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LADY GREGORY (1852-1932)

The following biography was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 198-9.

Lady Augusta Gregory was born at Roxborough, County Galway, Ireland, in 1859. For many years she participated, like Yeats, in various revivals of Irish lore and literature, and in the creation of a national theater and drama. Together with Yeats and other collaborators, she helped found the Irish National Theater Society, and served as manager of the Abbey Theater in Dublin.

Lady Gregory is one of the most important figures in the Irish [theater of her time]: her rewriting of the ancient Irish legends -- in Cuchulain of Muirthemne, Gods and Fighting Men, and The Book of Saints and Wonders -- her plays, her lecturing, her co-operation in innumerable societies for the social and political betterment of her country, entitle her to a place of honor by the side of Yeats. Her best plays, her comedies that is, were written in order to furnish relief to the historical plays, the folk and fairy-plays which were at one period threatening to make the Abbey Theater a one-sided institution. In the note appended to Spreading the News, she says: "The idea of this play first came to me as a tragedy.... But comedy and not tragedy was wanted at our theater to put beside the high poetic work, The King's Threshold, The Shadowy Waters, On Baile's Strand, The Well of the Saints; and I let laughter have its way with the little play." Five of the comedies in her volume called Seven Short Plays, and one or two others, are surely as quaint and humorous and truly comic as any of [their] time. They may well be compared with the lighter pieces of Molière: kindly yet satirical, gay yet at times bitter, but always intensely human. Lady Gregory excels in the one-act form; in her longer plays, like The Image, she lacks the necessary skill in the construction of a moving and interesting story. Of mystic and tragic beauty Lady Gregory is more sparing, but The Traveling Man and The Gaol Gate, the latter in particular, are noble bits of pathos, well written in stately and rhythmical prose. Were it not for the haunting echoes of Synge's language, there would be no ground for hesitating to place Mary Cahel's speeches in The Gaol Gate as the finest prose produced in the Irish Theater.


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