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The Countess Cathleen

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(1892)

Inspired by Irish folklore, first performed in 1899.

"The sorrowful are dumb for thee"
--Lament of Morion Shehone for Miss Mary Bourke


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Countess Cathleen and self-sacrifice

Hello! :) Currently I'm writing a paper about Yeats in the time from the late 1890s until 1920. During my research about a play of his, namely the "Countess Cathleen" I came about an interessting topic/idea, I would like to share. In "The Countess Cathleen" Yeats views the sellf-sacrifice of the eponymous "heroine" as rather useless, I think. First of all, the behaviour of the peseants does not change and they remain dependant on an authoritiy, in this case Cathleen as a mother-figure, who protects them from the "merchants". (Which is in fact another interessting line of thought to follow, when Yeats's view on the middleclass and the idealized peasants is concerned.) Second, the needed help is only a few more days away! Therefore Cathleen's selling her soul becomes futile. This is an important insight, when dealing with Yeats's works and keeping in mind that Ireland was always shaken by violence in her struggle for freedom. A text presenting, imho, the total antagonism to Cathleen is the Irish Airman in "An Irish Airman Forsees His Death". He does not give his life for his countrymen, as he knows: "No likely end could bring them loss/Or leave them happier than before." He also does not sacrifice himself, rather the contrary!! His death is his last deed of self-fulfillment: "Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,/ Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,/ A lonely impulse of delight/ Drove to this tumult in the clouds." I just found this fascinating, but I'mm sure, when searching Yeats Oeuvre, you will come across even more fascinating correlations like this. Enjoy!! :p Greetings, P.

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