Theses Doctoral

Black Lyric: Trauma and Poetic Voice in Contemporary Irish Drama

McHugh, Meadhbh

I argue that lyricism, prevalent on the Irish stage from the inception of the national dramatic theatre tradition, is invoked, subverted, and exhausted by contemporary Irish playwrights. Lyric art had an evident nation-building function on the Irish stage, but the capacities of lyric language also included the expression and containment of painful material that otherwise could not easily be represented or voiced, but which, by the second half of the twentieth century, could not be comfortably repressed. In the period 1960-2010 (from Tom Murphy to Mark O’Rowe), playwrights of national significance—Murphy, Marina Carr, Martin McDonagh, Enda Walsh, and O’Rowe—increasingly associate the Hiberno-English lyric register with social fracture, emotional and psychic disturbance, and loss, until the lyric mode itself is exposed as inherently traumatized. I call this later mode, at the close of the twentieth century, “black lyric.” Black lyric operates as a travesty of lyric expression.

Black lyrical writing is lyrical text containing, but also produced by, pain, and at its fullest power, it operates as a grotesque parody of poetic expressiveness. It confronts the audience with trauma and psychic suffering attached to national expression rather than offering sonorous comfort. This project uses a combination of close reading, historical research, and theoretical analysis to argue that the playwrights who deploy heightened Hibernicized English at the end of the twentieth century are commenting upon and challenging the canon of Irish drama, which depended on a lyric register not only to console but to conceal. Commentators of twentieth-century Irish drama routinely remark on the dramatic tradition’s visceral poetry, yet it is rarely the subject of any sustained analysis outside of considerations of “language” or “style” generally. This dissertation seeks to partly address that omission.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Worthen, William B.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 16, 2021