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1881 Yeats and "The Countess Cathleen".

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Introduction

The statement "censorship was merely formalised by the Censor of Publications Act 1928" is not proved, despite the fact that long before the 1928 Censorship of Publications Act there is sufficient evidence to show that attempts at censorship were occurring in the strongholds of the Roman Catholic Church and in the up and coming socialist political groupings. The United Irishmen and Maud Gonne took it upon themselves to try to censor and were actively supported by the Newspapers and some writers as well as the Church. The United Irishmen, and Arthur Griffith of Sinn Fein (later to be the first President of the Irish Free State), acted as a pressure group mainly focused against the Abbey theatre and the work of W.B. Yeats. Maud Gonne was very clear about her objective when she said "We must subordinate all freedoms till we get our number one aim political freedom", she had obviously given the matter a lot of thought and was prepared to make sacrifices - including freedom of speech, thought and expression. Yeats however disagreed with her view believing that the theatre was a place where poetic licence could and should be used. In 1881, Yeats lived in London where he had founded the Irish Literary Society. During that year he returned to Ireland on a visit. In the course of this visit he asked Maud Gonne to marry him. Although she refused, she begged him for his friendship. ...read more.

Middle

catcalls began when the hero attacked his father - well before the celebrated uproar at Christy Mahon's invocation of Mayo girls arrayed in their "shifts". Cries of "God save Ireland" alternated with "where's the author"? "Bring him out and we'll deal with him" and significantly "Sinn Fein forever". Yeats was in Scotland at the time, trying to improve his precarious finances with a lecture tour. His dazzled host in Aberdeen, Professor Herbert Grierson, remembered his arrival as much as Hazlitt recalled Colridge's: "he began to talk and so far as I know has continued to do so ever since" - and was struck by the fact that his visitor launched straight into the importance of Sinn Fein, the need for a coming fight with the Church, and the power of Synge's new play. Thus it cannot have been entirely unexpected when, after a triumphant lecture, the Grierson household was woken in the small hours of the morning by Lady Gregory's famous telegram telling Yeats of the riot and summoning him to the scene: "Audience broke up in disorder at the word shift". Arriving back in time for the second night, on Monday, 28th January, Yeats noted that "about 40 men who sat in the middle of the pit succeeded in making the play inaudible": he rapidly identified them as Griffith supporters. On Jan 29th he gave the first of many controversial interviews. Sitting beside a more or less silent Synge, he cited the tradition of exaggeration in art and remarked "so far as he could see the people who formed the opposition had no books in their houses". ...read more.

Conclusion

The support of the Dublin Metropolitan Police was unfortunate, especially when they targeted people like Padraic Colum's innocent father as well as the zealot Piaras Beaslai; and Yeats was universally castigated for their intervention (as well as for not speaking Irish, and bearing "a sax ton name"). But with the church staying out of it, he could wrong foot Sinn Fein by appropriating their language ("the country that condescends either to bully or to let itself be bullied soon ceases to have any fine qualities). Griffith's journal, which had for some time been booming the theatre of Ireland at the Abbey's expense, contemptuously attacked the play as "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform ...... the production of a moral degenerate, who has dishonoured the women of Ireland before all Europe". Other opponents included unexpected figures like Dr. Sigerson and Alice Milligan, who attacked Yeats for courting censorship in the interests of self advertisement and Stephen Gwynn, while recognizing the play was not a "social document", worried that it would effectively justify anti - Irish stereotypes. To conclude, as much as there were various attempts at censorship, it never actually prevailed. Despite the various dictatorial societies applying pressure through the media Yeats was still successful in having his plays performed. The evidence points to attempted censorship as opposed to straight censorship. It actually can be argued that Yeats actually wanted censorship for the interests of self advertisement. ...read more.

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