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Death of Cuchulain


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A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1945, Dublin Pb: 1939 G: Drama in 1 act; blank verse with a prose prologue S: Ireland, 1st c. ad C: 4m, 4f, 3 musiciansAfter a witty prologue by an Old Man (the author), Eithne Inguba, Cuchulain's young mistress, comes to him with a message from his wife Emer: that he must go out and fight an invading force under Queen Maeve. Eithne also carries a letter from Emer cautioning him to await reinforcements, and Eithne fears that Morrigu, the goddess of war, put the false message in her mouth. Although suspecting that Eithne wants to send him to his death, Cuchulain goes out to fight. Returning wounded, he binds himself to a stake. Aoife, former enemy and lover, comes, and they speak of the past. The Blind Man appears, hoping for a reward if he brings Cuchulain's head. As he is about to behead Cuchulain, the stage darkens, and Morrigu stands there holding Cuchulain's severed head. He has been slain by Maeve's lovers and sons, and Emer enters to perform a dance of mourning and anger. Street singers break into the solemn moment: they sing of the great heroes of the past and of Cuchulain, now nothing but a mediocre statue in the Dublin Post Office.

A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1945, Dublin Pb: 1939 G: Drama in 1 act; blank verse with a prose prologue S: Ireland, 1st c. ad C: 4m, 4f, 3 musicians

The Death of Cuchulain is, appropriately enough, Yeats's last play and is a reprise of many of the characters and themes of his Cuchulain cycle. Cuchulain did not die On Baile's Strand, in which the Blind Man and Aoife also feature, but was saved by Emer (whom we encounter in The Only Jealousy of Emer of 1919). Significantly, still in 1939 Yeats was treading his lonely symbolist path: a parallelogram represents the severed head, and there is a dance (‘where there are no words there is less to spoil’). As Europe descended into chaos, Yeats mourned the passing of the great heroes of the past.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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