Most people know W.B. Yeats as a Nobel Prize winning poet, but SCRC’s collections of Yeats’ correspondence reveal a different role: that of an active theatre director.
Yeats, along with Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn, founded the Irish Literary Theatre Society, which would settle at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Their aim was to foment contemporary Irish drama. SCRC holds several archival collections related to the operation of the Abbey in its early decades, including the papers of former managers Conal O’Riordan (MSS 054), and Lennox Robinson (MSS 091). Both of these collections contain letters from Yeats to the managers which demonstrate his active role as an Abbey director in its first decades of operation.
In the letter displayed below, written to Lennox Robinson in 1929, Yeats considers the merits of two plays submitted for consideration by the Abbey directors. The opinions he expresses are quite sharp. He strongly criticizes one of the plays, writing that it “has no meaning whatever [sic]” and “the language would disgrace the Poets Corner in a Parish Magazine.” His criticism regarding the second play is more constructive; he believes it has some structural problems, but finds it quite interesting overall. He saves his strongest criticism for the Abbey’s audience, writing that they will love the play he finds “contemptible”, and will not understand the one he finds interesting. This criticism of the literary tastes of authors and theatre-goers may seem harsh, but it is typical of his correspondence style. Although he often expressed exasperation with the literary culture in Ireland, which he found naive and backward-looking, his long relationship with the Abbey demonstrates his lifelong participation in that culture.