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Gender Politics and Irish Nationalism in Cathleen Ni Houlihan
Within her critical text Ascendancy Nationalism, Feminist Nationalism, and Stagecraft in Lady Gregory’s Revision of Kincora, professor Maureen Hawkins highlights the inferiority complex among gender roles and their relation to Irish nationalism. She notes that even though many women “played prominent roles in the political and cultural nationalist movements, they and their efforts had been marginalized and at times suppressed” (Hawkins, 95). Similarly, inside English Radicals and Reformers, authors, Edward Royle and James Walvin, comment upon the “emancipation” of females with regards to their position in nationalist movements (Royle & Walvin, 188). Ladies and their function within politics had been drastically undermined.
Even though Lady Gregory has been coined as the “woman behind the Irish Renaissance”, this title does not allude to her influential part concerning the establishment of Irish literature. Her contributions had been often overshadowed by her fellow – and predominantly male – literary associates, like those of William Butler Yeats and John Millington Synge. Even so, her operate merits extensive recognition for their feminist undertones, as she attempts to reframe gender ideologies and expose the nature of Irish nationalism. Current scholarship has addressed precisely this scenario: “Ireland has, of course, extended been gendered – by the political nationalist metanarrative and the cultural nationalism of traditional history and literature – as a girls victimized by the colonizing English male. For an equally long time, the lives of actual Irish women were arguably colonized by Irish men, at the same time both genders were colonial subjects of England” (Bradley & Valiulis, six).
Inside twentieth century Irish literature, the Irish lady was generally confined to the limitations of her role as a maiden or an old hag. With tiny mention of independent believed or action, their characters were typically not of excellent significance. In truth, “In the literature of the emerging nation, girls reverted to getting a website of contest rather than an agent of her own want. No nationalism in the world has ever granted girls and men the same privileged resources of the nation-state” (Kiberd, 406-7). Nevertheless, recognized for her feminist ideals, Lady Gregory plays upon this discrepant allegory by empowering her female characters. In Cathleen Ni Houlihan, mythology is utilized to dramatize a lost and homeless Ireland that can only be vindicated by acts of heroism. Arrays of symbols evoke the ongoing theme of nationalism, but the most prominent is of Cathleen herself. An elderly lady who can only be revived as young and gorgeous upon the sacrifice of young guys, Cathleen becomes a personification for Ireland, as she needs these men to take action on her behalf and shield her from external forces:
“Bridget. What was it place you wandering? Old Woman. Also many strangers in the property. Bridget. Certainly you appear as if you’d had your share of problems. Old Woman. I have had trouble indeed. Bridget. What was it place the problems on you? Old Woman. My land that was taken from me. Peter. Was it significantly land they appear from you? Old Woman. My four lovely green fields” (Gregory & Yeats, five).
The reader is immediately in a position to make connections amongst Cathleen’s abstract dialogue and their parallels to Irish history, supporting the excellent that she is an embodiment of Ireland. For instance, editor, James Pethica, writes that the “four beautiful green fields” allude to the 4 provinces of Ireland: Munster, Leinster, Ulster and Connacht. According to Rosalind Clark’s The Wonderful Queens: Irish Goddesses from the Morrigan to Cathleen Ni Houlihan, “To the audience it is clear that her speak has a double meaning, but to the loved ones in the play it sounds perfectly organic at first: the old woman’s circumstance is only as well uncommon among Irish beggar females. There is yet another side of her speak that they can't understand, but they place that down to the fact that she has had so considerably trouble that it ‘has put her wits astray’. But these speeches are complete of which means and produce intense emotion in the audience, who are suddenly realizing that this old woman is Cathleen” (Clark, 174). Cathleen claims that she has been wandering since there are “too many strangers in the house” (Gregory & Yeats, 5). The authors are hereby refering to actual globe conflict by insinuating Wonderful Britain’s reign more than Ireland (the British are strangers within the property of Ireland). By adding a realistic aspect to the text, themes of nationalism are legitimized and Lady Gregory and Yeasts’ arguments carry influential depth to their audiences.
Enlisting the help of “friends”, Cathleen entices guys to “die for her” with promises of fame and glory. She tells Michael, the son of the Gillanes, about the series of heroes who have sacrificed themselves. Abandoning his betrothed, he becomes eager to do the identical.
“Peter [to Patrick, laying on his arm]. Did you see an old woman going down the path? Patrick. I did not, but I saw a young girl, and she had the walk of a queen” (Gregory & Yeats, 9).
This feminine representation reflects an idyllic male image of womanhood. Nonetheless, as ladies had been often characterized by their docile and nurturing nature, Cathleen’s blood thirst is a shocking contradiction to this standard female archetype:
“Cathleen Ni Houlihan celebrates death [and] summons males to die for an abstract notion of the 4 stunning green fields and idealised idea of Ireland” (Innes, 109).
In her report “Thinking of Her… as… Ireland: Yeats, Pearse and Heaney”, Elizabeth Cullingford examines this depiction of Ireland as a lady and concludes that this representation is neither all-natural nor stereotypical, but “rhetorically invisible” (Cullingford, 3). Gregory presents her audience with an opposition to the classic social structure of Ireland, wherein men fight and defend their country on behalf of a lady. By straying from the stereotype in which girls served as passive symbols of the nation, Gregory exposes the patriarchal nature of nationalism and utilizes literature as a implies of shattering gender ideologies.
William Butler Yeats was undoubtedly a leader among the Irish Literary Revival whose writing embodied nationalist elements of Irish spirit and culture. In his contribution to Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Yeats contrasts materialistic life with the glory of sacrifice in order to elucidate the require for Irish independence. However, his approach to the play provides a diverging political statement than that of Lady Gregory, shying away from feminine empowerment and underlining alternatively the importance of nationalism.
“They shall be remembered forever, They shall be alive forever, They shall be speaking forever, The folks shall hear them forever” (Gregory & Yeats, 8).
Via Michael’s willingness to fight for Cathleen as a nation, Yeats’ is making personal and political commentary. He presents man as a patriot and an active defender of the female Ireland and utilizes literature as a implies of evoking and representing his own nationalistic pride. Women, nonetheless, function solely as metaphors – submissive and empty symbols that in the end diminish the humanity of man. By means of Yeats’ symbolism and the subtle reinforcement of conventional female stereotypes, he reinstates the inferiority complex and legitimizes the patriarchal dominance that Lady Gregory denied.
Returning to Boland’s quotation relating to the writing of a woman out of legend, we start to recognize that literature is private and typically reflects the opinions and biases of the author. In their collaboration, Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats present their audience with a paradox regarding the feminine condition and its relation to Irish nationalism. Whilst Cathleen is depicted as an asexual mother of the nation and a mythical emblem of Irish nationalism, she is also an empty symbol that drives the distortion and marginalization of girls. Through Cathleen’s character, Lady Gregory voices political statement, tackles patriarchal power structures and expresses her personal frustrations towards the social restrictions of her time. Her text presents a forceful argument for the inclusion of females into the broader political sphere. Yeats, even so, undermines these feminist ideologies by hollowing the role of the lady throughout the play. Serving merely as a symbol for the nation, he does not grant girls political acknowledgement. Supplying their audience diverging political statements, Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats eventually unite in their call for Irish nationalism.
Bradley, Anthony and Maryann Gialanella Valiulis. Gender and Sexuality in Modern dayIreland. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1997.
Clark, Rosalind. The Excellent Queens: Irish Goddesses from the Morrigan to Cathleen niHoulihan. Maryland: Barnes and Noble books, 1990. Print.
Cullingford, Elizabeth B. “Thinking of Her… as… Ireland: Yeats, Pearse and Heaney.” Taylor & Francis On-line (2008): n. pag. Web.
Edward Royle and James Walvin, English Radicals and Reformers (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981), p. 188.
Innes, C.L. Woman and Nation in Irish Literature and Society, 1880-1935. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993.
Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. London: Random House, 1996.
Maureen S.G. Hawkins. Ascendancy Nationalism, Feminist Nationalism, andStagecraft in Lady Gregory’s Revision of Kincora. 1990.
Ryan, Louise and Margaret Ward, Irish Women and Nationalism, Soldiers, NewLadies, and Wicked Hags. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2004.
Yeats, William B., and Augusta Gregory. “Cathleen Ni Houlihan.” N.p., n.d. Net.
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