yeats. oedipus

09:47:23:05:08 Page 524 Page 524 23 An Oedipus for our Times? Yeats’s Version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus Fiona Macintosh INTRODUCTION Between 2000 and 2003 numerous stories ran in The New York Times promis- ing a rare theatrical gem––Al Pacino as Oedipus. We learned that the acclaimed actress, Estelle Parsons, then working as director of the Actors’ Studio, was to direct a star-studded cast. Public readings took place in 2001 but there was in the end no full performance. This, however, was never inter- preted as any kind of failure, nor indeed with much disappointment, because we always heard how it was the experience of working on the project that mattered more than any commercial realization: developing this Oedipus was valued ‘for the fun of it, like working out in a gymnasium.’ 1 This piece of ‘luvviedom’ may seem like jetsam on the waves of theatre history. But it gathers in signicance when it emerges that the version chosen for this thespian ‘work-out’ is one that began its life some hundred years pre- viously––Yeats’s Sophocles’ King Oedipus: A Version for the Modern Stage. Although not staged until 1926, and only rst published in 1928, the story of Yeats’s version dates from the rst decade of the twentieth century and it continues to this day. The Yeats version has inspired at least one opera (Harry Partch’s King Oedipus––a Music-Dance Drama [premiered in 1952]); 2 and it provided a potent vehicle for Laurence Olivier’s celebrated tour de force, when he performed in an evening double-bill as Oedipus and Puin 1 The New York Times, 3/2/2000. 2 Partch’s King Oedipus, using the Yeats version as libretto, was rst performed in 1952 at Mill’s College, Oakland. Partch had met Yeats in 1934 in Dublin, when he had already begun planning his opera. It was Yeats’s writing on the union of words and music (e.g. ‘Speaking to the Psaltery’, E&I (1907), 13–27 and more recently, the Preface to the 1928 published text of Yeats’s King Oedipus) that impressed Partch. However, the Yeats estate did not grant Partch permission to release the recording of the 1952 première, and so the 1954 recording used Parch’s reworking of Jebb’s translation instead. For details, see Grove (2001), s.v. Oedipus.

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An Oedipus for our Times? Yeats’s Versionof Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus

Fiona Macintosh


Between 2000 and 2003 numerous stories ran in The New York Times promis-ing a rare theatrical gem––Al Pacino as Oedipus. We learned that theacclaimed actress, Estelle Parsons, then working as director of the Actors’Studio, was to direct a star-studded cast. Public readings took place in 2001but there was in the end no full performance. This, however, was never inter-preted as any kind of failure, nor indeed with much disappointment, becausewe always heard how it was the experience of working on the project thatmattered more than any commercial realization: developing this Oedipus wasvalued ‘for the fun of it, like working out in a gymnasium.’1

This piece of ‘luvviedom’ may seem like jetsam on the waves of theatrehistory. But it gathers in significance when it emerges that the version chosenfor this thespian ‘work-out’ is one that began its life some hundred years pre-viously––Yeats’s Sophocles’ King Oedipus: A Version for the Modern Stage.Although not staged until 1926, and only first published in 1928, the story ofYeats’s version dates from the first decade of the twentieth century and itcontinues to this day. The Yeats version has inspired at least one opera (HarryPartch’s King Oedipus––a Music-Dance Drama [premiered in 1952]);2 and itprovided a potent vehicle for Laurence Olivier’s celebrated tour de force,when he performed in an evening double-bill as Oedipus and Puff in

1 The New York Times, 3/2/2000.2 Partch’s King Oedipus, using the Yeats version as libretto, was first performed in 1952 at

Mill’s College, Oakland. Partch had met Yeats in 1934 in Dublin, when he had already begunplanning his opera. It was Yeats’s writing on the union of words and music (e.g. ‘Speaking to thePsaltery’, E&I (1907), 13–27 and more recently, the Preface to the 1928 published text of Yeats’sKing Oedipus) that impressed Partch. However, the Yeats estate did not grant Partch permissionto release the recording of the 1952 première, and so the 1954 recording used Parch’s reworkingof Jebb’s translation instead. For details, see Grove (2001), s.v. Oedipus.

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Sheridan’s The Critic at the New Theatre in 1945. No less a theatrical triumphwas the internationally renowned film of Oedipus Rex (1956), directed byTyrone Guthrie, which similarly used Yeats’s version (indeed the GuthrieTheatre, Stratford, Ontario still treats Yeats’s text as definitive, as a productionthere in 2005 demonstrates). When Michael Cacoyannis directed OedipusTyrannus in Dublin in 1973, it was again with the Yeats text, which providedhim with his most intensive and productive training ground on which todevelop his theories of Greek tragedy. And the Yeats version remains to thisday the Oedipus of choice for most small-scale theatre companies who lackthe resources to commission a new script.3

Whilst there has been serious work done on the manuscripts of the transla-tion and some work on its inception,4 there has been no previous attempt toaccount for its extraordinarily wide-ranging production history nor its veryconsiderable impact on twentieth-century tragic theory (especially via Fran-cis Fergusson’s seminal Idea of a Theater [1949], which draws upon it exten-sively). Indeed, since translations for the stage are rarely considered to have ashelf life in excess of ten years, this chapter seeks to explain what is unique tothe Yeats translation, over and beyond the obvious claim that Yeats still mat-ters. And this is a point worth pondering because there has only been oneother subsequent Irish version of Oedipus Tyrannus––Derek Mahon’sOedipus (2005). Mahon’s Oedipus is not just a very loose adaptation ofSophocles’ tragedy–– it conflates both the Oedipus Tyrannus and Oedipus atColonus–– it belongs (like Mahon’s Bacchae) to what one might term theparodic line of Irish Greek adaptation (in which one would put, of course,Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, Joyce’s reworkings of myth, andmuch of O’Casey).5 The absence of new ‘serious’ Irish Oedipuses is a notableone, when there have been so many Irish adaptations of ancient plays gener-ally–– there is already need to update the extensive 2002 listing in McDonaldand Walton’s collection of essays, Amid Our Troubles: Irish Versions of GreekTragedy, which with its title’s debt to the Yeats version, itself forms part of thetext’s reception.

In many ways this absence of other Irish Oedipuses is not unrelated to thebroader question of what has happened to the figure of Oedipus post-Freud.

3 In the 1973 production Cacoyannis made a number of changes to Yeats’s text, notablyrestoring many cuts to the choruses with the help of the poet, Richard Murphy. A notable, morerecent, Irish production which used the Yeats text was Gary Hynes’s Druid Theatre Companystaging in Galway in 1987, with Maria Mullen as Oedipus. For full details of the productionsmentioned here, see the APGRD database, edited and maintained by A. Wrigley, at <>.

4 See especially, Clark and McGuire (1989), but also Grab (1972), Dorn (1984), Arkins(1990), Liebregts (1993), Macintosh (1994).

5 For a good analysis of the parodic elements in Mahon’s Bacchae, see Perris (2007).

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After some decades of unparalleled prominence on the stage in the first partof the twentieth century, Oedipus has gone on to experience a new form ofostracism in the last forty or so years: the ignominy of being linked withimperialism, and the repressive and oppressive powers of the bourgeois stateby his anti-Freudian adversaries in France (notably by Deleuze and Guattari(1983) ). If Oedipus continues to enjoy a place in the repertoire, it is oftenonly secured by making him more East End than West End (as in Berkoff’sGreek (1980) ); more representative of a minority than a majority voice (in,say, the post-colonial reworking of Ola Rotimi, The Gods are Not to Blame(1968), or the African-American version of Rita Dove, Darker Face of theEarth (1994) ). Other interesting changes have been the tendency to find inOedipus a more sentient than cerebral man (as in Pasolini’s film, Edipo Re(1967)); or perhaps even to make Oedipus into a woman (as with GaryHynes’s 1997 Druid Theatre Company’s production and the Cambridge Oed-ipus of 2004, directed by Annie Casteldine); or, as with Martha Graham’spioneering ballet, Night Journey (1945), it is by radically rewriting theSophoclean text in order to allow the mother figure, Jocasta, to come centrestage.6

If Oedipus has largely taken to the wings in the second half of the twentiethcentury, it becomes all the more pertinent to ponder the survival of Yeats’stext. By combining close textual evaluation of Yeats’s version together with anaccount of its performance reception and its position within the history ofideas, we will perhaps begin to see how this quintessentially ModernistOedipus, in defiance of the odds, has managed to persist and to endure withina much more cynical postmodern world.


That the Irish national theatre movement from the end of the nineteenthcentury onwards should have had a history that involved Greek drama is notsurprising: the performance history of Greek drama since the 1880s in Britainhad been driven by Irish expertise and enthusiasm. Oscar Wilde claimed,perhaps with only a grain of truth, that he had been involved in the pioneer-ing ancient Greek production of the Agamemnon in 1880 at Balliol College,Oxford.7 Yeats, with rather more veracity, looked back to the play, Helena in

6 For some of these new Oedipuses, see Macintosh (2004) and (2007).7 Ellmann (1987), 101–2. This claim seems, however, unlikely (see Hall and Macintosh

(2005), 452–3).

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Troas by the Irish doctor/playwright, John Todhunter (performed at Heng-ler’s Circus in 1886 in the first Greek-inspired theatre space in London) as aturning point in theatre history.8 When the Abbey Theatre opened, just a fewmonths after the Barker-Vedrenne management took over at the Royal Courtin London in early 1904, the repertoires of both theatres very often ran intandem.9 These two theatres were leading the way in the New Drama in theEnglish-speaking world, and the New Drama was very much allied to theGreeks. The repertoire of the Court included Euripides in Murray’s transla-tions; and very soon it was felt that the repertoire at the Abbey should includeGreek plays, as Synge said, in order to throw light upon their own work.10

Whilst it was understood that in the Abbey’s first season, at least, Irish playsupon Irish themes should provide the subject matter, there was never anysense that the Greek corpus was alien. Yeats had written to Gilbert Murray in1903 about his plans for the ‘Theatre of Beauty’, suggesting an Oedipus beplayed with Murray’s Hippolytus.11 Since the comparative studies by Celticscholars in the last part of the nineteenth century had suggested that thefigures of Irish mythology had their Greek counterparts (Deirdre was theIrish Helen; Cuchulain, both a Heracles and an Achilles), close theatricalassociations in the minds of playwrights and spectators were inevitable. LadyGregory had a serious interest in comparative folklore, to which she intro-duced Yeats; and Synge had actually attended lectures by the leading authorityon Celticism, Henri d’Arbois de Jubainville at the Collège de France in Paris,where the connections made between the Celts and the Greeks were system-atic and thorough.12 But it wasn’t just the content of Greek tragedies that wasof interest; as with the 1880s revivals, it was their form that made themimportant models for the Abbey playwrights. Just as the Symbolists in Parishad turned to Greek tragedy, especially the plays of Aeschylus, in order to findways of conveying other layers of consciousness, so now Greek drama was toprovide a way of exploring alternatives to theatrical naturalism.

By the end of the first year, there were political reasons too for stagingSophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus in particular. In 1904 Sir Herbert BeerbohmTree–– inspired by Mounet-Sully’s performance with the Comédie Fran-çaise––was unsuccessful in his attempt to secure a licence from the LordChamberlain to stage the play in London. Tree’s informal inquiry led to a

8 Yeats (1989), 36. Yeats did not actually see the production, but he was correct about itsimportance. See Hall and Macintosh (2005), 458 f.

9 Indeed the Court has even been dubbed London’s outpost for the Abbey by Ben Levitas in arecent (unpublished) paper at a conference at the National Portrait Gallery in June 2005.

10 Synge to Lady Gregory, 13 December 1906 in Saddlemyer (1982), 178.11 Letter to Murray, 17 March 1903 cited in Clark and McGuire (1989), 6.12 Kiberd (1993), 32–3.

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number of attempts to stage the play. First and most significantly, Yeats seizedthe opportunity to use the ban as a means of putting the Abbey Theatre inDublin on the theatrical map of the English-speaking world when it openedat the end of the year. The Lord Chamberlain’s Office had no jurisdiction inDublin; Ireland now had a chance to expose English philistinism for what itwas. When Yeats announced the establishment of the Abbey Theatre in 1904,he added:

Oedipus the King is forbidden in London. A censorship created in the eighteenthcentury by Walpole, because somebody has [sic] written against election bribery, hasbeen distorted by a puritanism which is not the less an English invention for being apretended hatred of vice and a real hatred of intellect. Nothing has suffered so manypersecutions as the intellect, though it is never persecuted under its own name.13

The banning of Sophocles’ tragedy in England now enabled the Irish to sidewith the Greeks as champion of the intellect against the English/Romantyrant.

In late 1904 and early 1905, Yeats seems to be attempting to commissionboth Gilbert Murray and Oliver St John Gogarty for a translation ofSophocles’ play. Murray was working on Euripides at the time and had beensince the late 1890s; he found Sophocles conventional in comparison. He haddeep misgivings, in particular, about Sophocles’ handling of the incest themein the Oedipus Tyrannus. He wrote to Yeats, declining his invitation on thegrounds that the play was ‘English-French-German . . . all construction andno spirit’ with ‘nothing Irish about it’.14

Gogarty, however, seems to have begun a translation, although Yeats wasprivately concerned about the archaizing touches–– the ‘thees’ and ‘thous’.15

Even though he had solicited Murray, whose translations used poeticizingarchaisms in abundance, Yeats was looking for a contemporary, speakable textfrom the outset. In 1906, Yeats got his friend, William Magee, who wroteunder the pseudonym John Eglinton and who was a classics graduate fromTrinity, to produce a version. Again, Yeats was worried about the style––this time it was too ‘elaborate’ for him.16 Magee’s text, along with RobertGregory’s translation of Antigone, was being regularly reviewed at this timeby the Abbey directorate, and both plays were intended for production earlyin 1907. In the event, however, it was only the Abbey’s parodic Oedipus,Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, that opened on 26 January 1907.

Later that year on 29 October, Yeats joined other prominent opponents of

13 Yeats (1962), 131–2.14 Murray to Yeats, 27 Jan. 1905 in Finneran, Harper, and Murphy (1977), i.145 f.15 Clark and McGuire (1989), 10. 16 Ibid. 11.

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the British Censor including Granville Barker, Bernard Shaw, Synge, andMurray, as a co-signatory to a letter to The Times, in which they highlightedthe absurdities of the system of theatre censorship. However, Sophocles’Oedipus Tyrannus was not just invoked in relation to the censorship debate atthis time. It also became embroiled in a wider public debate concerningconsanguineous sexual relations, which culminated in the passing of ThePunishment of Incest Act (1908). Prior to 1908––with the exception of theinterregnum years, and in marked contrast to Scotland where incest had beena crime since 1567–– incest in England and Wales had been dealt with by theecclesiastical courts, despite numerous attempts to make it a criminal offence.When a Joint Select Committee of the House of Lords and the House ofCommons was set up to investigate the state of theatre censorship in Britain,the anxieties concerning incest and the opposition to the Lord Chamberlain’sOffice came together in the discussions of Sophocles’ proscribed play.17

From 1907 to 1910, two actors were lined up for the lead role at theAbbey––first in 1907, Ben Iden Payne (already associated with Greek plays inLondon and shortly in Manchester as well);18 and then late in 1909, MurrayCarson was billed to appear as Oedipus in February 1910. Detailed discussionof the set took place at this time: first, concerning the use of Gordon Craig’sscreens, which Craig himself vetoed on the grounds that more practice wouldbe needed before they were used in production; and then plans were drawnup to remove the front rows of the stalls to accommodate the chorus.19 All ofthis activity at the Abbey was played out against a similarly frenetic series ofattempts to stage the same play in London. Finally in November 1910Murray’s translation was granted a licence for performance in England. This,however, did not draw a halt to Yeats’s plans for an Oedipus at the Abbey(indeed the prospect of a tour now made it in some ways more of an option,despite Yeats’s concerns about the quality of the acting). In 1911, Yeats beganworking with Nugent Monck on the Oedipus; and in the summer, he beganmaking cuts to Jebb’s translation by himself. That it was Jebb’s text he usedwas not surprising: it was Jebb’s translation that had provided the paralleltext for the Cambridge Greek Play production of Oedipus Tyrannus in 1887;and it was available in a convenient edition for the Abbey actors to workwith. The quality and clarity of Jebb’s commentary would also have been ofgenuine value to Yeats as he worked on the translation. Finally, Yeats nodoubt felt some natural affinity with Jebb, who was also a Dubliner; and a

17 For further discussion, see Hall and Macintosh (2005), 534–8.18 Payne went on to join Annie Horniman’s company at the Gaiety Theatre, Manchester, the

first repertory theatre in England, where he staged a number of Greek plays.19 Clark and McGuire (1989), 16–7.

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close look at Yeats’s translation shows that the affinity manifests itselflexically too.20

When Max Reinhardt’s celebrated Oedipus Rex of 1910 was staged atCovent Garden in January 1912 in Murray’s translation, Yeats continued withhis own plans and his work on Jebb’s text; and one of Monck’s friends fromNorwich, Dr Rex Rynd, who was over in Dublin, helped him with the Greektogether with a young Greek scholar named Charles Power. Yeats saw theLondon production and thought it was ‘wonderful’.21 But this again did notdeter him because his project was, after all, very different in conception: histext was to be sparse, whilst Murray’s was languid and beautiful. Shortly afterthis, it seems, the Abbey project was abandoned. Clark and McGuire mentionsome rivalry over the lead role; but they don’t identify any one particularreason for this change of heart.

There is no mention of an Abbey Oedipus after 18 March 1912, when Yeatswrote to Monck of the possibility of rehearsals starting in May. It seemscertain, however, that the May tour of Reinhardt’s Oedipus Rex to Dublin’sRoyal Theatre scotched the Abbey project. Yeats, together with Lady Gregoryand Mahaffy, was among the dignitaries on the first night.22 Dublin had nowhad its Oedipus, albeit in Murray’s Alma-Tadema-esque translation and inReinhardt’s Nietzschean-inspired production; and 1912 was patently not thetime to mount a ‘speakable’ Oedipus in the narrow confines of the Abbey,where the Dionysiac collective would be well and truly marginalized in theorchestral pit, leaving the Apolline figures to tower over them on the tinystage above.

THE 1920s TEXT

By 1912, then, Yeats had made changes to Jebb’s text both in terms of itslength and its style. He had done little with the odes, except having set theminto rough, unrhymed verse; but they were by no means finished. In the early30s he famously said it was his wife, George, who discovered his text and

20 Ibid. 18 contra Grab (1972). A second edition of the Cambridge Greek Play with Jebb’sprose translation (with verse translations of the odes by Verrall set to music by Stanford)appeared in 1912. For a discussion of the pioneering nature of Jebb’s translation and commen-tary, see Easterling (2005).

21 Yeats to Lady Gregory, postmark 31 Jan. 1912 cited in Clark and McGuire (1989), 33. Foran account of the Reinhardt production, see Hall and Macintosh (2005), 522–54.

22 Era, 18/5/12 in the Martin Harvey Papers, Theatre Museum, London.

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suggested he work on it again.23 In some ways, this is misleading because themythological figure of Oedipus had become increasingly important to Yeatsduring the course of the 20s. As Bernard O’Donoghue has pointed out, Yeats’stheatrical activity was secondary in many ways to his prose in the 20s––espe-cially to his work, A Vision which first appeared in 1925 and later, muchrevised, in 1937.24 Oedipus enjoys a central role in the second edition of AVision, acting as a kind of counterweight to the figure of Christ:

Oedipus lay upon the earth at the middle point between four sacred objects, was therewashed as the dead are washed, and thereupon passed with Theseus to the wood’sheart until amidst the sound of thunder earth opened, ‘riven by love’, and he sankdown soul and body into the earth. I would have him balance Christ who, crucifiedstanding up, went into the abstract sky soul and body . . .25

These parallels between the pagan and Christian worlds were being workedout by Yeats literally during the mid 20s during the composition of his Diony-siac/Christian play, The Resurrection, which he worked on at the same time ashe revised Sophocles’ King Oedipus. If Oedipus is elevated by Yeats to the levelof Christ in the second version of The Vision because of the manner of hisdeath––horizontal rather than vertical, in the ground rather than in the sky––his privileging of Oedipus in general is also due to the manner of his leavingThebes. In Yeats’s version of the Oedipus Tyrannus we find precisely whatYeats designates the ‘heroic act’:

. . . an act done because a man is himself, because, being himself, he can ask of othermen but room among remembered tragedies; a sacrifice of himself to himself almost. . . So lonely is that ancient act, so great the pathos of its joy.26

The imprint of Lewis Farnell’s Greek Hero Cults and Ideals of Immortality(1921) can be felt here in Yeats’s claim that by ‘being himself’ the hero ‘can askof other men but room among remembered tragedies’–– in other words, gain‘room’ as a hero among heroes as he attains cult status.27 And when Yeats goeson to describe this elevation to heroic status as ‘a sacrifice of himself tohimself almost’, we detect the much longer-standing influence of theCambridge ritualists on his work––notably Jane Harrison’s Themis (1912),

23 First broadcast on BBC Radio Belfast immediately before the play was broadcast on8 September 1931, published in Irish Weekly and Ulster Examiner, 12 Sept. 1931, cited in Clarkand McGuire (1989), 4 f.

24 O’Donoghue (2006), 110. 25 Yeats (1937), 27.26 Yeats (1966), 569–70. See Dorn (1984), 63–82 for connections between Oedipus the King

and The Resurrection27 Liebregts (1993), 367.

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and especially Murray’s appended ‘Excursus’, in which the ancient rite of theYear Daemon is held to be the controlling tragic principle.

Blindness was always a source of true wisdom for Yeats–– the blind poet,Anthony Raftery appears in his work from the 1890s. Now Oedipus’ blindnessis a mark that he has acknowledged, in true wisdom, the limits of humanknowledge:

Those men that in their writing are most wiseOwn nothing but their blind, stupified hearts.28

And in A Vision (1937) Yeats writes of the importance of Oedipus’ mind:

[He] knew nothing but his mind, and yet because he spoke that mind fate possessedit and kingdoms changed according to his blessing and his cursing.29

As a truly cerebral figure (‘[he] knew nothing but his mind’), and equallyimportantly one who ‘speaks his mind’ and changes kingdoms in the process,Yeats cannot but admire and identify intensely with the Oedipus of theColonus. Indeed in his rage against his sons, Oedipus becomes a powerfulpersona for Yeats during the turbulent 20s, when he too raged againstdevelopments in the public arena in the newly independent state. The ambi-guity of Oedipus––both sinner and saint, swordsman and saint, hunter andhunted––make him the perfect exemplar of the Yeatsian antithesis of maskand anti-mask.30

If Yeats begins to define his public self in the 20s with the assistance of themask of Oedipus, he was aware of other exciting parallel attempts to do thesame in Paris. Indeed, on 19 February 1928 he writes to his wife about EzraPound’s assistance to Cocteau with the 1927 revival of his version of Antigone.He suggests that Cocteau’s Antigone would be a perfect third play in a trilogyat the Abbey to accompany his two Oedipus versions.31 What is significantabout the Cocteau Antigone (1923) and the Cocteau Oedipus (not LaMachine Infernale of 1934 but the libretto for Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex(1927) which was subsequently performed as a play in 1937) is that they wereboth very condensed texts. It was Cocteau’s pared down Antigone whichattracted Stravinsky, and which led him to invite Cocteau to write the Frenchversion of the libretto for his opera (this was subsequently translatedinto Latin by Jean Daniélou).32 This is not to say that Yeats was consciously

28 Yeats (1957), 370. 29 Yeats (1937), 28.30 For the duality of Oedipus and its importance to Yeats, see Arkins (1990), 127. Liebregts

(1993), 369–71.31 Clark and McGuire (1989), 14 n. 29. Yeats’s OC dates from Dec. 1926; for the 1927

première, see below pp. 533–4.32 For details of Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex, see Walsh (1999).

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following Cocteau’s example––on the contrary, both he and Nugent Monckhad been determined from the outset to make cuts to Jebb’s translation; andYeats (in direct imitation of Pater) had advocated condensation and contrac-tion as early as 1899 in ‘The Autumn of the Body’.33 Instead, Yeats’s highModernist aesthetic at this time, as was the case for Cocteau in France,demands a highly concentrated and streamlined text: one in which the form isso rigid that nothing is allowed to escape its sharply defined, angular con-tours. As Yeats pointed out, a ‘Greek play, unlike a Shakespearian play, is theexposition of one idea; in the case of King Oedipus, fate closing in upon oneman.’34 In 1926 the cuts he makes are even more marked, in line with this leanhigh Modernist aesthetic: ‘I want to be less literal and more dramatic andmodern . . . bare, hard and natural like a saga.’35

When the King Oedipus opened in 1926, it played for one and a half hours,against a set by the director Lennox Robinson, with two Craig-inspired squarepillars and curtains (see Figure 23.1). The chorus of five men sang their odesto music by Dr J. F. Larchet from the orchestral pit, whilst the leader (playedby J. Stevenson) appeared on stage with the actors. Like Shaw before him,Yeats claimed that he felt that he only understood a Greek chorus after he hadattended a Salvation Army meeting in Dublin; and his chorus, unable todance, sang like liturgical singers and enabled audiences to ‘sit back, and relax. . . [their] strained attention . . . our attention is no longer concentrated upona single spot, a single man’.36 When we look at the 1928 published text insome detail, the effects of this division between chorus, leader, and Oedipuscan be noted absolutely. But as Dorn and Grab have pointed out, the majoreffect of the staging was to enhance the Yeatsian conception of the hero as oneembarked upon a tragic path, in which ‘so lonely is that ancient act, so greatthe pathos of its joy.’37


Following the première in 1926, there were further revisions, all workingtowards cutting away any remaining slack in the text. By the time of the 1927revival (when it appeared with Oedipus at Colonus), Lady Gregory had

33 Watson (2006), 48. 34 Yeats (1987), 197.35 Yeats to Olivia Shakespear, 7/12/1926 in Foster (2003), 338.36 Yeats (1987), 197. Cf. Yeats’s comments in the Preface to the play (1928), repr. Clark and

McGuire (1989), p. 104: ‘The main purpose of the chorus is to preserve the mood while it reststhe mind by change and attention.’ For Shaw, see Preface to Major Barbara.

37 Grab (1972), Dorn (1984), Yeats (1966), 570.

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worked with Yeats (with the aid of Paul Masqueray’s 1922 French translation)to give ‘more direct speech and better sound’.38 As Yeats commented, happilyacknowledging Augusta Gregory’s role, ‘with your help I have made theEdipus a masterpiece of English prose.’39 When we turn to the published text,we find (in the words of Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch, who worked on it for anumber of years for their production in Stratford, Ontario in the 50s): ‘a veryaristocratic, but austere and uncompromising document, it treads barefootover steep sharp rocks.’40

However, for all its lapidary quality, Yeats’s version is also lithe and supplelike a well-tuned athlete; capable of flexibility as well as taut muscular con-traction. The sense of movement comes about in large measure because of thebrevity of the sentences (where Jebb will use a subordinating clause, Yeats willfavour a new sentence). Consider this example, which contains that well-known phrase ‘amid our troubles’. It occurs in the scene with Creon, whenOedipus asks why nothing was done to find Laius’ killers immediately. Creonreplies in the Yeats version:

Such things were indeed guessed at, but Laius once dead no avenger arose. We wereamid our troubles.

Fig. 23.1. Set for the 1926 Abbey Theatre production of Yeats’s King Oedipus, fromTheatre Arts Monthly, March 1927, 216.

38 Lady Gregory’s journal entry for 2 Feb. 1927 in Clark and McGuire (1989), 37.39 Reported in Lady Gregory’s journal, 11 Feb. 1927 in Clark and McGuire (1989), 38.40 Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch (1955), 120.

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[Cf. Jebb: Such things were surmised; but Laius once slain, amid our troubles, noavenger rose.]41

We see here one important way in which Yeats works. By shortening sen-tences, and avoiding hypotaxis, he alters the pace and direction of theexchange: the trajectory of Jebb’s sentence (and the long breath that it wouldrequire of an actor) is broken by Yeats into smaller units, as he translatesJebb’s line into what is roughly a trimeter, a tetrameter, and a concludingtrimeter. As Vendler points out, Yeats’s adoption of the half-epic hexameterline in his poetry ‘became one of his most powerful poetic symbols of anatural Irish aristocracy’; and with the trimeters comes pace.42 Even in Yeats’sprose, it seems, the line is working in rhythmically analogous ways to hispoetry; and it is undoubtedly this regular loose trimeter substructure thatmakes this prose translation feel so poetic. But the major change effected byYeats in this sentence is, of course, the change in emphasis, which shifts Jebb’ssubordinating clause to the end of the speech. Without this simple alteration,the phrase ‘amid our troubles’––now in a sentence on its own and resonantnot only because of its topicality but also because of its new positioning––would never have gained prominence.

Another reason why Yeats’s text feels lean, fit, and active in comparisonwith Jebb’s is because it is verb-based. Often Yeats takes a noun clause fromJebb and turns it into a verb clause. A simple but effective verb-based sentenceappears in the scene between Creon and Oedipus:

King Laius was our king before you came to pilot us

[Cf. Jebb’s: Laius, king (onax), was lord (hegemon) of our land before thou wast pilot(apeuthynein).]43

By removing the honorific title from Creon’s address to Oedipus, and bymaking the noun clause into a verb clause (‘you came to pilot us’), Yeats hasmanaged to confer upon his Oedipus an increased sense of purpose anddynamism.

Sometimes the latent performability of the text comes about from Yeats’suse of a single arresting verb, as when the Priest announces that:

. . . the city stumbles towards death, hardly able to raise up its head.

41 Yeats (1952), 478; Jebb (2004), 29; OCT 126–7 (my emphases).42 Vendler (2006), 79. The Athenaeum, 26/4/1884, 531–2 considered Jebb’s translation ‘clear,

racy, idiomatic’. For comment on how Jebb would have reacted to this extraordinary claim, seeEasterling (2005), 31.

43 Yeats (1952), 477; Jebb (2004), 25; OCT 103–4 (my emphases).

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[Cf. Jebb’s: For the city, as thou thyself seest, is now too sorely vexed (saleuei), and canno more lift her head from beneath the angry waves of death].44

Yeats has contracted a complex nexus of images in Sophocles, which combineemotional and physical turmoil and drowning in the sea, into a single land-based image which achieves speakability and cries out for performance: thesuppliants are almost urged to embody the drooping, dying city as they enactits faltering gait. A similarly effective condensation and reordering of Jebb’stext appears in the Priest’s appeal to Oedipus for his assistance:

. . . whether you find it by your power as a man, or because, being near the gods, aGod has whispered you.

[Cf. Jebb: . . . whether by the whisper of a god thou knowest it, or haply as in the powerof man.]45

What Yeats has done here is to convert ‘the whisper of a god’ into the moreactive ‘a God has whispered you’ (note too the perfect elision of the prep-osition ‘to’, which allows the sibilance of the line to echo to the end uninter-rupted). As with the previous example, the important part of Yeats’s sentenceis reserved for the end, for emphasis. Although these examples come from thefirst part of the play, the sense of movement and action persists throughoutYeats’s text and is very often a result of his putting the verbs to the test.

Another very important feature of Yeats’s style, and one that has undoubt-edly contributed to its durability, is the combination of a lack of specificity ingeneral, together with an occasional specificity at particular points in the text,which serves to make the text very concrete and immediate. As Guthrie andMoiseiwitch so readily relished and exploited, Yeats’s version is set in neitherThebes nor Dublin; we are nowhere in particular, and this enabled them totransport Oedipus into a mythopoeic sphere absolutely. But alongside thissense of being everywhere and nowhere in particular is the kind of detail thatGuthrie and Moiseiwitch imply in their description of a text that ‘treadsbarefoot over steep sharp rocks’.

One such specificity is almost Homeric in its effect: when Jocasta tellsOedipus of Laius’ binding of their child’s feet, she says he ‘had it thrown bysure hands upon a trackless mountain.’ The ‘sure hands’ calls to mind thefossilized Homeric epithet and replaces Jebb’s literal translation of Sophocles’text ‘by others’ hands’ (allon chersin).46 The Homeric echo is, perhaps, not

44 Yeats (1952), 475; Jebb (2004), 15; OCT 22–23 (my emphasis).45 Yeats (1952), 476; Jebb (2004), 17; OCT 42–3 (my emphasis).46 Yeats (1952), 495; Jebb (2004), 101; OCT 719. On specificity in Homeric simile, see Silk

(2004), 61–9.

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surprising given Yeats’s deep admiration for Lady Gregory’s Cuchulain ofMuirthemne (1902), with its own evident, though probably unconscious,debt to Lang, Leaf, and Myers’s translation of the Iliad.47 As with the Homericepithet, Yeats’s adjective conveys seemingly redundant detail. Yet those ‘surehands’ by their very specificity draw attention to themselves and invite mul-tiple meanings: first the sense of parents’, and especially a mother’s, shockingindifference to the act of abandoning their child; but also, because of thedramatic irony here, the realization that these hands are both ‘sure’ (becausethey convey the baby to another pair of hands rather than abandon it) and‘not sure’ because that other pair of hands will lead the child ultimately to hisdownfall.

Jebb’s frequent adoption of the term ‘mouth’ in this middle part of the playis readily borrowed by Yeats;48 and is taken further by him when Jocasta is onher way to leave offerings on Apollo’s altar she tells us that Oedipus

is at the mercy of every mouth that speaks terror.

[Cf. Jebb’s: . . . is at the will of the speaker, if he speaks terrors].49

As Jebb’s literal translation is replaced by Yeats’s surprising, but verypowerful, metonymical substitution of the source of the sound for its subject,we have another example of how Yeats makes his text vivid, even graphic here,almost conjuring to the mind’s eye and into the Theban context the subject ofEdvard Munch’s Scream (1893). It would seem that a prominent feature ofJebb’s style in general has led to this sharply delineated image of an off-stagehaunted Oedipus at this precise point in Yeats’s text.

The power and resonance in Yeats’s version come frequently, as in hispoetry, from effective use of repetition and echo, and very often repetition ofthe verbs; and this undoubtedly brings a sense of formal patterning, almostincantatory in effect on occasions, to his prose as well as to his verse. Thefamous alliterative Yeatsian interpolation in the parodos is representative inthis respect: ‘For death is all the Fashion now, till even Death be dead.’50 Butthe ritual potential in Yeats’s play is not confined to his odes alone. Listen tooto the final words of Oedipus’ tirade against Tiresias:

Were you not an old man, you had already learnt how bold you are and learnt it toyour cost!51

Oedipus’ hauteur is caught here in the ‘aristocratic’ six-syllable units with

47 Lang, Leaf, and Myers (1889). 48 Cf. Jebb (2004), 89, 113, 129.49 Yeats (1952), 500; Jebb (2004), 125; OCT 917.50 Yeats (1952), 480. On repetition in the poetry generally, see P. McDonald (2002), 35–50.51 Ibid. 486.

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their echoing verb (‘Were you not an old man, you had already learnt . . . andlearnt it to your cost’) which frame the third implied ‘trimeter’ with its silentthird foot (‘how bold you are’) that is hammered home in his vehemence. ButOedipus’ ire is no match for Tiresias’ rhetorical skill; he too knows how tomake verbal repetition work; and as the ending of his counterblast so amplydemonstrates, he does so with a sleight of hand that Oedipus can’t match:

. . . for no one of living men shall be crushed as you will be crushed.52

The major change effected by Yeats to Sophocles’ and in turn to Jebb’s text, asDorn and Grab have pointed out,53 is to isolate Oedipus from his Thebancontext altogether. This was dictated in part by the con-fines of the Abbey stage, which meant that the chorus of five were down in thepit and only the Leader remained on stage. However, the fact that this limitworked in accordance with Yeats’s conception of Oedipus is more than evi-dent from the text itself. This is an Oedipus who commands the stage throughself-referential language––a language that is deictic, gestural, and highly per-formative. Yeats’s Oedipus uses the first person where Sophocles generalizes:‘You are minded to betray me and Thebes?’ (cf. Jebb ‘. . . art minded to betrayus (hemas) and to destroy the state’).54 Like Yeats’s Cuchulain, Oedipuspronounces himself hero of men from the outset:

How can I being the man I am, being King Oedipus, do other than all I know?55

This is pure Yeats not least with its strict framing six-syllable units (‘How canI being the man . . . do other than all I know?) and its centrally important andmetrically irregular octosyllabic unit (‘I am, being King Oedipus’). But it isalso more literally ‘pure’ Yeats as interpolation, with its insistance upon thehero’s accession to heroic status in his first speech in the play. When Yeats’sPriest goes on to describe Oedipus as ‘being near the gods’ (another decidedlynon-Sophoclean interpolation) the hero’s special status is being amplified yetagain.

Whilst Yeats’s choral odes are generally detached from the previousepisodes––cuts are made to any reference (often in the Sophoclean epode) toevents in the previous scene56 ––when the chorus do refer to Oedipus, andthey do so indirectly in the third and fourth stasima, their comments serve to

52 Ibid. 486 (my emphases). 53 Grab (1972), Dorn (1984).54 Yeats (1952), 483; Jebb (2004), 55; OCT 331. For third-person address in tragedy and Irish

tragedy generally, see Macintosh (1994), 105–25.55 Yeats (1952), 475.56 e.g. in the first stasimon, the reference to Oedipus is omitted; and at the end of the third,

the reference to Laius is similarly absent,

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enhance his heroic status. Yeats introduces ‘an ambitious man’ intoSophocles’ generalizing comments about civic life:

Yet an ambitious man may lift up a whole StateAnd in his death be blessed, in his life fortunate.57

And in his fourth, very truncated stasimon, he interpolates:

A famous man, deep-thoughted, and his body strong,Be honoured in dance and song.58

With the wonderfully Yeatsian (almost Hopkinsian) compound ‘deep-thoughted’, combined with the ‘body strong’, (note again the hexameter andthe trimeter), the chorus bring absolutely into their midst a physically force-ful, theatrically real, and intensely cerebral hero. This is Oedipus as mind andbody; saint and swordsman. We have therefore a magnification of Knox’sSophoclean hero–– intransigent, yes; monomaniacal and elevated beyondmere mortal status from the outset. This is not an Oedipus who regrets hislife: no Yeatsian hero could, and so the Chorus, instead of Oedipus, are giventhe line in the kommos: ‘It had indeed been better if that herdsman had nevertaken your feet out of the spancel or brought you back to life.’59


But how did this version work in theatres beyond the Abbey, theatres wherethere was no need for the chorus to be reduced to five members and to beconfined to the orchestra pit? We have seen how its deictic, gestural languageand its muscular syntax cry out for performance. Additionally, it is importantto stress how the very bareness of the text has enabled actors to work upon it:as the metaphor of the text as a ‘workout’ from The New York Times, withwhich I began the chapter, implies. One very good example of this potential-ity inherent in the pared-down script is the cry of recognition in Yeats’sversion. Yeats takes his cue from Jebb and translates the Greek as ‘O! O!’; butJebb had included the exclamatory spelling of ‘oh!’ with the ‘h’ (compare theWatling translation, ‘Oh God’).60 Simple as this difference between Yeats andJebb is, in practice it makes a very big difference. By omitting the ‘h’, Yeats isimplying pure sound: an open, hollow, primal scream rather than a desperate

57 Yeats (1952), 499. 58 Ibid. 506. 59 Ibid. 514, Knox (1964).60 Ibid. 510.

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cri de coeur of any potentially self-pitying kind. Yeats makes very extensivecuts to the kommos at the end of the play because his Oedipus must not showself-pity or be pitied on any account.

This magnificent potentiality of the Yeatsian ‘O, O!’ was precisely whatLaurence Olivier appreciated when he took the part in 1945 at the NewTheatre, under the direction of Michel Saint-Denis. Olivier gave a consum-mate performance as the lonely hero pushed beyond the bounds of normalhuman endurance. When Olivier’s Oedipus discovered the truth about him-self, he emitted his (now famous) primal scream (in direct imitation, we aretold, of the wailing of ermine entrapped by the barbarous practices of hunts-men). He says:

After going though all the vowel sounds, I hit upon ‘Er’. This felt more agonised andthe originality of it made the audience a ready partner in this feeling.61

This cry has gone down in the annals of British theatre history and it is nodoubt the sparseness, and very openness, of Yeats’s text that made thatpossible.

For the critic Kenneth Tynan, Olivier’s Oedipus cried ‘a new born baby’swail’;62 and in many ways Olivier was offering audiences Freud’s Oedipus,now in 1945 being crudely wrenched anew from his mother’s womb. Olivier,like Tyrone Guthrie, had regularly consulted Ernest Jones on matters ofpsychology in relation to Hamlet and Othello.63 Now it seemed his Oedipuswas being subjected to Freudian insights. That it was this moment from theproduction in particular that entered the annals of British theatre history, isperhaps not surprising. For Olivier’s ‘wail’ not only anticipates the Beckettianscream; it also recalls Kleinian psychoanalytical theory, in which the first andcrucial trauma occurs on the departure from the birth canal.

Yeats’s text permitted this psychoanalytical reading in part because of itsunerring focus upon Oedipus and its marginalization of the chorus whichallows Oedipus in Olivier’s interpretation to become Everyman. But it wasalso sufficiently flexible, and as we have seen sufficiently patterned, to becomean archetypally ritualistic drama under Guthrie’s direction as well. In thissense the Yeats text was subjected equally effectively to the two most influen-tial theoretical approaches in the twentieth-century readings of Sophocles’play: the Freudian and ritual readings respectively. Olivier’s performancemarks both the climax and the end of the Freudian tradition in many ways.Since Francis Fergusson used the Olivier production as the starting point forhis The Idea of a Theater (1949), the 1945 production may be said to have

61 Olivier (1982), 154. 62 Shellard (1999), 3–5. 63 Forsyth (1976), 165.

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guaranteed the popularization in the English-speaking world of the ritualreading of tragedy as well. In many ways, Fergusson’s theory of the tragic heroas ritual scapegoat extended Murray’s ritual readings of Euripides’ plays toSophocles; and, as his preface makes clear, his theory came out of watchingOlivier play Oedipus using Yeats’s text.64

If Fergusson popularized the ritual theory of tragedy (and provided anagonistic partner against which Raymond Williams was later to spar),65 whenGuthrie’s production of Yeats’s text appeared in Stratford, Ontario, in 1954,audiences saw the main tenets of the Cambridge ritualists fully realized on thestage. Indeed, it would seem that Guthrie was more than aware of Fergussonon tragedy (or should we say, Fergusson on Yeats’s version of Sophocles’tragedy). He writes:

The theater is the direct descendant of fertility rites, war dances and all the corporateritual expressions by means of which our primitive ancestors, often wiser than we,sought to relate themselves to God, or the gods, the great abstract forces which cannotbe apprehended by reason, but in whose existence reason compels us to have faith.66

Guthrie refers to Oedipus in particular as ‘the sacred drama of OedipusRex . . . [in which the actor] impersonates a symbol of sacrifice.’67

Both Guthrie and Moiseiwitch had been to see the Old Vic Company’sOedipus Rex in 1945––Guthrie himself would have directed had he notobjected to Olivier’s suggestion to play Puff in The Critic the same night inthe double bill. On seeing Olivier in the final scene with realistic blood pour-ing down his face (see Figure 23.2), Guthrie was determined to direct thescene himself and to do it differently. According to Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch,‘the audience must be prepared to enter into a world of symbols exactlyanalogous to the experience of dreaming.’68 The film version of the produc-tion of 1956 begins with a narrator explaining how the play the audience isabout to witness re-enacts the sacrifice of a king, just as the priest re-enacts insymbolic mode Christ’s Last Supper during the eucharist. In an overtlymetatheatrical gesture, the actor picks up his mask and invites the audience toimagine the studio lights as the sun, the camera as ‘eyes’, and he conjuresbefore their eyes a smoke-enshrouded set from which the moaning suppliantsemerge. In Guthrie’s stridently anti-realistic production, the masked Oedipus

64 Fergusson (1949), 10: ‘They must have been moved by the perennial vitality of the greatrole itself, which Olivier discovered . . . If the chorus, the other characters, and the rhythms ofthe play as a whole had been equally well understood, we might have enjoyed a direct perceptionof Sophocles’ play: i.e. the performable rhythm of life and action which may still touch usthough originally realized in the customs, beliefs, and ritual forms of antiquity.’ (Fergusson’semphasis)

65 Williams (1966). 66 Guthrie (1960), 314. 67 Ibid. 313.68 Guthrie and Moiseiwitsch (1955), 154.

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doesn’t change his mask in the final scene but merely wears a gauze veil overit; and when the daughters come, they wrap themselves round him in a ritualdance, ‘symbolically washing in his blood, [in . . . ] a purification of ritual.’69

Yeats’s blinded Oedipus has only just emerged from the palace proudlyannouncing to the chorus that it

. . . was my own hand alone, wretched that I am, that quenched these eyes.70

With Yeats’s inspired choice of the verb ‘quench’––with its multiple conno-tations of extinguishing something on fire and cooling with liquid and thussoothing and satisfying––we see how Guthrie’s image of Oedipus’ daughtersbathing in their father’s blood is also suggested on the lexical level as well. ForYeats, as for Guthrie (and we could add Fergusson and all those for whomtragedy is a ritual enactment of the Year Daemon), death in tragedy is really

Fig. 23.2. Laurence Olivier as Oedipus in the Old Vic Company production at theNew Theatre, 1945.

69 Davies (1955), 35. 70 Yeats (1952), 513.

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no death at all: it is a sacrifice of the individual which brings about renewalfor all.

When Guthrie’s mythopoeic production, with its striking, vast masks andkothornoi, and occasionally measured and deliberate pace, was put on film in1957, it guaranteed that Yeats’s Oedipus became international property (seeFigure 23.3). Guthrie’s Oedipus, in marked contrast to Olivier’s piercingscream, gives out a low moan (interestingly also finding sufficient freedom inYeats’s ‘O, O!’ to emit ‘Ai––eee’) before withdrawing in the fading light. Thefinal scene is played out in half-light as the audience participate and share inOedipus’ new, deeper insight into reality. Departing from both the Sophoclesand Yeats texts, Creon orders Oedipus to ‘Go!’. There is no room here formere pity: the chorus retreat into the shadows, leaving Oedipus to fumble hisway down the steps towards the camera, heavily obscured, almost blotted outas if in silhouette, by the half-light, before disappearing out of sight entirely.This is a far cry from the 1928 text, where Oedipus (as with Sophocles) is sentback into the palace, followed by Creon and the children. Guthrie is offeringthe audience not only a greater magnification of the Yeatsian isolated

Fig. 23.3. Douglas Campbell as Oedipus with chorus in the film of the Stratford(Ontario) Festival production, dir. Tyrone Guthrie, 1957.

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Modernist hero; he has also translated Sophocles/Yeats’s tragic character intothe (Senecan) ritual scapegoat absolutely.


Yeats’s text would seem to have endured even when the figure of Oedipus hasbecome marginalized on the modern stage. There is a real sense in which thefigure of Oedipus, especially in the post-Freudian world, has proved problem-atic in just the way that Modernism and Yeats himself have often provedproblematic in the postmodern world: all are identified in varying ways withdubious politics and dangerous ideas of heroism.71 The dictat in Stravinsky’sPoetics of Music that the Dionysiac must ‘finally be made to submit to thelaw: Apollo demands it’, explains the composer’s obsession with form in hisneoclassical period.72 In many ways, Yeats’s text made the Dionysiac of hisearlier work ‘submit’ to Apolline law here; and Guthrie’s production exploitsthe Apolline dominance absolutely in designs that are strikingly evocative ofthose by both Theodore Stravinsky and later Cocteau for Stravinsky’s Oedi-pus Rex.73 But Yeats’s Oedipus has clearly endured in part because he is notApolline enough; the poet’s own identification with the figure of Oedipusmeant that high Modernist formal distancing was ultimately impossible toachieve in this case, even if it had ever been entirely desirable.

The ‘speakability’ of the text is certain; so too is its inherent theatricality. Ithas also endured because of its minimalist nature: its denial of a Thebancontext has allowed it to lend itself most readily to universalizing interpret-ations of tragedy, such as Guthrie’s in Stratford, Ontario; and its marginalizedchorus has also enabled Freudian readings of the hero to be projected uponthe text, as was the case with the Olivier/Michel Saint-Denis production.Pared down, gaunt even on occasions, Yeats’s text has turned out to be presci-ent rather than problematic, gesturing in the direction of Beckett, of Pintereven, but without resorting to their demotic counterpoints. For this reason, itcan remain the Oedipus of choice even at a time when heroes have no place; itis ‘modern’, yet distanced, ‘amid our time’ rather than ‘of’ our time. Indeed,this chapter could have borrowed for its title the preposition and the

71 McCormack (2005).72 Stravinsky (1947), 80–1. It is generally held that this work was in fact ghostwritten and not

by Stravinsky himself.73 Walsh (1999), 35 f. The 1960 Santa Fe Production, conducted by Stavinsky, with Paul

Franke as Oedipus and Mary MacKenzie as Jocasta, appears to have copied Moiseiwitsch’sdesigns absolutely (see the photo in Stravinsky (1947), 35).

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possessive pronoun (‘amid our’) from that resonant phrase, with itsuncharacteristically specific application to the 20s troubles in Ireland. As atext that is ‘amid ’ rather than ‘of ’ our time, it remains ‘out of time’––anadopted anachronism; a kind of virtual otherworld, where heroes are permis-sible because aspirational and conceptual, but resolutely not of the here andnow.*

* Earlier versions of this paper were given as papers at UCD and Corpus Christi College,Oxford, in 2007. I am most grateful for comments from members of the audience on bothoccasions. Especial thanks to both Bill McCormack and Michael Silk for their support andcriticisms.


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