"In dreams begins responsibility:" the role of Irish drama and the Abbey Theatre in the formation of post-colonial Irish identity



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Texas A&M University


This research does not hope to give a finalized portrait of Ireland and its vast and diverse people. Instead, it hopes to add one more piece to the complicated mosaic that is an honest depiction of Irish personal and national identity. Several plays by authors considered to be quintessential Irish nationalists have been read in conjunction with those authors?? biographies and the historical moments in which those plays were created, to offer a multi-faceted perspective to the intersection between art, politics and individual senses of personhood and nation. The final conclusion is that the growth and development of a nation requires that the definition of national identity be in a constant state of performance and revision. Several key conclusions can be drawn from the findings here. First, Irish identity is slippery and elusive. To try to finalize a definition is to stunt the growth of a constantly evolving nation. Secondly, personal and national identity formation cannot be separated into two distinct processes. Due to the unique political situation leading up to Irish independence and the subjugated state of all Irish people, regardless of their class or economic distinction, an individual always exists in relationship to those other members of his or her class, as well as those who define him or her by their differences. Finally, because of this constantly evolving state and this complicated interrelationship between the personal and the public, Irish stage drama bears a unique relationship to Ireland, and to critics seeking to analyze that literature. The multiplicity of the Irish experience demonstrates itself most clearly in the consistent newness of repeated performances of its classic texts. By examining the historical ruptures that resulted from the initial performances of those texts and comparing them to the texts themselves, documents that live outside of history until they are drawn back in by those who seek to reinterpret and re-perform them, researchers can witness the evolution of key ideas of Irish nationalism from their roots in personal experience, through the interpretive machine of the early Abbey audiences, and as they continue to transform in modern presentations.