Katharine Worth offers her readers a European perspective on Irish drama and a celebration of Yeats as a master of 20th century theatre. With elegance and lucidity she traces the influence of Maeterlinck’s ‘static drama’ on the theories of Yeats, who conceived a horror of excessive physical movement on the stage. Lady Gregory taught her actors to suppress all bodily movement by forcing them to walk with books balanced on their heads during rehearsals, but for the exacting Yeats even that was not enough. He fantasised about rehearsing his players in barrels. Some decades later Samuel Beckett went one better than Yeats by actually imprisoning his three actors in barrels for the duration of an entire play.
Professor Worth’s book is essentially a chronicle of the search by playwrights for a ‘drama of the interior’, for a static theatre that would express what Yeats called ‘the deeps of the mind’. This was a quest initiated by Maeterlinck in his major essay entitled ‘The Tragical in Daily Life’, where he rejected the posturing melodrama of the 19th century:
I have grown to believe that an old man, seated in his armchair, waiting patiently ... motionless as he is, does yet live in reality a deeper, more human and more universal life than the lover who strangles his mistress, the captain who conquers in battle or the husband who avenges his honour.
It is no coincidence that such an assertion finds its logical conclusion in the immobile plight of Hamm in Endgame. The static heroes of Beckett represent an extreme application of a concept borrowed from Maeterlinck, but developed most powerfully by the playwrights of the early Abbey Theatre.
Yeats wrote with evident