Gender, Performance, and Authorship at the Abbey Theatre argues for a reconsideration of authorship at the Abbey Theatre. The actresses who performed the key roles at the Abbey contributed original ideas, language, stage directions, and revisions to the theatre’s most renowned performances and
texts, and this study asks that we consider the role of actresses in the development of these plays. Plays that have been historically attributed to W. B. Yeats and J. M. Synge have complicated histories, and the neglect of these women’s contributions over the past century reflects power dynamics
that privilege male, Anglo Irish writers over the contributions of working class actresses. The study asks that readers consider the importance of past performance in the creation of written text.Yeats began his earliest plays performing with and writing for Laura Armstrong, a young woman who was a precursor to Maud Gonne in her irreverent challenge to traditional gender roles. After writing his first plays and poems for Armstrong, Yeats met Gonne and developed two Cathleen plays, The
Countess Cathleen and Cathleen ni Houlihan, for her to perform, beginning a lifetime of fruitful argument between the two writers about how Ireland should appear onstage. The book then turns to Synge’s work with Molly Allgood in creating The Playboy of the Western World and Molly’s contributions to
Synge’s Deirdre of the Sorrows. A section on Yeats’s Deirdre shows the contributions of Lady Gregory and the play’s performers. The book ends with a reconsideration of Abbey actress Sara Allgood’s performances in British and American film as she brought her earliest work in the pre-Abbey tableau
movement to American audiences in the 1940s, in ways that challenged ideas of Irishness, American identity, and aging women on screen.