March 17, 2005
Today Me Name Is Seamus O'Llama
Message to Sadie: My Dear, You worry me sometimes.
(As a matter of fact, I've always found the Disneyfication (there's that word again!) of St. Patrick's Day to be rather irritating. The Llama-ettes were carrying on about catching leprechauns this morning, as if they were cute n'cuddly little things. The truth is that, like Cupid, the Easter Bunny and Halloween spooks, they have a much darker and violent pedigree. Patrick O'Brian wrote a short story - found in the collection The Rendezvous - and Other Stories about a man who stumbles across one of their treasure hordes with ghastly, if elegantly understated, results.)
Way back when in law school, I had a small role in a school production of John Synge's Playboy of the Western World. There is a raw poetry to the way Irish peasants speak (or at least used to) that Synge tried to capture in his texts, a prolific use of metaphor and simile coupled with a particular wild syntax that I could not begin to describe. Once you get used to it, it is really quite beautiful, both to speak and to hear. Alas, as we performed in front of a student audience, I had the distinct impression that about nine tenths of what we were saying went rocketing right over their heads (at least until about three quarters of the way through). This wasn't entirely their fault, since it was probably the first exposure to Synge most of them ever had. Also, we were just a bunch of amateur hacks - this was a pretty ambitious attempt on the part of the theatre professor who staged it. I'm not sure we measured up to what he had been hoping to accomplish.
Synge wrote about the world of the western Irish (County Cork) peasant around the turn of the 20th Century. Oddly enough, prior to reading him, I had long been a fan of the Irish R.M. stories by E. O. Sommerville and Martin Ross, whose works were set in exactly the same time and place. Synge tried to paint a stark, gritty, "realistic" peasant's eye view of things (thus enraging certain sections of his audience, who rioted upon the premier of the play in Dublin). Sommerville and Ross, on the other hand, wrote comic pieces from the viewpoint of the Anglo-Irish gentry. Despite coming at it from completely different angles, there is a great deal of similarity in their portrayals of this world.
(Before you ask, no, I don't much care for the Peter Bowles television adaptation of The Irish R.M. The stories are first-person narratives spoken by Major Yeats. As with the case with Bertie Wooster, half the humor is the way in which he goes about telling them. It is impossible to translate this to the screen.)
UPDATE: The O'Brian story I was thinking of is called "The Happy Despatch". Very chillling.
Posted by Robert at March 17, 2005 02:25 PM