Places: Deirdre

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1907

First produced: 1906

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Antiquity

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Ireland

*Ireland. DeirdreYeats’s version of the hoary tale must be set in Ireland, as its antagonists are part of the island’s rich mythical tapestry. The wandering musicians, reference to the “invisible king of the air,” and evocation of another old Irish tale add a patina to this product of the Irish Renaissance.

Woodland house

Woodland house. Roughly constructed timber building that is situated in a deep wood. No one’s home, it serves as a resting place, a meeting place, and a place of confrontation and execution. Yeats establishes clearly that the house is royal property firmly controlled by Conchobar’s men, who–dark both in complexion and mission–lurk in the shadows beyond the walls. The view from the windows allows glimpses of those who choose to approach and be seen, but deny any broader perspective, as does the lowering night. Yeats writes that the “landscape beyond suggests silence and loneliness,” and midway through the lighting of torches increases “the sense of solitude and loneliness.” The lovers who had roamed free like birds on the wing have set down and been “limed” as the old stories would have it: snared and placed at the mercy of the hunter. Naisi is specifically netted, “taken like a bird or a fish.” The symbolic nature of the house, and especially of the curtained space in the room’s center, is fully unveiled as Fergus declares upon seeing the dead queen, “What’s this but empty cage and tangled wire. . . .”

BibliographyBushrui, S. B. Yeats’s Verse-Plays: The Revisions, 1900-1910. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1965. The most exhaustive treatment of Deirdre, covering all aspects of its composition and production. Bushrui’s examination of Yeats’s revisions strongly underscores the influence Deirdre continued to exert upon Yeats’s imagination.Jeffares, A. Norman, and A. S. Knowland. A Commentary on the Collected Plays of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Provides detailed production information, including names of various casts of actors, performance dates, and a bibliography of printings of the play. Also includes useful literary background to the dramatis personae taken from analyses of traditional texts.Knowland, A. S. W. B. Yeats, Dramatist of Vision. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1983. An inclusive study of Yeats’s plays, in which one chapter offers an extended textual analysis. Readers might disagree with some of Knowland’s dogmatic judgments, but his steady analysis is generally illuminating.Taylor, Richard. A Reader’s Guide to the Plays of W. B. Yeats. New York: Macmillan, 1984. Introductory essay that glosses the plot, characterization, construction, language, and stage imagery of Deirdre. Analyses of Yeats’s other plays add to a broader knowledge of Yeats’s aesthetic.Ure, Peter. Yeats, the Playwright: A Commentary on Character and Design in the Major Plays. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963. A long, dense chapter on Deirdre engages the play on an intellectual level. Goes considerably beyond a concentration on character and design.
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