Nicholas Taylor-Collins
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in Shakespeare, memory, and modern Irish literature
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This chapter focuses on Yeats’s engagement with the motif of land in both his drama and poetry, with a particular interest in the way he is concerned with what is on the land’s surface. Whilst previous studies have noted the influence of King Lear on Yeats’s thinking – and, in particular, Lear’s concern with linear genealogy and who will inherit his territory – that comparison is limited in its usefulness. Instead, through a thorough examination of Yeats’s thinking about surfaces, this interest in Coole House – Lady Gregory’s ancestral home that Yeats hopes will remain standing – transforms into his interest in his tower whose crevices and degradation are instead praised. What joins these interests is the impression these buildings make in the land, and not the history they presuppose. The ideal figure in this vein is that of the dancer – whom we see, for example, in The Wanderings of Oisin, ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’, and ‘The Double Vision of Michael Robartes’ – because of the privileging of indeterminacy and the continuous process of deterritorialisation and reterritorialisation. Foucault (1980) calls this counter-memory. This idealism is visible in the earlier period in As You Like It, when a dance takes place to celebrate the return of Duke Senior’s land to him, and in Edmund Spenser’s and Sir John Davies’s respective poetry. This counter-memorial preference also conditions Yeats’s response to the (successive) Famine, Land Wars, and Irish revolution that sought to reterritorialise Irish land.

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