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Words Upon the Window Pane


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Jonathan Swift (1667—1745) writer and dean of St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin

 

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A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1930, Dublin Pb: 1934 G: Drama in 1 act S: Lodging house, Dublin, 1930s C: 4m, 3fThe Dublin Spiritualists' Association is about to hold a seance in rooms once visited by Stella, the name Jonathan Swift gave to his beloved Esther Johnson. One of the windows has part of a poem by Stella scratched in the glass. After some debate between the various attendees at the seance, amongst whom are a clergyman, a gambler, and a Cambridge student writing a thesis on Swift, the medium Mrs Henderson begins. A spirit Lulu is driven away by an ugly old man, who turns out to be Swift, to whom Vanessa (Hester Vanhomrigh) makes a declaration of love. Swift refuses to be responsible for a child coming into the world, wishing to leave only his intellect to posterity. Quoting Stella's poem, Swift then tells of his love for her. The Cambridge student John Corbet is suitably impressed by Mrs Henderson's performance, but she denies all knowledge of Swift. Left on her own, Swift speaks through her once more: ‘Perish the day on which I was born!’

A: W. B. Yeats Pf: 1930, Dublin Pb: 1934 G: Drama in 1 act S: Lodging house, Dublin, 1930s C: 4m, 3f

This is the only play by Yeats with a realistic contemporary setting. Dramatic tension is developed by allowing a comic introduction to precede the disturbingly mysterious seance (Yeats was himself a spiritualist) and its horrible vision of the elderly and insane Swift. Here Yeats also expounds his belief that the great Irish statesmen of the early 18th century represented a golden age of enlightened government, to be destroyed by the advent of democracy.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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W. B. Yeats (1865—1939) poet


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