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O’Neill S.
2016 January
Celtic Shakespeare: The Bard and the Borderers
Beyond MacMorris: Shakespeare, Ireland and critical contexts
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© Willy Maley, Rory Loughnane and contributors 2013 All rights reserved. Stephen Dedalus’ studious suggestion of English and also Celtic intertexts for King Lear reminds us of the culturally diverse sources and histories embedded in Shakespeare’s plays.5 But when it comes to the Celtic spaces of those plays, Ireland seems at best an enigmatic entity on the hinterland, at worst barely visible. Compared to its Celtic neighbours, Ireland fares rather badly: Where Wales and Scotland loom large in 1 Henry IV and Macbeth respectively, Ireland is an offstage space in 2 Henry VI and Richard II. It is briefly a subject of discussion in Henry V, where the Irish captain MacMorris appears as part of a lively exchange between the representatives of Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England and reactively asks ‘Of my nation? What ish my nation?’ (3.2.90), Pistol echoes the refrain of an Irish song (4.4.4), and where a topical allusion is made to the Irish rebellion in the fifth chorus (5.0.30).6 To these Shakespearean (Irish) histories one might add The Tempest, which seems mutually accommodating to the context of early colonial Ireland as it does to Mediterranean or new world contexts, and the fleeting references in The Comedy of Errors (3.2.106-7) and As You Like It (5.2.84-5).7 With a list of plays as brief as this, it is unsurprising that Ireland has sometimes been regarded as a peripheral topic within Shakespeare studies.8.
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