Wednesday 21 March 2018

127 years on, Yeats's first play to premiere at summer school

Colm Kelpie

SCENES from a never-before-staged play by WB Yeats will be performed for the first time next month.

'Love and Death' -- the writer's first play -- was revealed to the public for the first time this year by Boston College after academics digitised the 127-year-old hand-written manuscript.

The work is written across five notebooks and loose scraps of paper and is peppered with notes.

Betsy McKelvey, Boston College's digital collections librarian, said the manuscript was in good condition, despite its age.

"Of course, one of the things that's so charming about it is you can tell it was a household item, there's calculations and miscellaneous notes written on the back pages, but in terms of its physical stability it's great," Ms McKelvey said.

Yeats wrote 'Love and Death' in 1884 when he was just shy of 20, the same year that he began writing 'Mosada' and 'The Island of Statues', his earliest published plays.

It will be of interest to Yeats' scholars, academics and general fans of the writer, who is perhaps better known for his world-renowned poetry, including 'Easter 1916', which highlights his torn emotions over the failed rising against British rule.

The US university acquired the manuscript in 1993 through the late Michael Yeats, the poet's son and former Fianna Fail senator.

But because of copyright restrictions, lifted only in January, it could not be publicly disseminated until April, when it was digitised.


The plot focuses on a murderous princess who falls in love with an immortal being, which Yeats himself described in the manuscript as a tragedy.

Whether the work rates among the poet's other literary gems remains to be seen. However, already one reader is not overly taken with it.

"The play is somewhat mediocre," said Ms McKelvey.

"But one of our librarians said it is no worse than some of Yeats's earlier plays that were published."

Boston College's Yeats expert, professor Marjorie Howes, will travel to the Yeats International Summer School in Sligo with a graduate student from the university, where scenes from the play will be performed for the first time on August 1.

Professor James Pethica, summer school director, said it was a coup for the school and follows on from another never before staged production last year.

Irish Independent

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