Talking with Ghosts of Irish Playwrights Past: Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats …


Richard Russell


Marina Carr’s By the Bog of Cats … enacts a figurative conversation with the influential ghosts of past Irish playwrights. Carr herself has discussed the question of influence in ghostly terms in her 1998 essay, “Dealing with the Dead.” This drama thus “converses” with earlier Irish playwrights such as William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory, John Synge, and Samuel Beckett in such a way as to demonstrate the continuities and discontinuities between their work and Carr’s most important play. For example, the marked emphasis on conversation by the Abbey Theatre dramatists such as Yeats, Gregory, and Synge, and even by Beckett, is continued by Carr in By the Bog. The play is written in a distinctive Irish Midlands dialect that recalls Synge’s dramatic Hiberno-English dialect. Moreover, the play’s overall emphasis on talk and storytelling recalls the high regard of language held by Yeats, Synge, and Gregory and promulgated by them as the defining characteristic of an Abbey play. Additionally, Yeats’s late play Purgatory (1938) is discussed as the most influential play on By the Bog because of their similarities in setting, plot devices, and motifs. Carr’s dramatic “conversation” with Purgatory and with Beckett’s early dramas also suggests that her play looks forward from the early Abbey theatre and toward contemporary Irish drama, whose aim, according to Irish drama critic Anthony Roche, is “to prepare a person for death.” Carr’s Hester Swane is prepared throughout the day for her own death, which tragedy is compounded by her murder of her child.

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