Nationalism in “The Only Jealousy of Emer”

When reading “The Only Jealousy of Emer” it may not seem to be a nationalistic play, however, if you interpret Emer to be a representation of Ireland, it can be. Emer remains faithful to Cuchulain, despite the fact that he has courted other women because she knows that eventually he will tire of these other women. She knows he loved her once, and will always love her. That being said, if Emer represents Ireland in this scenario, one could argue that Cuchulain represents the people of Ireland. Ireland knows her people love her and will always love her, even if, at the moment, the people feel loyal to another country. Eventually the people of Ireland will tire of their “mistress” country and return to their beloved Ireland. In the mean time, just as Emer refused to give up her hope that he will return to her in exchange for the life of her husband, Ireland refuses to give up hope that her people will come back to her in order to save their lives. Even if her people die, Ireland knows they love her, and she loves them in return. Of course, this was not exactly what Yeats had intended when he wrote the play, saturated in references to his own life and his own loss, but the undertones are still there.

Reflections on Yeats’ Transitional Phase

I believe that his transitional phase reflects his belief that in order to unite oneself with one’s true self, they must wear the mask of their anti-self. By disregarding his dreamy, magical demeanor and utilize the forms of prose and couplets, he is clearly writing in a style not typical of his self, but ultimately cultivates his true self in doing so. This transitional phase also emulates the fact that his poetry, while not being literal, autobiographical, accounts, they are autobiographical in their subtext. Through his poems on lost love, we see his despair in not only losing the supposed unattainable Maud, but realizing that she was attainable, just not to him. Of course, by not writing his poetry completely autobiographical, recounting his own personal experiences, but by writing with a sort of vague demeanor, the people can identify with the emotions embodied in his work and are unified, by his words, in their thoughts; which he believes is the ultimate goal of art. 

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.