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Unfinished Business: A Copy-specific Analysis of Key Research Items by W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and J. M. Synge in the Archive of Irish Actor and Theatre Director, Frank Fay (1870-1931)

Citation: Fay, Matthew (2022) Unfinished Business: A Copy-specific Analysis of Key Research Items by W. B. Yeats, Lady Gregory, and J. M. Synge in the Archive of Irish Actor and Theatre Director, Frank Fay (1870-1931). Doctoral thesis, School of Advanced Study.

Matthew Fay Thesis Final vols I and II.pdf

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This thesis aims to develop an in-depth understanding of a specific type of marginalia through the analysis of the marks made by two actors in their books. While critics have demonstrated ways of using an author’s drafts and corrections for purposes of scholarly editing, the significance of annotation by actors is an under-explored area. Actors’ marginalia open a window upon the relationship between the author and actors in the creation of the theatrical event. Through the study of these marks, we can critically evaluate the contribution of actors to the composition of the text through the creation of performance variations, while, at the same time, better understand the ways in which traditions of performance were mobilised for a particular historical context. The authors of the marginalia in this study are two actors who founded and managed the amateur acting troupe which became the first Abbey Theatre company, responsible for producing premières of key works by W. B. Yeats, J. M. Synge and Lady Gregory from 1902 to 1908. Frank Fay was an actor and teacher of speech to whom Yeats dedicated the first edition of The King’s Threshold. Willie Fay performed the chief comic roles in Synge’s plays of contemporary Irish life, and wrote an autobiography, The Fays of the Abbey Theatre in the 1930s. The annotation in Frank Fay’s first editions of plays by Yeats, Synge and Lady Gregory is the principal documentary source for this research, augmented by Willie Fay’s own copy of his autobiography, extensively revised for an unknown purpose. Fay’s unpublished correspondence with Yeats provides further contemporary witness. As Frank Fay observed, the plays of the Irish revival were unlike contemporary commercial drama, and his actor’s annotations demonstrate the process of finding methods from the classical past and the contemporary avant garde to present them effectively to different theatre audiences. This thesis shows that the performances of the Abbey were adaptations of European theatrical traditions in an Irish context, and it uses a new archive of documentary evidence to do so. Chapter One uses Frank Fay’s markings on The King’s Threshold, Yeats’s verse drama of Irish history, as evidence for critically evaluating the actor’s contribution to the textual development of the play. Fay’s correspondence with Yeats demonstrates specific examples of Fay’s learning which appear in Yeats’s articles and essays without acknowledgement, suggesting the influence of Fay on Yeats’s dramatic writing. Chapters Two, Three, and Four explore the Fays’ relationship with J. M. Synge from different perspectives. One strand analyses the creation of a performance style for Synge’s controversial version of naturalism in his one-act plays; another element evaluates the contribution of these documents to debates about the editing of Synge’s three-act drama, The Well of the Saints; a third considers the role of Synge in the legacy of the Fays. Chapter Five compares two early versions of Lady Gregory’s The White Cockade (1905) to discover the impact of performance on versions of the text. In Chapter Six, Frank Fay’s marks on Lady Gregory’s The Doctor in Spite of Himself are used to trace the deteriorating relationship between the authors and actor-producers in the years following the opening of the Abbey Theatre. This thesis discusses questions of editing and textual transmission in the creation of scholarly editions. While the role of actors and stage managers has been widely debated in the textual criticism of Elizabethan plays, it has not received significant attention in the modern era. Should actors be considered as co-creators of the text, or as being responsible solely for the performance through interpreting the primary creator’s work for the stage? Following critical evaluation of the role of the actors in the composition of the plays studied here, this thesis stops short of claiming that the actors, in this case the Fays, are the co-authors of the dramatic text. Finally, the Fay versions of the text are demonstrated as being adaptive of the text, rather than constitutive of it. Actor’s copies are analogous to the theatre prompt-book and are aspects of the banked text, which can act as a matrix for future performances and are a valuable point of reference for scholarly editions.

Creators: Fay, Matthew and
Subjects: Culture, Language & Literature
Keywords: Irish Studies, Irish Theatre, Yeats, Book History, Marginalia, Twentieth-century Theatre
Divisions: Institute of English Studies
Collections: Theses and Dissertations
  • 9 February 2023 (completed)
  • 22 July 2022 (accepted)


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