Postcolonial Theory in Irish Drama From 1800 - 2000

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This study demonstrates the practical application of postcolonial theory to Irish drama. It argues that postcolonial tactics must evolve to suit temporal needs, calling for a re-evaluation of writers too easily dismissed or overlooked in earlier generations. Starting with Sheridan’s sister, Alicia LeFanu, around the Act of Union, moving to Dion Boucicault’s comedic melodramas post-famine, then to W.B. Yeats’ romantic Celt mythology plays, on to Brian Friel’s interrogation of nationalisms, and finally to contemporary voices now emerging, analyses of the focus plays and their public reception illustrates why drama, as a communally received literate work, may more powerfully voice postcolonial concerns than the previously privileged novel form.


“Duncan sets out to establish several interrelated points about language and its constitutive powers, about the particular intensity in colonial situations of the struggle over language and, in Ireland’s case, the specific forms of that contest dictated by the weakening and near-loss of the Irish language and the dominance of English…….the project is executed with verve and insight. The readings of LeFanu and of Boucicault are perhaps the more memorable, in part because they are comparatively speaking, unknown. But the coherence of the argument is so well-sustained that the work of all four dramatists illuminate one another….It is in the revelation of the role of language, both in the creation of the stereotype and in the resistance to it, that Duncan’s book achieves its most telling effects. I would recommend it highly. This book touches on so many of the issues that have been theorized in postcolonial studies and yet have not been sufficiently realized in studies of postcolonial texts, that it is doubly welcome as a tonic piece of analysis and as an enrichment of, indeed an inflection of, some of the central tenets of current commentary in this field.” – Seamus Deane, Professor of English and Irish Studies, Notre Dame

“Contrary to conventional viewpoints that Irish drama did not exist before Yeats, Lady Gregory and Synge, [this study] effectively demonstrates the existence of an Irish dramatic tradition ranging across the past two centuries….Her conclusion projects this trajectory into a future where Irish identity will be shaped, in part at least, by writers of the Irish diaspora and by Irish women writers. Employing sociolinguistic and postcolonial perspectives, Professor Duncan writes in clear energetic prose.” – F. C. McGrath, Professor of English, University of Southern Maine

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Foreword; Introduction
1. Alicia LeFanu: A Plea for Equality
2. Dion Boucicault: A Laugh of Rebellion
3. W. B. Yeats: A Chant for Healing
4. Brian Friel: A Call to Question
Bibliography; Index

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