The purpose of this Final Year Project is to argue against a belief created by the Irish Literary Theatre and carried on by its contemporaries that there was no Irish Theatre prior to the dawn of the 20th century. The theatre that absolutely did exist before then has to a large degree been discarded for various different reasons, the main one being its apparent un-Irishness. By denying the relevance of this „pre-Irish Theatre‟ Irish Theatre a historical void has been created, it seems to be an attempt whether intentional or not to throw off history. The ideas behind this belief point towards a notion that there exists no link between early-modern and modern Irish Theatre, the goal of this argument is to prove the existence of this link and thus fill the void its denial has created.
The main rallying point for this argument will be the Irish playwright and performer, Dion Boucicault who was possibly one of the most successful Irish playwrights in history and definitely one of the most successful playwrights worldwide of the entire 19th century. In contemporary times however his huge significance has faded into almost complete obscurity, his works are seldom mentioned, studied or taught apart from a literal handful of published academic works. These are the effects of the denial of the link between early-modern and modern Irish Theatre, this Final Year Project by using the career and works of Boucicault will attempt to bridge that gap.
The Final Year Project will begin with a chapter on the history of theatre and its practice in Ireland from just before the United Irishman rebellion up until the beginning of Boucicault‟s career. The purpose of this is to show the difficulties faced by the Irish of that time in their want for and drive to a National Irish Theatre and an end to the misrepresentation of the race as-well as why neither of these things happened. This information is required as it is essential to know just what these problems were because in the eyes of the 19th Century Irish, Dion Boucicault overcame every one of them. The second chapter will serve the purpose of discussing the career of Dion Boucicault to show just how significant his accomplishments were and how he was received by his worldwide audience. This will prove that he was no small or easily forgettable playwright; he managed to rise above the problems of the Irish at home by using the massive numbers of displaced Irish immigrants abroad to effectively internationalize Irish Theatre and created a new and acceptable image of the Irish people. By proving or rather re-establishing his importance and popularity in the 19th century we should see that he serves a vital place in history. The third chapter will focus solely on Boucicault‟s three most famous Irish plays; The Colleen Bawn, Arrah-na-Pogue and The Shaughraun which have since been formed into a loose trilogy. The purpose of this is to address the apparent un-Irishness of these plays and to show that they are progressive works that spoke for the plight of the Irish people. All three of these plays offer a composite image of Ireland which is a style that has since fallen out of taste and has been labelled as „Paddywhackery‟ Firstly these plays were written against the „Paddywhackery‟ of their day and were hugely successful and accepted at that task so it is essential to ignore the latter-day distaste to gain a better understanding of what these plays meant to the Irish then for they are little but novelty today. This Final Year Project will conclude by bringing all of this information together to establish that it is obvious that Boucicault was trying to further the cause of the Irish people. He was representing them and their troubles on stage in a way that the world could see. He did not cry for rebellion but instead opted for reconciliation and hope for love between the two peoples of England and Ireland. These might sound like lofty aims and perhaps they were for rebellion won out in the end so perhaps that is another reason why Boucicault with his ambition, flair, romance and brogue faded. His works are far from genius but their staggering popularity and undeniable influence makes denying them relatively impossible because they paved the way for the continued internationalization of Irish Theatre by its next champions – The Irish Literary Theatre.