Mimesis, Agency, Subalternity: Irish and Caribbean Playboys in John M. Synge’s and Mustapha Matura’s Comedies

Master's Thesis 2010 70 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Comparative Literature




1. Cultural Translation
1.1. The Rhetoric of the Empire
1.2. Staging Ethnography: Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World
1.3. Mustapha Matura’s Adaptation

2. Contact Zones
2.1. The Theatre
2.2. The Irish Mayo and the Trinidadian Mayaro
2.3. J. M. Synge’s Irish and M. Matura’s Creole

3. Subalternity and the “People”
3.1. The Peasant: Imperial and Nationalist Stereotypes
3.2. J. M. Synge’s Peasants and Their Uncanny Doubles in M. Matura’s Adaptation

4. Mimesis versus Mimicry
4.1. Representation and Alterity: The Playboy of the Western World ’s Mimesis
4.2. Repetition and Resistance: Playboy of the West Indies ’s Mimicry

5. Mimesis versus Diegesis
5.1. Story-telling: Questions of Authorship and Authority
5.2. Metadramatic References: Playboy of the West Indies ’s “distancing signals”

6. Agency Troubles
6.1. Patriarchy and Colonialism
6.2. Motherhood and Nationhood




The aim of the present thesis is to explore the relation between John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World and Mustapha Matura’s Playboy of the West Indies and the different ways in which they treat the problem of the literary representation of marginal groups. The Playboy of the Western World claims in its preface to introduce authentic notions of the Irish peasantry. The Anglo-Irish image-maker’s pretence of privileged knowledge of the peasants grants him the authority to represent them or, in a way, to speak on their behalf. Consequently, Synge’s representation strives to acquire the status of its model by establishing itself as a truthful reconstruction of Irish life. In this way, the play controls and determines the image of the represented peasantry.

In contrast, Playboy of the West Indies, Mustapha Matura’s Caribbean adaptation of the Anglo-Irish text, does not refer to the actualities of Trinidadian life. It rather offers an exaggerated repetition or a parody of its predecessor, thus mocking The Playboy of the Western World ’s claimed authority to provide the true picture of Irish peasantry. In this respect, Playboy of the West Indies ’s aim is to expose the Anglo-Irish play’s mechanisms of control, not to present a counter-version of the earlier text. Commenting on and extending colonial stereotypes as well as Synge’s notions of the peasantry, the Caribbean Playboy discloses the constructedness of dominating images, thus introducing modes of resistance.

In order to illustrate the above mentioned points, my thesis concentrates on the issues of cultural translations, contact zones, subalternity, mimesis and agency, discussed in the same sequence as enumerated. To begin with, both The Playboy of the Western World and Playboy of the West Indies dispose of practices of cultural translation that mediates between different codes and searches for correspondences. (See Döring 1998, 82) The Anglo-Irish Playboy designates Synge’s attempt to translate the culture of the Irish peasantry of Mayo on the theatre stage. However, the play’s claims for originality efface the traces of the translation and the changes of original meaning it implies, thus warranting the transparency of the translator. In this manner, Synge’s translation domesticates peasant culture. In contrast, translating the earlier text to a Caribbean context, Matura’s adaptation emphasizes the process of cultural translation, thus foreignizing or estranging its model. Pointing out cultural transfers as such transfers, it questions their authenticity. Playboy of the West Indies remains vigilant to the position of the translator as a traitor, in other words, the translator’s ability to falsify original meaning. Next, the two plays are to be regarded in terms of the phenomenon of the contact zone that designates “social spaces where disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other”. (Pratt 1992, 4) The theatre becomes such a place of interaction or even conflict between playwrights and their audiences, as the Catholic, middle-class Irish audience’s infuriation with The Playboy of the Western World, a play by a Protestant, Anglo-Irish Intellectual, demonstrates. Furthermore, the Irish Mayo, situated in the most remote and least Anglicized part of the country, becomes the place of struggle between nationalist and colonial discourses. Similarly, the Trinidadian Mayaro designates the point of Columbus’s first encounter with the natives. In addition, Synge’s Irish and Matura’s creole are to be regarded as languages of the contact zone in terms of their employment of English lexical items and indigenous syntax, preserving the tension between the disparate elements. Last but not least, the relation between the two Playboys themselves is one of interaction, clash and struggle.

Furthermore, the most significant problem, initiating the mentioned struggle between the texts, is that of representation. In this respect, the Irish peasants, considered as the preservers of uncontaminated Irishness, become the objects of competing nationalist and colonial images. The Playboy of the Western World harshly satirizes the mentioned notions and advocates the subjective version of the amateur ethnographer Synge as the peasantry’s right portrayal. Consequently, the Irish peasants remain spoken for by colonizers, nationalists and revivalists. In other words, they are completely excluded from the discussion about their representation. Therefore, the Irish peasants are to be considered as subaltern or ones who are deprived of the ability to exert influence on the construction of their own cultural images. Providing an exaggerated version of Synge’s peasants, Playboy of the West Indies mocks the actuality of the notions which the preceding text promotes. Thus, the adaptation finds a way to corrode the representational authority of the Anglo- Irish Playboy.

Moreover, Synge’s representation silences the represented peasantry due to its exploitation of “the magic of mimesis” that “[grants] the copy the power and character of the original, the representation the power of the represented”. (See Taussig 1993, xviii) Furthermore, “the making and existence of the artifact that portrays something gives one power over that which is portrayed”. (Taussig 1993, 13) Therefore, mimesis usurps the power of the represented. In this respect, Synge’s portrayal of the Irish peasantry passes for the original itself, thus assuming the status of its model. The employment of mimesis grants the Anglo-Irish image-maker the power to determine and control the identity constructs of the portrayed ones. In contrast, Playboy of the West Indies corrodes the mimesis of its predecessor by replicating the Anglo-Irish Playboy in an overdeterminated fashion, thus mocking its power to act as an original. In other words, the Caribbean adaptation disposes of the resemblance and menace of mimicry (See Bhabha 1994, 123), a subversive repetition that challenges the normalized knowledges of colonizers and colonized.

In addition, Playboy of the West Indies not only subverts its model, but also distances itself from Synge’s play by introducing “the theme of the fabrication of stories as a way of imposing authority” (Döring 1998, 88) and making use of metadramatic references. Exposing story-telling as an act of power, Matura’s adaptation implicitly questions the project of the Anglo-Irish Playboy to provide the master version of the native peasantry and acknowledges the intersection of various strands in a narrative. Allowing “other “denied” knowledges [to] enter upon the dominant discourse and estrange the basis of its authority”, it promotes the notion of culture as necessary heterogeneous or hybrid, consisting of different fragments which constantly grapple with each other. (Bhabha 1994, 114) The metadramatic references emphasize the citational character of the replicated images, thus provoking the audience to rethink the validity of dominating notions about colonial others and assert the Caribbean Playboy as a product of cultural translation that explicitly refers to its translatedness.

Finally, the discussed problems of representation are to be considered in terms of their relation to agency, in other words, one’s ability to act autonomously. (See Ashcroft 2004, 8) In this respect, The Playboy of the Western World deprives the objects of its representation of the possibility for agency or self-constitution by constructing their image for them. In other words, the Anglo-Irish play’s exploitation of mimesis negates the possibility for agency of the portrayed ones, who are to be regarded as subaltern or spoken for. In contrast, Playboy of the West Indies does not try to speak for any marginal groups. It promotes mimicry and hybridity as possible modes of resistance or implicit openings for agency. Still, the adaptation asserts the impossibility of killing the ghost of colonialism for good. Consequently, the former colonials should constantly recast and refashion their entire world on the basis of the colonial premises.

1. Cultural Translations

1.1. The Rhetoric of the Empire

Colonial discourse operates with series of basic tropes that cast any native subject in the same guise. Viewed from the perspective of the English observer, the Irish and the ‘West Indians’ share an identical image:

Fraught with all vice, replete with villainy,

They [the Irish] still rebel and that most treacherously.

Like brutish Indians these wild Irish live;

Their quiet neighbors they delight to grieve.

(Markham 1600 in Quinn 1966, 136, emphasis added)

The notion of the New World natives as savage and lawless rebels serves as an explanatory reference for the Irish. Ignoring the cultural specificities of the different subjugated groups, colonial discourse homogenizes its others through the constitution of a set of stereotypical images, in terms of which the colonizer depicts the colonized. Spurr asserts: “Taken together, the rhetorical modes of writing about non-Western peoples constitute a kind of repertoire for colonial discourse, a range of tropes, conceptual categories, and logical operations available for purposes of representation.” (1993, 3) In this respect, the rhetoric of the Empire is to be considered in terms of a limited set of figurations and conceptual categories, transferred from one subjugated group to another. The strategic transfer of stereotypical significations of otherness across the colonies is the “regulating rationale” of all imperial fantasies about colonial others. (See Döring 1998, 78) The employment of the simile in the above citation illustrates the manner in which colonial discourse produces the sameness of apparently different peoples. The transfer of the Indians’ savageness on the Irish is possible due to their identical position of subjugated others, not by virtue of any inherent features the Irish and the New World natives share. Furthermore, the techniques of colonial rule, practiced by the English in Ireland, are transferred to the New World colonies. The experience of colonization unites two completely distinct ‘worlds’. Sheehan makes the same point:

At the same time that they [the Elizabethan English] awakened to the potential of the New World, they began the last stage of conquest of Ireland. The two enterprises became reciprocal training grounds for English imperial expansion. Personnel moved from one arena to the other; and the ideology that explained English conquest in Ireland supported the establishment of civility in America. (1980, 54)

The mentioned ideology, justifying the colonial conquest, designates the natives as inferior and lawless savages in need of English government and enlightenment. Kingsley’s writings about Ireland dispose of similar notions. The traveler depicts his travelees in the following way:

[…] I am haunted by the human chimpanzee I saw along that hundred of miles horrible country. […] I believe […] that they are happier, better, more comfortably fed and lodged under our rule than they ever were. But to see white chimpanzees is dreadful: if they were black, one would not feel it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours. (Kingsley 1901, 111)

Kingsley visits Ireland after it suffered the Great Famine, the result of a wrong colonial policy. He regards this genocide not as a consequence of the colonial rule, but of the inability of the Irish to govern themselves. The neighbors are treated as inferior colonial subjects. The English observer is simultaneously horrified and repulsed by the Irish, who, in spite of occupying the same position of colonial subjects as the Africans, are as white as the English. In other words, the Irish are lower than the English, but not low enough. Although the comparison to “white chimpanzees” strives to equate the Irish with the Africans, it also reveals the fact that the similarities between the colonials are artificially produced by the English observer. Therefore, the sameness of the various indigenous peoples under colonial rule is to be considered as the consequence of the identical role colonial discourse constructs for its others. In this respect, Boehmer asserts:

This transferability of empire’s organizing metaphors is one of the key distinguishing characteristics of colonialist discourse - one that made possible the intertextuality of writing under empire. Itinerant and adaptive, focusing colonial myths, activating imperial energies, what we shall call the travelling metaphor formed an essential constitutive element of an intensely imagined colonial system. Because of metaphorical movement between different places, colonial territories came to be interpreted, as it were, as a series of reflecting mirrors, which repeated, reinforced, and at times reversed (though within the same symbolic system) cultural significations emanating from England and Europe. (1995, 52)

The Empire manages alterity by homogenizing it. In this regard, the above citations from Markham and Kingsley serve as perfect evidence for the interchangeability of the colonial vocabulary that is employed for the representation of the natives. In addition, the use of the term ‘Indian’ to indicate the peoples of the Americas and the Pacific is just another example for the mentioned travelling metaphors casting peoples, who are culturally and geographically apart, in an identical mould. Consequently, the parallels between the Irish and the Caribs are products of the Empire’s rhetoric or the transfer of a limited set of tropes on various colonials, thus producing sameness and erasing difference.

1.2. Staging Ethnography: Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World

John Millington Synge is one of the intellectuals, who at the beginning of the twentieth century try to revive the lost traditions of Irish culture. Together with William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory, he belongs to the main figures of the Abbey Theatre, a national theatre, whose aim is to awaken the linguistic and cultural heritage of the Irish. Synge’s project, in particular, is to visit the Irish peasants on the Aran Islands and truthfully ‘transfer’ the observed and heard into literature. The Playboy of the Western World is a play that is based on Synge’s experiences among the Irish villagers in Mayo. A preliminary announcement in the Freeman ’ s Journal (26 January 1907) spotlights Synge’s knowledge of the peasantry and the authenticity of his play:

No one is better qualified than Mr. Synge to portray truthfully the Irish peasant living away in Western Ireland. He has lived for months at a stretch, in the Aran [sic] Islands and Mayo. He has noted their speech, their humours, their vices, and virtues. He is one of the best Irish speakers of the country, and is thus brought into the closest contact with people. “ The Playboy ” is founded on an incident that actually occurred. (Hirsch 1988, 108)1

The explicit suggestion that Synge is the only one who possesses the cultural authority to translate the reality of Mayo into a written work alludes to the specific position of the revivalist author. Synge’s project is not only that of a writer, but also of an ethnographer and educator. Such a venture grants the author with absolute control over the subjects of his representation.

However, the privileges the preliminary announcement ascribes to Synge are to be questioned. The Anglo-Irish, Protestant Synge indulges English education. Yeats suggests that he should visit the Aran Islands and learn Irish. Consequently, Synge’s background alienates him from the Catholic, Irish-speaking peasantry he portrays. The writer himself is not a part of the culture he explores. Therefore, “when Synge talks about the people of the Aran Islands, he does so not as an Islander himself, […], but as an amateur anthropologist2, studying the things the Islanders do and say.” (Heininge 2009, 96) As a result, the cultural encounter between Synge and the Irish villagers presupposes asymmetrical power relations. The reading, the looking and, eventually, the writing is done by the observer, who establishes his/her authority over the observed ones. As Geertz asserts: “the anthropologist strains to read over the shoulders of those to whom [texts] properly belong”. (1973, 452) The remark “reading over one’s shoulder” points at the privileged position of the explorer.

Therefore, Synge’s attitude towards the people of Aran is similar to Kingsley’s one towards the Irish. (See p. 2) In both cases, the encounter scenario introduces a traveler, who does not belong to the culture he claims to know, and travelees, fixed to the images produced by the traveler. Assuming the position of an ethnographer, Synge reinforces the power exercised by the English imperialists on non-Western peoples. Generally, “the rapport between observer and observed […] reflects and affirms classical ethnography’s normative relation between Western observer and native Other”. (Castle 1997, 270) The colonial and the ethnographic discourses use the practice of cultural translation3 in a similar way. While translating the Irish native culture on the theatre stage, the Anglo-Irish “amateur” ethnographer alters it, thus reinforcing colonial oppression. Similarly, translating indigenous culture in his travel writings, Kingsley alters the image of his Irish travelees by calling them “white chimpanzees”, a metaphoric association that is based on perceived similarity to other colonized. In both cases, the traces of the process of translation are erased and the translator’s version is presented as the ‘original’ itself. Ironically, Synge’s project turns out to be complicit with the colonial venture.

In addition, the assumption that marginal groups cannot represent themselves and need an ‘advanced’ outsider to represent them ascribes to an outside recorder and interpreter such as Synge the role of a “custodian of an essence, unimpeachable witness to an authenticity”. (Clifford 1986, 113) However, the mentioned notion proves to be quite problematic. The view of an ethnographic work as a reconstruction of mere reality seems rather lame, because cultural analysis is to be considered as “guessing at meanings, assessing guesses, not discovering the Continent of Meaning”. (Geertz 1973, 20) Therefore, The Playboy of the Western World does not portray truthfully Irish peasants, but rather shows Synge’s guesses about them. His visit to the village of Mayo does not endow the writer with any knowledge about the essence of Irish peasantry, because “the notion that one can find the essence of national societies […] or whatever summed up and simplified in so-called “typical” small towns and villages is palpable nonsense.” (Geertz 1973, 22) The Anglo-Irish playwright’s observations and writings present a subjective view and not the ‘truth’ about the Irish peasants’ character, vices and virtues. However, the problem with Synge’s and colonial constructions of marginal groups is the claim of reconstructing reality that establishes written productions with the authority to determine the cultural identity of the represented. Artificial constructs thus come to be casted in the guise of authenticity. To conclude, Synge’s ethnographic project of translating Irish peasantry’s culture to the theatre stage turns out to be complicit with the colonial one. Both ventures employ the practice of cultural translation for the construction of and control over the image of colonial others.

1.3. Mustapha Matura’s Adaptation

In 1984, the Trinidadian dramatist Mustapha Matura, resident in Britain since 1961, adapts Synge’s comedy. In regard of plot, characters, dialogue and stage action Matura sticks to the Irish model. Still, he changes the time and the setting of the earlier play. In contrast to Synge’s text, set in the Irish village of Mayo at the beginning of the twentieth century, Matura’s adaptation takes place in Mayaro, a little Trinidadian village, in 1950. Performed in London by an English company, the play insinuates a cultural dialogue between the Old and the New World and alludes to the connectedness between Ireland and Trinidad as a consequence of their colonial past. Playboy of the West Indies testifies the attempt of a writer, belonging to the Caribbean diaspora in Britain, to negotiate the literary legacy of a European canonical text. Moreover, presenting an uncanny4 repetition of a western text, the Trinidadian adaptation does not offer a counter version that would reveal the other side of the story and give voice to an oppressed group. It aims at constructing analogies and exploiting the imperial practices of cultural transfers. Deciding to use an Anglo-Irish model as the basis of his New World play, Matura evokes the history of English colonization, which irrevocably connects Ireland and the Caribbean. The question, resulting from the described circumstances, is whether Matura’s adaptation reinforces the homogenizing colonial discourse by substituting Caribbean for Celtic villagers. I argue that Matura’s adaptation re-employs the strategy of translation in order to question the validity of available rhetorical tropes of otherness. While Synge’s project presupposes a search for Irishness, supposedly preserved by an oppressed and almost extinguished under the colonial rule group, Matura’s venture does not include the reinvention of a folk culture. In other words, Playboy of the West Indies does not seek for some West Indian essence. The play points out at different marginalized groups’ abject histories, results of the mutual experience of colonization.

In deciding to use an Anglo-Irish interlocutor to frame his New World narrative, Matura evokes the history of the early Atlantic world, where Ireland and the Caribbean were irrevocably connected through British colonization and slave trade. In this way, historicity is considered more critically, and geopolitical space is understood as the effect of situated practices and not as static and known entity. (Gough 2005, 791)

In this regard, Matura and Synge employ the practice of translation in completely different ways. The Anglo-Irish adopts the role of a transparent translator, who disappears behind his textual production’s claims for truthfulness. In this way, he determines his version of the Irish peasantry’s life as reality’s reconstruction in literature. Erasing the traces of his translation, Synge domesticates a culture, which is foreign to him.

Adopting a European play, Matura remains visible as a translator.

Instead of claiming correspondences to real occurrences, the printed edition of Playboy of the West Indies openly admits its status as an adaptation from the very beginning through a direct reference to its source: “J. M. Synge’s PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD was first produced on January 26, 1912, in Dublin, Ireland. The play was set in Mayo. Mustapha Matura’s version is set in Mayaro, Trinidad, in August 1950.” (Matura, Playboy of the West Indies) In contrast to Synge, Matura does not claim privileged knowledge of a certain group, but engages with already existing rhetoric tropes in order to expose them as mere constructions of Western travelers about their ‘exotic’ travelees. Therefore, by highlighting the process of translation, Matura’s translation ‘foreignizes’5 its already existing model and questions its premises. It is not an act of representation, but of exposure and destabilization, the result of an uncanny repetition, which consciously emphasizes its affinities and deviations from its predecessor.

To conclude, rather than domesticating and homogenizing the image of colonial others, Playboy of the West Indies exposes the artificial character of imperial rhetoric and questions its validity. Opening a cultural dialogue between Ireland, the Caribbean and the former Empire, Matura’s comedy not only rewrites a Western canonical text, but also redefines the relation between the Old and the New World. Consequently, even though the ethnographer reads culture over the native’s shoulder, his or her reading can still be revised, commented on and responded to.

2. Contact Zones

2.1. The Theatre

The concept of the theatre is crucial for my thesis in regard to its spatial division as well as its role as a cultural institution. To begin with, the theatre’s division between front and backstage delivers a quite appropriate model for the relation between the imperial centre and its periphery. Reviewing the representation of the colonies in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, Said concludes that “[…] imperial possessions are usefully there, anonymous and collective, as the outcast populations […] on whom the economy and polity sustained by empire depend, but whose reality has not historically or culturally required attention.” (1994, 75) Floatingly mentioned or briefly shown, the colonized appear as backstage characters, whose shadowy presence alludes to the existence of the colonies, the poles of the Empire’s economy, allowing a particular lifestyle in England. In contrast to the mentioned authors, Synge and Matura establish the colony, the former backstage area, as a presentational front. The occurrences on the front are still motivated by its relation to the back, in other words, by the colonials’ fear of an absent colonial authority, the English police, which is often referred to, but never appear on stage.

Furthermore, dealing with plays, I would like to pay attention to the role of the theatre as a communal space. The theatre is to be considered in terms of a contact zone, a social space “where disparate cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical relations of domination and subordination”. (Pratt 1992, 4) The riots, following the performance of The Playboy of the Western World on 26 January 1907 in Dublin, illustrate the role of the theatre as a place of interaction or even conflict between different groups. The spectators are so furious with the play’s portrayal of the Irish peasantry that the colonial police, totally controlling

Dublin at that time, are to be called to protect the actors. As a result, the theatre becomes the place of struggle between the Protestant, upper-class, English educated intellectual, claiming the privilege to represent “the people”; the Catholic, middle-class, Irish audience, rebelling against the play; and the colonial force, subduing the riot. The Irish peasantry, portrayed in the play, remains excluded from the conflict over its image. The subordinate are thus kept subordinate.

The performance of Matura’s Playboy of the West Indies is also to be regarded in terms of the phenomenon of the contact zone. The Irish Renaissance play’s adaptation, written by a Trinidadian dramatist, resident in Britain, is performed on 17 January 1984 in London by an English company. The theatre becomes the point of interaction between different ethnic groups, “an attempt to evoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects, previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect”. (Pratt 1992, 7) Responding to and commenting on its Irish model on the English stage, Playboy of the West Indies insinuates a dialogue between the three named cultures, which meet, clash and grapple with each other.

Besides, the village pubs in Mayo and Mayaro, central places for the play’s action, assume the function of the theatre as a contact zone. “The shebeen - not unlike a theatre - is […] a liminal space where insiders can escape mundane reality, interact with strangers from the beyond, and indulge themselves in a fanciful talk, gallous stories, and imaginative speculation.” (Parker 1985, 79) Like the theatre, the country pub is a communal space and an intermediate zone between the secure confinement of home and the freedom of the roads. (See Parker 1985, 70) Furthermore, it is the meeting point of wanderers like the central father-son pairs in the plays, Christy and Old Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World and Ken and Mac in Playboy of the West Indies, and the villagers of Mayo and Mayaro, respectively. Similarly to the theatre, the village pub becomes a space where identities are constructed, negotiated and contested. The discussions about the images of the main characters, Christy in Synge’s play and Ken in Matura’s adaptation, as either playboys or cowards approximate the struggles and negotiations over cultural representations between dramatists and their audiences. (See p.11) In short, the village pub approximates the theatre as a public space where communities interact, debate and “rehearse their tenets of belonging”. (Döring 2008, 179) Last but not least, the theatre is crucial for the construction and negation of ethnic and cultural identities due to its performativity.

In the context of postcolonial drama the representation of speech acts on stage becomes more than a representation of a character, becoming rather the instructions for how a particular people wish to be represented, a locus for identity. The effect sought is performative. (Heininge 2009, 119)

The cultural images, constructed and rehearsed in plays, exert influence on the way a certain ethnic group is to be perceived by its members and by ‘outsiders’. Identity is interrogated through naming, telling and speaking on stage, which do not only entertain the audience, but also change reality by establishing or fighting stereotypes and provoking the spectators’ active interaction and particular reading of the performed identities. In this respect, the theatre appears as the most appropriate place for the realization of Synge’s project, claiming to provide a ‘truthful’ representation of the Irish peasantry and thus casting artificially produced images in the guise of reality. Questioning the validity of The Playboy of the Western World ’s images and insinuating a dialogue between geographically and historically separated groups, Matura’s comedy also takes advantage of the perfomative qualities of dramatic texts.

To conclude, the theatre’s spatial conventions of front and backstage provide appropriate terms for the discussion of the relation between the imperial center and its peripheries. Moreover, it operates as a contact zone, a space of interaction between different cultures, clashing and grappling with each other. As performative speech acts, dramatic texts actively frame and fashion ethnic identities.


1 “The event which provided the basis for the Aran story took place on 28 January 1873 when William Maley, from the Calla district of Galway near Clifden, hit his father Patrick Maley with a spade in a dispute over who had the right to cultivate a tiny potato-garden on the family farm.” (Grene 1999, 87-8)

2 My work disposes of citations using both the terms anthropologist and ethnographer, whereas ethnography is to be considered as a part of the broader field of anthropology. Ethnography is to be understood in terms of “trying to read (in the sense of “construct of reading of”) a manuscript - foreign, faded, full of eclipses, incoherencies, suspicious emendations, and tendentious commentaries, but written not in conventionalized graphs of sound but in a transient examples of shaped behavior”. (Geertz 1973, 10)

3 I use the term translation in the sense of a process which „mediates between different codes and [searches] for correspondences - a process which is also seen as falsifying some original meaning”. (Döring 1998, 82) In this regard, I argue that Synge’s translation of the Irish peasantry’s culture claims correspondence to the actualities in the village of Mayo. However, the play’s pretence of authenticity conceals the subjective view of an Anglo-Irish observer.

4 I use uncanny in terms of something familiar which occurs in an unfamiliar context. The word uncanny is the English translation from the German ‘unheimlich’. Heimlich in German has two different meanings: the first one is belonging to the house, familiar; the second, concealed, secret. In the latter case heimlich overlaps with its opposite unheimlich, unfamiliar, and in the former one with the second meaning of unheimlich, unconcealed. “Heimlich becomes increasingly ambivalent, until it finally merges with its antonym unheimlich.”(See Freud, [1919]2003, 134) Designating Matura’s repetition as uncanny, I emphasize the fact that he dislocates a familiar story in an unfamiliar context.

5 My observations about the mentioned two modes of translation are based on the following notion: “Principally, it has been argued, a translator can pursue two opposing strategies (see Venuti 1995): he or she can either try to domesticate , making it look and sound as if it had been written in the target language […], thus aiming to erase all traces of the very process of translation; or conversely, he or she can try to highlight this process and point up the cultural difference which it mediates. “ (Döring 2008, 28-9) I use the strategies of domestication and foreignization in order to explain the different projects of the named dramatists.


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Mimesis Agency Subalternity postcolonial studies




Title: Mimesis, Agency, Subalternity: Irish and Caribbean Playboys in John M. Synge’s and Mustapha Matura’s Comedies