MA Irish Writing and Film: Theories and Traditions
Literature and IT Review.
My MA thesis intends to argue that the prevalence of death in Marina Carr’s plays recognises the imposition of Ireland’s funerary tradition and crisis of soul loss in the form of stagnation and stasis, particularly highlighting, its detrimental impact on womanhood and motherhood and demonstrates what Sue-Ellen Case refers to as, “the cultural encoding in a sign, semiotics reveals the covert cultural beliefs embedded in communication” (Macmillan, 1988, 144). Carr’s plays are tragedies which witness soul loss, abandonment, desolation and self-destruction. My thesis will make room for the thematic centrality of issues tied to Ireland’s funerary tradition and crisis of soul loss in the texts but also in terms of the form of the plays.
Two primary texts I will analyse are Anne O’Reilly’s Sacred Play (Careysfort Press, 2004) and Nina Witoszek and Pat Sheeran’s Talking to the Dead: A Study of Irish Funerary Traditions (Amsterdam-Atlanta: Rodopi, 1998). As previously mentioned death is a prominent feature in the plays of Marina Carr. Ireland, according to Nina Witoszek and Pat Sheeran, has a funerary tradition, a code of mourning, which has established itself in Irish culture. They propose it is a native tradition, “which has accommodated, and defended itself against, colonial imposition and finally itself become an imposition” (12). Witoszek and
Sheeran argue that Ireland’s funerary tradition while on the one hand provides the darkness in which the most significant achievements of Irish literature are rooted. On the other hand it accounts, in part, for the archaic, repetitive nature of much of the drama […] it conventionalises characters and plots (100). I intend to argue that Carr’s theatrical work, whilst recognising how the funerary tradition impositions women, her characters and plots use death to subvert the conventional. Anne F O’Reilly in Sacred Play, argues that Irish theatre addresses a loss of soul, that over the past thirty years many Irish dramatists have attempted to reconnect with, to retrieve or to rediscover soul (8). O’Reilly proposes “the liminal spaces of Carr’s are invitations into the dark. They represent the crisis of soul loss; characteristic of a people who have lost a significant loss of its cultural origins. Carr is on record in her 1998 lecture “Dealing with the Dead”(Irish University Review 28 (1998): 190-196) as being more interested in the creation of soul than redemption of soul and believes that our purpose on this earth is to grow or to find our souls.
My initial thoughts at this stage are to focus on three works by Marina Carr, Woman and Scarecrow (Gallery Press, 2006), By the Bog of Cats (Faber and Faber, 2004) and Phaedra Backwards (Marina Carr: Plays 3, Faber and Faber, 2015). The rational for choosing these titles is because the levels and forms of death escalate across these works. We begin in reasonably normal terrain with Woman and Scarecrow, a terminally ill woman on her death bed, who appears to have chosen to die. By the bog of Cats, sees the darkness and death escalate, Carr gives us murder, suicide and infanticide. The dead return and the spaces become more liminal. Finally in, Phaedra Backwards Carr puts Greek tragedy centre stage with her retelling of Phaedra myth, all boundaries are blurred, animal/human, past/present, even the dead return to do the killing. I anticipate these three works provide amble variety and examples of soul loss, desolation and self-destruction. The works may change as I have not concluded reading all her work at time of writing, so I am keeping an open mind at this stage. In terms of analysing the form a first port of call is to contact the Abbey Theatre to see if it is possible to view their productions of Carr’s plays. This is an area I have most concern about as my knowledge and understanding of the staging of plays is very limited. Two works by Sue Ellen-Case look to be of particular interest, Feminism and Theatre (Macmillan, 1998) and Performing Feminisms: Feminist Critical Theory and Theatre (John Hopkins University Press, 1990). Another consideration is the possibility of interviewing Marina Carr.
I intend initially to outline the historical context and traditions that have contributed to Ireland’s loss of cultural origins. Sources that appear useful are, in no particular order: Luke Gibbons Transformations in Irish Culture (Cork University Press, 1996), Atlas of the Great Irish Famine (Cork University Press,2012), Ciaran Brady and Raymond Gillespie’s, Natives and Newcomers: Essays on the Making of Irish Colonial Society 1534-1641 (Irish Academic Press, 1986), J.J. Lee The Modernisation of Irish Society 1848-1918 (Gill and Macmillan, 2008) and J.J. Lee Ireland 1912-1985 (Cambridge University Press, 1989), Colin Graham’s Deconstructing Ireland: Identity, Theory, Culture (Edinburgh University Press,2001), David Lloyd’s Anomalous States: Irish Writing and the Post-Colonial Moment (Lilliput Press, 1993), and C. Morash’s A History of Irish Theatre 1601-2000 (Cambridge University Press, 2002). I intend to cite examples from some of these works and possibly others to support and demonstrate either physical quantifiable loss or loss of tradition and culture.
Texts of interest in terms of criticism of Carr’s work include Mary Trotter in Modern and Contemporary Drama (W.W. Norton & Co, 2009), who argues Carr subverts stereotypical representations of women usually found in mainstream drama. Marianne MacDonald in Theatre Stuff: Critical Essays on Contemporary Irish Theatre (Carysfort Press, 2009) considers Greek tragedy in relation to Irish playwrights and colonialism. Melissa Shira has written many times on the work of Carr, texts of interest are her essay in Rebel Women: Staging Ancient Greek Drama Today (Methuen,1997), Marina Carr in conversation with Melissa Shira in Theatre Talk (Carysfort Press, 2001) and her essay also in Theatre Stuff (see above) on By the Bog of Cats. At this stage in my research I have located reasonable sources on Woman and Scarecrow and By the Bog of Cats but I have had less success on locating texts on Phaedra Backwards.
An outstanding area of research is in relation to analyses on the form of Carr’s plays. I have briefly looked at a number of texts which I believe will be extremely useful, for example, Judith Butler’s essay in Performance Analysis: An Introductory Casebook (Routledge, 2001), Melissa Shira’s Women in Irish Drama: A century of Authorship and Representation (2007), and Maria Kurdi’s Representations of Gender and Female subjectivity in Contemporary Irish Drama by Women (2010). In terms of IT resources I have been exploring the various databases such as Proquest, Project Muse, Jstor, Lion, etc and building up a record of useful sources in endnote. Further research areas online include exploring potential sources in databases of conferences, open access content in RIAN, DOAB, and Europeana, and possible thesis’s in the Boole special collections.