ISSN : (Online)
DOI : http://dx.doi.org/10.14354/yjk.2000.13.101
Heroines as Symbols of Ireland: Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Deirdre
Yeats wanted to create his own original dramatic form which was different fromrealistic dramas. In Yeats’s plays, imagery, symbols, style and plot are well organizedand unified as an organic whole. Therefore, the characters usually have symbolicmeanings.
In Cathleen Ni Houlihan(1902), Cathleen is a symbol of Ireland. The setting ofthe play is a cottage of Killala in 1798. A young person named Michael is marryingDelia Cahel, a beautiful young girl. And a poor old woman enters the cottage andsays that her land has been taken from her and many people have died for love ofher. This is Cathleen ni Houlihan, a personification of Ireland. At the end of theplay the poor old woman is transformed into a beautiful young girl. The woman canbe a symbol of the sovereignty of Ireland and Michael can be a symbol of a king ofIreland. The transformation is the result of the symbolical marriage of land and king.
Deirdre, the heroine of Deirdre(1907), is an important figure in the Ulster Cycleof Irish mythology. In Yeats’s Deirdre, Deirdre comes back to Ireland from a longexile with her lover, Naoise with promises of King Conchubar’s forgiveness.However, the treachery of Conchubar is revealed and Naoise is killed. At lastDeirdre commits suicide. In this play, Deirdre is an archetypal figure who symbolizesthe exile and misfortune of Irish people under the colonial rule. Therefore, Deirdre can be considered as an apt symbol of Ireland. In the last scene, Deirdre does notlose her dignity and chooses her death.
In the early twentieth century, Irish people felt a great sympathy for the tragicexperience and misfortune of Cathleen Ni Houlihan and Deirdre in Yeats’s plays andthey would consider them the symbols of Ireland. With the dramatization of thoseheroines, Yeats helped to encourage Irish people to recover national consciousness.