WHEN Yeats' dramatic poem, The Countess Cathleen, was used in 1899 as the inaugural piece of the newly conceived Irish literary theater, "a politician, a cardinal, and newspaper combined forces to stir up opposition to the play on the ground that it was blasphemous and unpatriotic."  As a consequence, the opening performance was attended by a large body of Dublin police prepared to quell any disturbance.
Far from dampening the enthusiasm of the little band who were striving to create for Ireland a national theater, it spurred them on to greater efforts. It is largely due to the leadership and vision of W. B. Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory that we owe later successes of dramatists like Padriac Colum, J. M. Synge, "A.E." (George Russell), and Sean O'Casey. In the Abbey Theater under the sponsorship of the Irish National Theater Society, these playwrights found a group of sympathetic actors preeminently fitted to interpret Irish dramas many of which were destined for a lasting fame outside of Ireland.
"If frequent productions be the test of popularity," says Ernest Boyd , "then The Land of Heart's Desire is Yeats' most successful appeal to the playgoer." This was not only Yeats' first produced play (London, 1894) but it served also to introduce him in 1901 to the American stage.
The most intensely dramatic play Yeats has written is the little one-act play titled Cathleen ni Houlihan. This was Yeats first prose dramatic work, and strangely enough, it succeeded in pleasing even the critics who has attacked his other plays with so much bitterness. The immediate inspiration of the play Yeats attributed to a dream, but the central figure is that ageless, legendary Cathleen ni Houlihan that represents Ireland herself. The play in its finished version breathed a spirit of patriotism intense enough to satisfy the most ardent Irish Nationalist.
His Morality play, The Hour Glass, performed in 1913, served as a sort of transition to Yeats' later poetic plays based on Irish legend . . . this in spite of the fact that its first production was in prose. Following The Hour Glass, a series of legendary dramas appeared: The Shadowy Waters, On Baile's Strand, The King's Threshold, Deirdre, and The Green Helmet, all of which were produced with varying degrees of success. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1923.
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