finished within the month that followed and published in the Christmas, 1902, double number of the Weekly Freeman , accompanied by a translation in English by Lady Gregory. There was trouble about it almost from the start. A 1904 performance scheduled for Christmas had to be cancelled when it became the subject of a resolution passed by priests in Kilkenny, criticizing some questionable passages that they perceived as causing possible confusion between superstition and dogma. Continually refused for six years thereafter, Dráma Breithe Chríosta finally had its premiere at the Abbey Theatre in January 1911, with Sara Allgood as the First Woman, Máire O'Neill as the Second Woman, and Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh as Mary. The Abbey sets were designed by Robert
Gregory, Lady Gregory's son. The production charmed both audiences and reviewers. Other productions followed. For almost a quarter of a century—until the offending passages were blacked out in a school edition of the play printed in 1935—no one took notice of the problem that had troubled the Kilkenny priests.
Hyde's next play, also written at Coole in 1902, was Teach na mBocht (The poorhouse), a short, appealing comedy which Lady Gregory translated as The Poorhouse and later reworked and expanded to produce The Workhouse Ward . It was followed in 1903 by a maverick in Hyde's canon, a sharply satirical bilingual play not unlike the later bilingual satires of Brian O'Nolan (especially those written under his pseudonyms, Myles na gCopaleen and Flann O'Brien). An Pleusgadh na Bulgóide, or The Bursting of the Bubble was clearly intended not for Hyde's usual audiences but for more sophisticated theatergoers familiar with the opposing sides in the continuing battle over education in Irish; its targets were easily identified by them as Mahaffy and Atkinson, the Trinity professors whom Hyde had correctly identified as prime enemies of the Irish language. "Bulgóide," in fact, as the "notes" to Hyde's Irish text point out, is suspiciously similar to "Tríonóide," Irish for "Trinity," and two of the major characters of the play are called Magaffy and Hatkin. Moreover, in their dialogue with the lord lieutenant, Magaffy and Hatkin are given lines that only slightly exaggerate the charges made by their real-life counterparts in their 1899 testimony before the Intermediate Education Commissioners, of the implausibility of identifying Irish as a bona fide language and the vulgarity and obscenity of its literature. The play's Sean Bhean Bhocht, or Poor Old Woman (a traditional symbol of Irish Ireland), whose curse ("that the thing which in this world ye most loathe and dread shall instantly come upon you") forces all the Bulgóide professors to speak Irish, is not the old hag of Yeats's Countess Cathleen (who becomes a beautiful young queen when she wins the pure and devoted love of the young men of Ireland) but the fierce woman of "The Shan Van Vocht," a nineteenth-century ballad that commemorates the rising of 1798.
Hyde's next play, also written in 1903, was based on a folktale account of James II's escape from Ireland in a barrel. Although it was first published in the Christmas 1903 number of the Weekly Freeman and had since been reprinted in both Irish and English, there is no record that Rí Séamus (King James) was ever performed, perhaps because by then Dublin Castle had identified the league as a subversive organization and had begun to keep a file on its activities. Lady
Gregory's The White Cockade , however, a dramatization of the aftermath of the Battle of the Boyne and the cowardly flight of James II, first produced by the Abbey in 1905, contains a central comic scene clearly modeled on Hyde's Rí Séamus in which King James hides in a barrel from the Irish soldiers he has deserted.
In An Cleamhnas (The matchmaking), first published in two parts in December 1903 and January 1904, Hyde returned to the life of the Irish cottager, the subject of his first playwriting successes—but with a difference. Half-serious, half-comic, it takes a sharp, satiric look at the hard bargaining that goes on between a country father, Patrick Ó Malain, and his old crony, Peter Ó Gioblan, over a proposed match between Patrick's daughter, Kate, and Peter's son, young Peter. Kate's own wish, ignored by her father, is that she might marry Diarmuid, a young man who also has the approval of Máire, Kate's mother. Kate gets her wish, but only because of a transparent trick played by Máire that emphasizes how differently things turn out in real life. The same bitterness is evident in Hyde's last play written before 1905, Máistin an Bhéarla (The mastiff of the English language), in which the target is again the Irish educational establishment, this time at the primary-school level, represented by the cruel schoolmaster who beats Irish-speaking children, bullies their parents, and justifies his behavior as merely fulfilling government requirements. Unsuccessful as a play, this diatribe is evidence of how deeply bruised Hyde felt by other events, outside the theater, with which he had been coping between 1900 and 1905.