|THE KING’S THRESHOLD||1|
|ON BAILE’S STRAND||69|
|THE SHADOWY WATERS||179|
ACTING VERSION OF ‘THE SHADOWY WATERS’
A DIFFERENT VERSION OF DEIRDRE’S ENTRANCE
THE LEGENDARY AND MYTHOLOGICAL FOUNDATION OF THE PLAYS
THE DATES AND PLACES OF PERFORMANCE OF PLAYS
What a clever man you are though you are blind! There’s nobody with two eyes in his head that is as clever as you are. Who but you could have thought that the henwife sleeps every day a little at noon? I would never be able to steal anything if you didn’t tell me where to look for it. And what a good cook you are! You take the fowl out of my hands after I have stolen it and plucked it, and you put it into the big pot at the fire there, and I can go out and run races with the witches at the edge of the waves and get an appetite, and when I’ve got it, there’s the hen waiting inside for me, done to the turn.
Done to the turn.
Come now, I’ll have a leg and you’ll have a leg, and we’ll draw lots for the wish-bone. I’ll be praising you, I’ll be praising you, while we’re eating it, for your good plans and for your good cooking. There’s nobody in the world like you, Blind Man. Come, come. Wait a minute. I shouldn’t have closed the door. There are some that look for me, and I wouldn’t like them not to find me. Don’t tell it to anybody, Blind Man. There are some that follow me. Boann herself out of the river and Fand out of the deep sea. Witches they are, and they come by in the wind, and they cry, ‘Give a kiss, Fool, give a kiss,’ that’s what they cry. That’s wide enough. All the witches can come in now. I wouldn’t have them beat at the door and say: ‘Where is the Fool? Why has he put a lock on the door?’ Maybe they’ll hear the bubbling of the pot and come in and sit on the ground. But we won’t give them any of the fowl. Let them go back to the sea, let them go back to the sea.
Ah! [Then, in a louder voice as he feels the back of it.] Ah—ah—
Why do you say ‘Ah-ah’?
I know the big chair. It is to-day the High King Conchubar is coming. They have brought out his chair. He is going to be Cuchulain’s master in earnest from this day out. It is that he’s coming for.
He must be a great man to be Cuchulain’s master.
So he is. He is a great man. He is over all the rest of the kings of Ireland.
Cuchulain’s master! I thought Cuchulain could do anything he liked.
So he did, so he did. But he ran too wild, and Conchubar is coming to-day to put an oath upon him that will stop his rambling and make him as biddable as a house-dog and keep him always at his hand. He will sit in this chair and put the oath upon him.
How will he do that?
You have no wits to understand such things. [The BLIND MAN has got into the chair.] He will sit up in this chair and he’ll say: ‘Take the oath, Cuchulain. I bid you take the oath. Do as I tell you. What are your wits compared with mine, and what are your riches compared with mine? And what sons have you to pay your debts and to put a stone over you when you die? Take the oath, I tell you. Take a strong oath.’
I will not. I’ll take no oath. I want my dinner.
Hush, hush! It is not done yet.
You said it was done to a turn.
Did I, now? Well, it might be done, and not done. The wings might be white, but the legs might be red. The flesh might stick hard to the bones and not come away in the teeth. But, believe me, Fool, it will be well done before you put your teeth in it.
My teeth are growing long with the hunger.
I’ll tell you a story—the kings have story-tellers while they are waiting for their dinner—I will tell you a story with a fight in it, a story with a champion in it, and a ship and a queen’s son that has his mind set on killing somebody that you and I know.
Who is that? Who is he coming to kill?
Wait, now, till you hear. When you were stealing the fowl, I was lying in a hole in the sand, and I heard three men coming with a shuffling sort of noise. They were wounded and groaning.
Go on. Tell me about the fight.
There had been a fight, a great fight, a tremendous great fight. A young man had landed on the shore, the guardians of the shore had asked his name, and he had refused to tell it, and he had killed one, and others had run away.
That’s enough. Come on now to the fowl. I wish it was bigger. I wish it was as big as a goose.
Hush! I haven’t told you all. I know who that young man is. I heard the men who were running away say he had red hair, that he had come from Aoife’s country, that he was coming to kill Cuchulain.
Nobody can do that.
Out of the very bottom of the bitter black north.
Hush, I say!
Does Cuchulain know that he is coming to kill him?
How would he know that with his head in the clouds? He doesn’t care for common fighting. Why would he put himself out, and nobody in it but that young man? Now, if it were a white fawn that might turn into a queen before morning—
Come to the fowl. I wish it was as big as a pig; a fowl with goose grease and pig’s crackling.
No hurry, no hurry. I know whose son it is. I wouldn’t tell anybody else, but I will tell you,—a secret is better to you than your dinner. You like being told secrets.
Tell me the secret.
That young man is Aoife’s son. I am sure it is Aoife’s son, it flows in upon me that it is Aoife’s son. You have often heard me talking of Aoife, the great woman-fighter Cuchulain got the mastery over in the north?
I know, I know. She is one of those cross queens that live in hungry Scotland.
I am sure it is her son. I was in Aoife’s country for a long time.
That was before you were blinded for putting a curse upon the wind.
There was a boy in her house that had her own red colour on him and everybody said he was to be brought up to kill Cuchulain, that she hated Cuchulain. She used to put a helmet on a pillar-stone and call it Cuchulain and set him casting at it. There is a step outside—Cuchulain’s step.
Where is Cuchulain going?
He is going to meet Conchubar that has bidden him to take the oath.
Ah, an oath, Blind Man. How can I remember so many things at once? Who is going to take an oath?
Cuchulain is going to take an oath to Conchubar who is High King.
What a mix-up you make of everything, Blind Man. You were telling me one story, and now you are telling me another story.... How can I get the hang of it at the end if you mix everything at the beginning? Wait till I settle it out. There now, there’s Cuchulain [he points to one foot], and there is the young man [he points to the other foot] that is coming to kill him, and Cuchulain doesn’t know. But where’s Conchubar? [Takes bag from side.] That’s Conchubar with all his riches—Cuchulain, young man, Conchubar—And where’s Aoife? [Throws up cap.] There is Aoife, high up on the mountains in high hungry Scotland. Maybe it is not true after all. Maybe it was your own making up. It’s many a time you cheated me before with your lies. Come to the cooking-pot, my stomach is pinched and rusty. Would you have it to be creaking like a gate?
I tell you it’s true. And more than that is true. If you listen to what I say, you’ll forget your stomach.
Listen. I know who the young man’s father is, but I won’t say. I would be afraid to say. Ah, Fool, you would forget everything if you could know who the young man’s father is.
Who is it? Tell me now quick, or I’ll shake you. Come, out with it, or I’ll shake you.
Wait, wait. There’s somebody coming. . . . It is Cuchulain is coming. He’s coming back with the High King. Go and ask Cuchulain. He’ll tell you. It’s little you’ll care about the cooking-pot when you have asked Cuchulain that. . . .
I’ll ask him. Cuchulain will know. He was in Aoife’s country. [Goes up stage.] I’ll ask him. [Turns and goes down stage.] But, no. I won’t ask him, I would be afraid. [Going up again.] Yes, I will ask him. What harm in asking? The Blind Man said I was to ask him. [Going down.] No, no. I’ll not ask him. He might kill me. I have but killed hens and geese and pigs. He has killed kings. [Goes up again almost to big door.] Who says I’m afraid? I’m not afraid. I’m no coward. I’ll ask him. No, no, Cuchulain, I’m not going to ask you.
You have eaten it, you have eaten it! You have left me nothing but the bones.
O, that I should have to endure such a plague! O, I ache all over! O, I am pulled to pieces! This is the way you pay me all the good I have done you!
You have eaten it! You have told me lies. I might have known you had eaten it when I saw your slow, sleepy walk. Lie there till the kings come. O, I will tell Conchubar and Cuchulain and all the kings about you!
What would have happened to you but for me, and you without your wits? If I did not take care of you, what would you do for food and warmth?
You take care of me! You stay safe, and send me into every kind of danger. You sent me down the cliff for gulls’ eggs while you warmed your blind eyes in the sun; and then you ate all that were good for food. You left me the eggs that were neither egg nor bird. [BLIND MAN tries to rise; FOOL makes him lie down again.] Keep quiet now, till I shut the door. There is some noise outside—a high vexing noise, so that I can’t be listening to myself. [Shuts the big door.] Why can’t they be quiet! why can’t they be quiet! [BLIND MAN tries to get away.] Ah! you would get away, would you! [Follows BLIND MAN and brings him back.] Lie there! lie there! No, you won’t get away! Lie there till the kings come. I’ll tell them all about you. I will tell it all. How you sit warming yourself, when you have made me light a fire of sticks, while I sit blowing it with my mouth. Do you not always make me take the windy side of the bush when it blows, and the rainy side when it rains?
Oh, good Fool! listen to me. Think of the care I have taken of you. I have brought you to many a warm hearth, where there was a good welcome for you, but you would not stay there; you were always wandering about.
The last time you brought me in it was not I who wandered away, but you that got put out because you took the crubeen out of the pot when nobody was looking. Keep quiet, now!
Witchcraft! There is no witchcraft on the earth, or among the witches of the air, that these hands cannot break.
Listen to me, Cuchulain. I left him turning the fowl at the fire. He ate it all, though I had stolen it. He left me nothing but the feathers.
Fill me a horn of ale!
I gave him what he likes best. You do not know how vain this fool is. He likes nothing so well as a feather.
He left me nothing but the bones and feathers. Nothing but the feathers, though I had stolen it.
Give me that horn! Quarrels here, too! [Drinks.] What is there between you two that is worth a quarrel? Out with it!
Where would he be but for me? I must be always thinking—thinking to get food for the two of us, and when we’ve got it, if the moon is at the full or the tide on the turn, he’ll leave the rabbit in the snare till it is full of maggots, or let the trout slip back through his hands into the stream.
Listen to him, now. That’s the sort of talk I have to put up with day out, day in.
He has taken my feathers to wipe his sword. It is blood that he is wiping from his sword.
They are standing about his body. They will not awaken him, for all his witchcraft.
It is that young champion that he has killed. He that came out of Aoife’s country.
He thought to have saved himself with witchcraft.
That blind man there said he would kill you. He came from Aoife’s country to kill you. That blind man said they had taught him every kind of weapon that he might do it. But I always knew that you would kill him.
You knew him, then?
I saw him, when I had my eyes, in Aoife’s country.
You were in Aoife’s country?
I knew him and his mother there.
He was about to speak of her when he died.
He was a queen’s son.
What queen? what queen? [Seizes BLIND MAN, who is now sitting upon the bench.] Was it Scathach? There were many queens. All the rulers there were queens.
No, not Scathach.
It was Uathach, then? Speak! speak!
I cannot speak; you are clutching me too tightly. [CUCHULAIN lets him go.] I cannot remember who it was. I am not certain. It was some queen.
He said a while ago that the young man was Aoife’s son.
She? No, no! She had no son when I was there.
That blind man there said that she owned him for her son.
I had rather he had been some other woman’s son. What father had he? A soldier out of Alba? She was an amorous woman—a proud, pale, amorous woman.
None knew whose son he was.
None knew! Did you know, old listener at doors?
No, no; I knew nothing.
He said awhile ago that he heard Aoife boast that she’d never but the one lover, and he the only man that had overcome her in battle.
Somebody is trembling, Fool! The bench is shaking. Why are you trembling? Is Cuchulain going to hurt us? It was not I who told you, Cuchulain.
It is Cuchulain who is trembling. It is Cuchulain who is shaking the bench.
It is his own son he has slain.
He is outside the door.
Outside the door?
Between the door and the sea.
Conchubar, Conchubar! the sword into your heart!
He is going up to King Conchubar. They are all about the young man. No, no, he is standing still. There is a great wave going to break, and he is looking at it. Ah! now he is running down to the sea, but he is holding up his sword as if he were going into a fight. [Pause.] Well struck! well struck!
What is he doing now?
O! he is fighting the waves!
He sees King Conchubar’s crown on every one of them.
There, he has struck at a big one! He has struck the crown off it; he has made the foam fly. There again, another big one!
Where are the kings? What are the kings doing?
They are shouting and running down to the shore, and the people are running out of the houses. They are all running.
You say they are running out of the houses? There will be nobody left in the houses. Listen, Fool!
There, he is down! He is up again. He is going out into the deep water. There is a big wave. It has gone over him. I cannot see him now. He has killed kings and giants, but the waves have mastered him, the waves have mastered him!
Come here, Fool!
The waves have mastered him.
The waves have mastered him.
Come here, I say!
What is it?
There will be nobody in the houses. Come this way; come quickly! The ovens will be full. We will put our hands into the ovens.
The scene is the same as in the text except that the sail is dull copper colour. The poop rises several feet above the stage, and from the overhanging stern hangs a lanthorn with a greenish light. The sea or sky is represented by a semi-circular cloth of which nothing can be seen except a dark abyss, for the stage is lighted by arc-lights so placed upon a bridge over the proscenium as to throw a perpendicular light upon the stage. The light is dim, and there are deep shadows which waver as if with the passage of clouds over the moon. The persons are dressed in blue and green, and move but little. Some sailors are discovered crouching by the sail. Forgael is asleep and Aibric standing by the tiller on the raised poop.
First Sailor. It is long enough, and too long, Forgael has been bringing us through the waste places of the great sea.
Second Sailor. We did not meet with a ship to make a prey of these eight weeks, or any shore or island to plunder or to harry. It is a hard thing, age to be coming on me, and I not to get the chance of doing a robbery that would enable me to live quiet and honest to the end of my lifetime.
First Sailor. We are out since the new moon. What is worse again, it is the way we are in a ship, the barrels empty and my throat shrivelled with drought, and nothing to quench it but water only.
Forgael [in his sleep]. Yes; there, there; that hair that is the colour of burning.
First Sailor. Listen to him now, calling out in his sleep.
Forgael [in his sleep]. That pale forehead, that hair the colour of burning.
First Sailor. Some crazy dream he is in, and believe me it is no crazier than the thought he has waking. He is not the first that has had the wits drawn out from him through shadows and fantasies.
Second Sailor. That is what ails him. I have been thinking it this good while.
First Sailor. Do you remember that galley we sank at the time of the full moon?
Second Sailor. I do. We were becalmed the same night, and he sat up there playing that old harp of his until the moon had set.
First Sailor. I was sleeping up there by the bulwark, and when I woke in the sound of the harp a change came over my eyes, and I could see very strange things. The dead were floating upon the sea yet, and it seemed as if the life that went out of every one of them had turned to the shape of a man-headed bird—grey they were, and they rose up of a sudden and called out with voices like our own, and flew away singing to the west. Words like this they were singing: ‘Happiness beyond measure, happiness where the sun dies.’
Second Sailor. I understand well what they are doing. My mother used to be talking of birds of the sort. They are sent by the lasting watchers to lead men away from this world and its women to some place of shining women that cast no shadow, having lived before the making of the earth. But I have no mind to go following him to that place.
First Sailor. Let us creep up to him and kill him in his sleep.
Second Sailor. I would have made an end of him long ago, but that I was in dread of his harp. It is said that when he plays upon it he has power over all the listeners, with or without the body, seen or unseen, and any man that listens grows to be as mad as himself.
First Sailor. What way can he play it, being in his sleep?
Second Sailor. But who would be our captain then to make out a course from the Bear and the Pole-star, and to bring us back home?
First Sailor. I have that thought out. We must have Aibric with us. He knows the constellations as well as Forgael. He is a good hand with the sword. Join with us; be our captain, Aibric. We are agreed to put an end to Forgael, before he wakes. There is no man but will be glad of it when it is done. Join with us, and you will have the captain’s share and profit.
Aibric. Silence! for you have taken Forgael’s pay.
First Sailor. Little pay we have had this twelvemonth. We would never have turned against him if he had brought us, as he promised, into seas that would be thick with ships. That was the bargain. What is the use of knocking about and fighting as we do unless we get the chance to drink more wine and kiss more women than lasting peaceable men through their long lifetime? You will be as good a leader as ever he was himself, if you will but join us.
Aibric. And do you think that I will join myself
To men like you, and murder him who has been
My master from my earliest childhood up?
No! nor to a world of men like you
When Forgael’s in the other scale. Come! come!
I’ll answer to more purpose when you have drawn
That sword out of its scabbard.
First Sailor. You have awaked him. We had best go, for we have missed this chance.
[Sailors come in.]
First Sailor. Look there! There in the mist! A ship of spices.
Second Sailor. We would not have noticed her but for the sweet smell through the air. Ambergris and sandalwood, and all the herbs the witches bring from the sunrise.
First Sailor. No; but opoponax and cinnamon.
Forgael [taking the tiller from AIBRIC]. The ever-living have kept my bargain; they have paid you on the nail.
Aibric. Take up that rope to make her fast while we are plundering her.
First Sailor. There is a king on her deck, and a queen. Where there is one woman it is certain there will be others.
Aibric. Speak lower or they’ll hear.
First Sailor. They cannot hear; they are too much taken up with one another. Look! he has stooped down and kissed her on the lips.
Second Sailor. When she finds out we have as good men aboard she may not be too sorry in the end.
First Sailor. She will be as dangerous as a wild cat. These queens think more of the riches and the great name they get by marriage than of a ready hand and a strong body.
Second Sailor. There is nobody is natural but a robber. That is the reason the whole world goes tottering about upon its bandy legs.
Aibric. Run upon them now, and overpower the crew while yet asleep.
First Sailor. There is no need for you to drown. Give us our pardon and we will bring you home on your own ship, and make an end of this man that is leading us to death.
First Sailor. He has put a sudden darkness over the moon.
First Sailor. I will strike him first. No! for that music of his might put a beast’s head upon my shoulders, or it may be two heads and they devouring one another.
First Sailor. I’ll strike at him. His spells, when he dies, will die with him and vanish away.
Second Sailor. I’ll strike at him.
The Others. And I! And I! And I!
First Sailor [falling into a dream]. It is what they are saying, there is some person dead in the other ship; we have to go and wake him. They did not say what way he came to his end, but it was sudden.
Second Sailor. You are right, you are right. We have to go to that wake.
Second Sailor. What way can we raise a keen, not knowing what name to call him by?
First Sailor. Come on to his ship. His name will come to mind in a moment. All I know is he died a thousand years ago, and was never yet waked.
Second Sailor. How can we wake him having no ale?
First Sailor. I saw a skin of ale aboard her—a pigskin of brown ale.
Third Sailor. Come to the ale, a pigskin of brown ale, a goatskin of yellow.
First Sailor [singing]. Brown ale and yellow; yellow and brown ale; a goatskin of yellow.
All [singing]. Brown ale and yellow; yellow and brown ale!
After the first performance of this play in the autumn of 1906, I rewrote the play up to the opening of the scene where Naisi and Deirdre play chess. The new version was played in the spring of 1907, and after that I rewrote from the entrance of Deirdre to her questioning the musicians, but felt, though despairing of setting it right, that it was still mere bones, mere dramatic logic. The principal difficulty with the form of dramatic structure I have adopted is that, unlike the loose Elizabethan form, it continually forces one by its rigour of logic away from one’s capacities, experiences, and desires, until, if one have not patience to wait for the mood, or to rewrite again and again till it comes, there is rhetoric and logic and dry circumstance where there should be life. After the version printed in the text of this book had gone to press, Mrs. Patrick Campbell came to our Abbey Theatre and, liking what she saw there, offered to come and play Deirdre among us next November, and this so stirred my imagination that the scene came right in a moment. It needs some changes in the stage directions at the beginning of the play. There is no longer need for loaf and flagon, but the women at the braziers should when the curtain rises be arraying themselves—the one holding a mirror for the other perhaps. The play then goes on unchanged till the entrance of Deirdre, when the following scene is substituted for that on pages 139-140. (Bodb is pronounced Bove.)
The play then goes on unchanged, except that on page 151, instead of the short speech of Deirdre, beginning ‘Safety and peace,’ one should read
The greater number of the stories I have used, and persons I have spoken of, are in Lady Gregory’s Gods and Fighting Men and Cuchulain of Muirthemne. If my small Dublin audience for poetical drama grows to any size, whether now or at some future time, I shall owe it to these two books, masterpieces of prose, which can but make the old stories as familiar to Irishmen at any rate as are the stories of Arthur and his Knights to all readers of books. I cannot believe that it is from friendship that I weigh these books with Malory, and feel no discontent at the tally, or that it is the wish to make the substantial origin of my own art familiar, that would make me give them before all other books to young men and girls in Ireland. I wrote for the most part before they were written, but all, or all but all, is there. I took the Aengus and Edain of The Shadowy Waters from poor translations of the various Aengus stories, which, new translated by Lady Gregory, make up so much of what is most beautiful in both her books. They had, however, so completely become a part of my own thought that in 1897, when I was still working on an early version of The Shadowy Waters, I saw one night with my bodily eyes, as it seemed, two beautiful persons, who would, I believe, have answered to their names. The plot of the play itself has, however, no definite old story for its foundation, but was woven to a very great extent out of certain visionary experiences.
The foundations of Deirdre and of On Baile’s Strand are stories called respectively the ‘Fate of the Sons of Usnach’ and ‘The Son of Aoife’ in Cuchulain of Muirthemne.
The King’s Threshold is, however, founded upon a middle-Irish story of the demands of the poets at the Court of King Guaire of Gort, but I have twisted it about and revised its moral that the poet might have the best of it. It owes something to a play on the same subject by my old friend Edwin Ellis, who heard the story from me and wrote of it long ago.
The King’s Threshold was first played October 7th, 1903, in the Molesworth Hall, Dublin, by the Irish National Theatre Society, and with the following cast:
|King Guaire||P. Kelly|
|Lord High Chamberlain||Seumus O’Sullivan|
|A Cripple||Patrick Colum|
|A Court Lady||Honor Lavelle|
|Another Court Lady||Dora Melville|
|A Princess||Sara Algood|
|Another Princess||Dora Gunning|
|Fedelm||Maire ni Shiubhlaigh|
|A Servant||P. MacShiubhlaigh|
|Another Servant||P. Josephs|
|A Pupil||G. Roberts|
|Another Pupil||Cartia MacCormac|
It has been revised a good many times since then, and although the play has not been changed in the radical structure, the parts of the Mayor, Servant, and Cripple are altogether new, and the rest is altered here and there. It was written when our Society was beginning its fight for the recognition of pure art in a community of which one half is buried in the practical affairs of life, and the other half in politics and a propagandist patriotism.
On Baile’s Strand was first played, in a version considerably different from the present, on December 27th, 1904, at the opening of the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and with the following cast:
|Daire (an old King not now in the play)||G. MacDonald|
|The Blind Man||Seumus O’Sullivan|
|The Fool||William Fay|
|The Young Man||P. MacShiubhlaigh|
The old and young kings were played by the following: R. Nash, A. Power, U. Wright, E. Keegan, Emma Vernon, Dora Gunning, Sara Algood. It was necessary to put women into men’s parts owing to the smallness of our company at that time.
The play was revived by the National Theatre Society, Ltd., in a somewhat altered version at Oxford, Cambridge, and London a few months later. I then entirely rewrote it up to the entrance of the Young Man, and changed it a good deal from that on to the end, and this new version was played at the Abbey Theatre for the first time in April, 1906.
The first version of The Shadowy Waters was first performed on January 14th, 1904, in the Molesworth Hall, Dublin, with the following players in the principal parts:
|Dectora||Maire ni Shiubhlaigh|
Its production was an accident, for in the first instance I had given it to the company that they might have some practice in the speaking of my sort of blank verse until I had a better play finished. It played badly enough from the point of view of any ordinary playgoer, but pleased many of my friends; and as I had been in America when it was played, I got it played again privately, and gave it to Miss Farr for a Theosophical Convention, that I might discover how to make a better play of it. I then completely rewrote it in the form that it has in the text of this book, but this version had once again to be condensed and altered for its production in Dublin, 1906. Mr. Sinclair took the part of Aibric, and Miss Darragh that of Dectora, while Mr. Frank Fay was Forgael as before. It owed a considerable portion of what success it met with both in its new and old form to a successful colour scheme and to dreamy movements and intonations on the part of the players. The scenery for its performance in 1906 was designed by Mr. Robert Gregory.
Deirdre was first played at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, on November 27th, 1906, with Miss Darragh as Deirdre, Mr. Frank Fay as Naisi, Mr. Sinclair as Fergus, Mr. Kerrigan as Conchubar, and Miss Sara Algood, Miss McNeill, and Miss O’Dempsey as the Musicians. The scenery was by Mr. Robert Gregory.