The plays of Phillips not infrequently lack that clinching power that stretches the interest taut. Many scenes are admirably spectacular, suggestive of richly decorated tapestries, which hang separately in spacious rooms; but the plays need more forceful dramatic action, moving through changes to a climax. Phillips’s diction, though sometimes rhetorical, is also often ornately beautiful and highly poetical. We feel that even in his plays, he is greater as a poet than as a dramatist.
Strong national feeling, interest in the folklore and peasant life of Ireland, and ambition to establish a national theater, have led to a distinct and original Irish drama. In 1899, with a fund of two hundred and fifty dollars, Lady Gregory, William Butler Yeats, G.W. Russell, and other playwrights and patrons succeeded in establishing in Dublin the Irish Literary Theater now known as the Irish National Theater.
The object of this theater is twofold. In the first place, it aims to produce “literary” plays, not the vapid, panoramic kind that merely pass away the time. In the second place, the Irish plays present fabled and historical Irish heroes and the humble Irish peasant.
Patriotism inspired many writers to assist in this national movement. Some gathered stories from the lips of living Irish-speaking peasants; others collected and translated into English the old legends of heroes. Dr. Douglas Hyde’s translations of The Five Songs of Connacht (1894) and The Religious Songs of Connacht (1906) are valuable works and have greatly influenced the Irish writers.
Lady Augusta Gregory.—Lady Gregory, born in 1852, in Roxborough, County Galway, has made some of the best of these translations in her works, Cuchulain of Muirthemma, and Gods and Fighting Men. “These two books have come to many as a first revelation of the treasures buried in Gaelic literature, and they are destined to do much for the floating of old Irish story upon the world. They aim to do for the great cycles of Irish romance what Malory did for the Arthurian stories."
[Illustration: LADY GREGORY.]
Lady Gregory wrote also for the Irish Theater plays that have been acted successfully not only in Ireland but in England and in America. Among her best serious plays are The Gaol Gate (1906), a present-day play, the hero of which dies to save a neighbor, The Rising of the Moon (1907), and Grania (1912). McDonough’s Wife (1913) is an excellent brief piece with an almost heroic note at the close. The great vagabond piper, McDonough, master of wonderful music, returns from wandering, to find his wife dead, and, because of his thriftlessness, about to be denied honorable burial. McDonough steps to the door, pipes his marvelous tunes, and immediately the village flocks to do homage to his wife.