Conflicting Ideals of Feminism in Cathleen Ni Houlihan

An interesting and notable fact about this play is the fact that it was clearly written by two different people; the first half by Lady Augusta Gregory, and the second by W.B. Yeats. Even without knowing this, there is a clear contrast in the ideals of the two halves of the play, in the distinction between the two obvious. While the play in its entirety is political, there appears to be two different political statements within.

Lady Augusta Gregory is very well known for her feminist ideals. She strongly believed that the best way to empower women was by giving them a voice within the home. Gregory, although coming from an upper middle-class background, was familiar with the life-style of the peasants and therefore had a good understanding of how to approach feminism in a way that would be realistic to their way of life. This ideal is seen in the beginning of Cathleen Ni Houlihan when Bridget, the mother and wife of the household, is clearly in charge of what goes on within the household with the manner in which she speaks to her sons, as well as her husband. Gregory gives Bridget an authority that wasn’t necessarily common for women by having her talk back to her husband and by keeping the men in their respective places.

Yeats’ contribution to the play is in stark contrast to Gregory’s. As opposed to having a play about feminism in the peasant household, Yeats’ turned the main point to Irish nationalism. Although he did not take away the feminist ideals altogether, he gave women an empty symbol to identify with instead of an empowered woman. While Cathleen Ni Houlihan, played by feminist Maud Gonne, did, in a sense, represent female empowerment because she was able to, through her stories and her song, convince Michael, the eldest son about to be married, to leave his ordinary life and fight for Ireland. In this way, however, Yeats turned women from powerful voices in the home, to a mere symbol for men to fight.

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