The Other Yeats

Today is the birth anniversary of William Butler Yeats. Most people know him as Ireland’s (and possibly the twentieth century’s) greatest poet, but they may not know he also wrote 26 plays. They range from the almost-realistic The Countess Cathleen (1892) to his highly stylized later dramas based on Japanese Noh drama such as At the Hawk’s Well and The Only Jealousy of Emer (1922). His plays were always somewhat stylized; hard not to be when you write verse dramas. We tend to consign those to Shakespeare and Marlowe, but several poet/playwrights undertook them in the modern era, T. S. Eliot and Christopher Fry being the notables beyond Yeats. For me, Yeats will always be a poet first and foremost, but we do him a disservice in forgetting his importance to modern theater.

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