The (De)Evolution of the Irish Anti-hero from Oisin's Fabled Isle to McDonagh's Lonesome West

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Title: The (De)Evolution of the Irish Anti-hero from Oisin's Fabled Isle to McDonagh's Lonesome West
Author: Turney, Aaron Daves
Advisors: Jon Thompson, Committee Member
Carmine Prioli, Committee Member
Mary Helen Thuente, Committee Chair
Abstract: General Thesis: There is a constant, observable conflict in 20th century Irish drama between traditional pagan Irish values and those imported first by Christian missionaries and later by English invaders. Often, dramatic works of this period portray a single character confronting those forces that represent modernity. The character's heroism usually remains obscured by modern standards because he appears in the form of a tramp, an outcast, or even a violent criminal. But the motif is clear: characters such as these are heroic in the traditional Irish sense because they stand as resistors to foreign values that threaten their culture. In the contexts of the plots these characters are not stock heroes, but instead are anti-heroes alienated by events and circumstances and judged by modern standards. Such works do contain clearly defined heroes⁄heroines who operate according to accepted modern values. The rebellious, shocking, or violent behavior of the anti-hero or anti-heroine is put in juxtaposition. The project begins with an analysis of the Oisin and St. Patrick legend as the cornerstone emblem of the tug-of-war between Irish tradition and foreign modernity, highlighting the divergence in both the language and the values of those characters. The motif established with the Oisin and St. Patrick tale (the motif in which the invasion of the imported god with foreign values threatens preexisting Irish values recurs in Irish drama throughout the 20th century. My intention is to show that the characters, such as Oisin, who can not fit the mold of modernity, also must not. In their inability to adapt, they stand as misfits in their own time, but also as preservers of an Irish tradition that predates colonialism and only s in the fringes of modern Irish society. And there is your anti-hero: not always palatable to the audience (who may be caught up in the immediacy of dramatic events), but always true to dreaming and mythmaking as well as rebellious in behavior, language, verse, or song. The political intensity of the 20th century is portrayed in generated works of drama that often are reducible to that same heroic⁄anti-heroic motif. My project will follow a (flexible) chronology of works that will show the (de)evolution of this anti-hero motif beginning with Oisin, followed by characters of J.M. Synge, Sean O'Casey, Brendan Behan, and finally Martin McDonagh. My intended focus is on the anti-hero's life in a relative vacuum, with a specific focus on dialectical expressions, rebellious, even violent behavior, and a general propensity to misunderstand, if not ignore altogether, modern conventions. To clarify, the term "(de)evolution" is appropriate because the characters, as the century progresses, become increasingly antisocial in their sentiments and behavior.
Date: 2007-12-10
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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