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The Irish Literary Theater

With Yeats, Edward Martyn and George Moore, Lady Gregory planned and established the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin, which later became the Abbey Theatre.

The Land of Heart's Desire The Land of Heart's Desire

W. B. Yeats, 1865-1939
The Land of Heart’s Desire 
Portland, Maine: Thomas B. Mosher, 1903. 
(SPL) PR 5904 .L3 1903

“Nine hundred and fifty copies of this book printed on Van Gelder hand-made paper and the type distributed.”

Yeats described in his Autobiographies the influence of the Irish Mystical order on his literary work, “I wished my writings, and those of the school I hoped to found, to have a secret symbolical relation to these mysteries, for in this way I thought there would be a greater richness a greater claim upon the love of the soul. . .”

One of the early plays performed by the Irish Literary theatre was The Land of Heart’s Desire, first performed at London’s Avenue Theatre in March 1894 as the curtain raiser to Shaw’s Arms and the Man. At the end of this “miracle play,” Maire Bruin leaves her husband for the mystical world of the fairies. The book is dedicated to Florence Farr, an original member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn who influenced Yeats’s mystical theatre ideas.

The Unicorn from the Stars, and Other Plays The Unicorn from the Stars, and Other Plays The Unicorn from the Stars, and Other Plays The Unicorn from the Stars, and Other Plays The Unicorn from the Stars, and Other Plays

W. B. Yeats, 1865 -1939. 
The Unicorn from the Stars. 
New York: Macmillan, 1908. 
(SPL) PR 5904 .U6 1908

Yeats wrote a number of plays for the Irish Literary Theatre in 1902, among them the three which would make up the Unicorn from the Stars (1908). The play “Unicorn from the Stars” was a rewrite of the 1902 “Where there is Nothing,” a realistic drama about a mystic committed to altering life on earth. In “Cathleen Ni Houlihan,” which Yeats had written in 1902 for Maud Gonne to act, the hero leaves his wife for a woman who personifies mystical Ireland. “The Hourglass” was built around a text from the Irish Mystical Order rituals, “There are two living countries, the one visible and the one invisible....” All three plays are based in Yeats’s theory of the “Miracle Play,” which depicts a world which cannot be seen.

The “Unicorn from the Stars” was, according to biographer Richard Ellman, a Golden Dawn metaphor for the soul. By 1904, fellow Golden Dawn Cabalist Miss Annie Horniman was sponsoring the Irish Literary Theatre. She purchased the building which would become the famous Abbey Theatre. The merging of the occult and nationalist causes in the theatre was brief, but the tradition of treating legendary Irish subject matter and the Irish peasantry made the Abbey Theatre unique in its time.