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OpenEdition Books

Yeats's Mask

Margaret Mills Harper
Warwick Gould


The King’s Threshold: Manuscript Materials, edited by Declan Kiely, Yeats in Manuscript Series (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2005), pp. lxi + 620.

Richard Allen Cave

Texte intégral

1There is no denying that The King’s Threshold held a special place of affection and honour for the poet amongst his theatrical output. It was in many ways a personal manifesto, a defence of the art of poetry, music and song. Inevitably the play was destined to undergo repeated revision, particularly as Yeats’s own youthful adoption of Shelley’s view of poets as the great legislators of the world came under repeated attack. The play in the form of a morality drama was one of several conceived by Yeats as Plays for Ireland, an exposition of the need for a creative intelligentsia to have as an absolute right, an honoured place within the ordering and shaping of a society. It is not surprising to find Lady Gregory with her own refined sense of service to the community and the need to work to bring ‘dignity to Ireland’ joining Yeats in drafting the play in its earliest manifestations.

2Dr. Kiely has traced some forty-four draft materials relating to the gestation and revision of the play, covering a period from 1903 to 1934. Study of their history has led him to divide them into four major sequences: the period up to the play’s initial performances in 1903 (Dublin) and 1904 (London) with Yeats’s extensive post-production revisions responding to reviewers’ criticisms of what they deemed a lack of action in the drama; further re-writing (chiefly to the King’s opening speeches and to the scene for the Mayor and the Cripples) culminating in Yeats’s revisions to the Galley Proofs made when preparing Poems, 1899–1905 for publication; the full-scale redesigning of the play and especially of the ending, which was now situated firmly in the tragic mode, that was accomplished during 1920–1922 and culminated in the text as printed in Plays in Prose and Verse (1922); and a final series of local revisions made throughout 1931–1934, especially to the ‘first page proofs’ of the abandoned Edition de Luxe (later the Coole Edition) planned by Macmillan, and to the text as printed in Collected Plays (1934).

3Re-working the play, as Kiely demonstrates in his admirable Introduction, was as much a response to social and political event in Ireland as to Yeats’s own changing concept of the poet’s role and his experiences of the play in production and its critical reception. In the process there was a notable shift of focus. Initially the play investigated the antagonism of Seanchan and King Guare (a conflict between principle and pragmatism) and the course of events that led to its resolution. Bringing clarity of definition to that conflict is the intention behind the many revisions of the first two periods between 1903 and 1906. In the long period between the publishing of Poems, 1899–1905 and the major revisions of the early 1920s, Yeats had sought for a dramatic form that would enable him to bring an audience to a perception of the innermost workings of a character’s mind as the finest index of what is fundamental to that individual; his plays (in Katharine Worth’s phrase) were to be ‘journeys into the interior’, to the wellsprings of being.

4What impresses is how little adaptation to the form and texture of the play was required to make The King’s Threshold meet that new requirement: the quarrel with Guare now cannot be resolved, chaos is breaking out within his kingdom, as Seanchan predicted; both men lose out in the battle in the material sense, but the poet pursues the lonely path of integrity in the face of all attempts to make him compromise, and dies ecstatic in the knowledge that his pupils at least have appreciated his intent and value his example; despite his mourned demise, the future of poetry is assured and others remain to share and, if necessary, to fight for his principles. With the change in emphasis comes a change in understanding of the poet’s role in society: Seanchan is now less the legislator than the champion of certain values which society is choosing to contest; the episodes of the drama now define the source and intensity of the will-power that determines his vindication of a personal truth. A confident sense of principle drives him intractably and irrevocably to his death. Social comedy has given place to existential tragedy but significantly Yeats leaves the issue of how an audience should respond to Seanchan’s demise deliberately open.

5In the Four Plays for Dancers the Chorus of Musicians often give voice in their final lyrics to that uncertainty: they speak of the ‘bitter reward’ of the ‘tragic tomb’ that astonishes but leaves one dumbfounded (The Only Jealousy of Emer), or of the obscurities of a strife with shadows in contrast with the ‘pleasant life’ offered within ‘indolent meadows’ (At The Hawk’s Well). The King’s Threshold now concludes with a dilemma amongst Seanchan’s pupils of how properly to honour him in death: the passionate young pupil wishes for a triumphant blare of trumpets, the oldest asks for a sombre dirge. Both have a certain appropriateness; but can there be a preferred ending to tragedy?

6On his own admission, revising The King’s Threshold even during the earlier periods taught Yeats a great deal about the art of dramaturgy. As he wrote to Arthur Symons from Coole on 10 September, 1905:

The King’s Threshold has been changed and rehearsed and then changed again and so on, till I have got it as I believe a perfectly articulate stage play. I have learned a great deal about poetry generally in the process, and one thing I am now quite sure

7of is that all the finest poetry comes logically out of the fundamental action, and that the error of late periods like this is to believe that some things are inherently poetical, and to try and pull them on to the scene at every moment. It is just these seeming inherently poetical things that wear out (CL InteLex 214, L 460).

8What Yeats outlines here is his deepening understanding of the need for clarity of structure before the poetry of a play will grow organically out of the action rather than be superimposed on situations; structure must never be merely the occasion for verse, if that verse is to be truly dramatic. Unusually amongst the extant manuscripts of Yeats’s plays, there is a full set of prose sketches for the scenario of The King’s Threshold so that one can test the truth of Yeats’s observation by watching the process of creativity from the initial outline taken down at dictation by Lady Gregory, through drafting in prose to the first transpositions into blank verse and on to more refined expression of ideas and characters.

9One notices that amidst the generalised wording of the narrative in the first scenario certain phrases stand out as having a remarkable immediacy, as if Yeats’s imagination had already sensed a valuable entry into some deeper engagement with the situation. Many of these lines are carried through into later drafts, often withstanding major revisions to surrounding material to find their way relatively unchanged into the final version, as if they became anchors, touchstones or guides as to how a suitable structure might evolve, if careful transitions were effected between them. Such crucial lines and ideas from the first scenario include: ‘…for to the wronged | man there always remained one | right, to set his death against | anothers life’ (4); ‘When one | is long without fasting one’s mind gets | slippery’ (7); the exchange with the Soldier that develops the image of Seanchan as a hedgehog and the soldier as a lapdog (9); ‘the king’s | no crown would not glitter if we | had not called gold bright’ and the ensuing idea that concepts of nationalism are implanted in men’s imagination and courage by the songs of poets (10); Seanchan’s extended image of the Monk’s self-seeking concept of God as being like a tamed bird perching on the king’s finger (12); ‘Hold out all yr | hands to me, you have the feet of dancers | but hold out yr hands to me, I have | a thought that there are no sound hands here’ (13) which Seanchan addresses to the Princesses and the court, suspecting that they have offered him infected (leprous) food; ‘When, King, did the | poets offer safety?’ (17), the question with which the poet confronts the king, who is seeking to excuse himself by eliciting pity for his complexities of decision-making. Suddenly we are offered a stage direction: ‘(She [Fedelm] dips it [some bread] & puts it to his lips. At the touch he dashes it away)’ (6).

10This is the first of a series of such directions at the close of the play, which include the stage picture of the pupils re-entering with halters round their necks, and the powerfully surreal image of them pursuing Guare up the steps of the palace, ‘holding out the end | of their ropes to him’ (18). These moments may be extended or slightly modified throughout the long history of the play’s composition but they were to remain fixed points in the drama, encapsulating the significance of the main episodes. The final instances show that by the close of that first draft Yeats had already begun to stage the play in his imagination.

11The exposition was the first substantial change to be effected from a discussion amongst the pupils of what had befallen Seanchan to an extended speech for King Guare to the recently assembled pupils attempting to justify his own position. Through rapid redrafting, it became a wonderfully glozing speech, full of self-importance and evasive rhetorical flourishes. It is a brilliant dramatic stroke both for the decision to introduce Guare’s antagonistic voice before we hear Seanchan’s and for introducing an audience to an outright equivocator with language before we hear the poet’s claim about the power of bards to fix the meanings of words, to find the terms that define and discriminate in ways that endow qualities with a precise value. Guare’s dismissal of Seanchan as ‘a mere man of words’ will expose and condemn his own moral and political insensitivity. Once he unhinges meaning, as Guare patently does in his opening address, then chaos will follow (though it was only in the revisions undertaken in the early 1920s that Yeats developed the full implications of this, when he inserted the Girls’ persuading the Soldier to offer Seanchan food on the grounds that the harpers will no longer play for their dances and ‘the common sort’ have turned against them).

12The King, however, is no monster. Yeats elicits a measure of sympathy for him by showing that all the evasions are the product of his sense of being trapped by circumstance: his worries for the security of his throne in the short term were he to defy his courtiers, and for his reputation in the longer term if Seanchan’s death results in his losing the good will of the people. Either way, his authority and his hold on his throne will be challenged. Guare becomes a recognisable type of politician and Yeats strengthened characterisation elsewhere in the play by modelling certain figures (Chamberlain, Soldier and Monk) on three prominent, politically-minded contemporaries (T.W. Rolleston, Richard Bagwell and George Coffey respectively), as the early drafts and Kiely’s informative commentary on them makes clear. Further strengthening came after the initial production.

13A problem with the play in performance (as Yeats warned some years later in 1910 when writing to John Drinkwater about his intended production of the play) is the heavy demand it places on the central actor, who by never leaving the stage has no respite from the audience’s attention. If his stamina and technique are not up to that demand, then the likely result is that the play will fall into prolonged monotony. That had been a criticism of Fay’s initial production particularly when staged in London, prompting Yeats almost immediately to redesign the scene for the Mayor and the two family servants, which follows after Seanchan’s long debate with his pupils about the significance of poetry and the status of bards. He cut one of the servants and considerably built up the role of the one remaining (whom he named Brian) as a man with a deeply committed affection for the poet; and he introduced into the scene from later in the action (where they originally made only the one appearance) the two cripples as men wholly disinterested in the politics of the situation and for that matter in anything except food. Now instead of the Mayor of Kinvara’s self-important speechifying being interrupted by the servants laying out the food they have brought from Seanchan’s home, he is repeatedly undercut by the cripples’ criticism (they are a hilarious comic double-act).

14The resulting scene has an energy and bravura lacking in the original conception, even within the comic mode organically linked now to the main thematic preoccupations of the play in defining types of self-obsession and selflessness affording neat discriminating contrasts with Seanchan. Brian’s unthinking, unquestioning devotion is not rooted in any degree of principle: he repeats the poet’s father’s words – ‘he cared you well, | And you in your young age, and […] it’s right | That you should care him now’ (449) – not realising that from Seanchan’s perspective they voice an unkind emotional blackmail. The Mayor is preoccupied more with the impression he is making than with the actual content of his speech, which demonstrates how self-seeking he and his community are at heart in being more concerned with their and Seanchan’s standing in respect of the King’s bounty than with the poet’s motive for his fast. The cripples show the levels of desperation that sheer hunger can reduce a man to: they are fixated on the getting of food.

15At the point when Yeats was transposing his prose drafts into blank verse he made a number of holograph notes about kinds of imagery to be sustained and developed and remarked then of Seanchan: ‘His imagination must dwell on food’ (253). And so it does, from the moment that the pupils rouse him out of his dreams of dining with Finn and Osgar on roast flesh or watching Grania ‘dividing salmon by a stream’ to his waking vision in Fedelm’s company of Adam’s Paradise where the birds gorge themselves on fruit. But he has the strength of mind to know when the workings of his psyche become ‘slippery’ and find the means to discipline its focus back onto his abiding purpose. The farce of the scene (the four comic characters end up trying to shout each other down while completely ignoring Seanchan and his plight) introduces a welcome tonal variety into the play, but also through a patterning of contrasts develops in spectators deepening insights into the qualities that shape the poet’s integrity. It is a highly innovative scene for the methods Yeats deploys to characterise the strengths of a wholly passive character.

16The ensuing episode for the courtiers, the noble girls and the princesses remained virtually unchanged as to its content but Yeats increasingly augmented it with details that invested the scene with a black satirical humour. Where Seanchan is largely withdrawn from the scene with the Mayor and Brian (except at mention of his mother’s true understanding of his situation and decision), the courtiers goad him into taking an active part in this sequence but to their complete discomfort, since he repeatedly strips them of their pretensions. The Chamberlain ingratiatingly claims he too is a poet only to be revealed as a patent hack; the Monk claims a piety that Seanchan exposes as self-serving, since he shapes his ‘god’ to suppport whatever the king desires; the Soldier chooses to see the poet as a pathetic creature (a hedgehog) only to have his own picture drawn as, for all his apparent ferocity, an utterly biddable dog; the girls worry over the consequences of the social breakdown that Seanchan’s rebellion against the king’s edict has initiated but only because it disrupts their endless pleasure-seeking; and the princesses graciously condescend to Seanchan from the height of a superiority that he questions as groundless. The poet may be passive in his resistance but he controls the tenor and tone of the scene throughout and his integrity is defined by the lack of it in every other character onstage. His stillness requires always that they move to him. Physically inert he may be, but his intelligence is more alert, incisive and morally attuned than the absurd people who continually demand his attention.

17It would appear that the extended scene with Fedelm was the last to be fully drafted before the initial performances and thereafter it underwent remarkably few changes. One might argue that with the completion of this episode Yeats found the way forward for his subsequent revision of the earlier parts of the action, since in its revised form it becomes a highly flexible sequence in emotional terms – a surprised greeting; her reminder that she would fetch him to her home in time for their marriage; her admitting that she has anticipated the agreed time by several months so that they may wed in the high summer; his sharing his vision of the previous evening with her, when it seemed to him as if the whole of creation was united in a grand epithalamium; her talk of her home and the rest he will find there; his concern that his pupils accompany them thither; her promise that they will be welcome and that places for their recreation are already prepared; his song of the wondrous garden that is sparked in his memory by her account of her homestead; her misunderstanding of his visionary tone, suspecting he has forgotten the realities of her own garden; their decision to depart; his weakness and physical collapse; her offer to dip bread into wine to help sustain him and his acceptance of it; his remembrance of his mission and the casting of both food and lover from him; her assertion that he cannot love her and his ensuing rage at her betrayal; her clutching at his frail body, determined never to leave him; his threatening a curse on all who withhold him from his purpose and her begging his forgiveness (‘I will obey like any married wife’); the resolution of the conflict between them in a kiss, which is disrupted by the sudden arrival of the king demanding to know if Seanchan has eaten yet; his further proffering of food, which Seanchan rejects but in terms, ‘We have refused it (my emphasis)’ which show that the lovers are now in a state of absolute concord.

18This is a magnificent sequence: the surges of emotion, of challenge and denial, of hope, of trust and of despair that resolve into a complete harmony is magnificently accomplished in little more than 150 lines to the point where that assertion of the lovers’ united stance (implicit in the simple word ‘We’) spells out the king’s defeat. What Yeats was always aware of, as he confided to Drinkwater many years later, was the need ‘to get progression by the changes of state in the soul of the principal player’ (cited by Kiely, li). He achieved that here, but it was to take him nearly two decades of redrafting to bring the rest of the play in line with this inventiveness. Given, too, the power of that confident ‘We’ and its immediate impact on the king’s sense of losing control in the situation, it was inevitable that, for all his defence of the resolved ending in the Prologue he devised for the first production (it was never actually played), a tragic outcome was the only one fitting the decorum that the action had established. It was implicit in Yeats’s thinking about an apt acting style for the play in performance, since he firmly advised Frank Fay to stage ‘the whole opening of the play in a grave statuesque way as if it were a Greek play’ (CL3 417). What started in the tragic vein had to end in that vein if the performance were to achieve that unity of creative effect, which Yeats was keen to promote in theatre.

19It is perhaps worth commenting on the Prologue with its rambling old man, angry at being called from his bed to defend Yeats’s play because there are so many involved in the casting (there are some sixteen speaking roles and supernumeraries). He outlines what is different about Yeats’s handling of the subject of Seanchan and Guare compared with recent translators, narrators and commentators on the tale from Bardic times and he expatiates on why there is no tragic ending. Yeats deftly outlines here the disagreement between him and Lady Gregory. Nobly, he defends her view to which he capitulated; but the very fact of that public airing of their differences suggests that Yeats was still not wholly committed to that decision. It was a canny move: it is almost as if he is inviting the audience to take a stance on the matter so that he would have some back-up if the general response went against the ending as performed. Throughout the ramblings (the old man is beautifully characterised as arthritic and tetchy) are in a staccato prose that contrasts markedly with the august blank verse with which the play opens and which in large measure prevails throughout the action.

20We are forced to recognise a mundane world of age and aches and anger before we are introduced to a time that is decidedly of the (romanticised) past but a world where the principal protagonist, a bard, is in touch imaginatively with a yet older, heroic tradition where ancient gods feasted with poets before the days of kings and priests. A considerable creative challenge must have resided in the need to find an appropriate diction, style and authoritative tone for Seanchan’s bardic speech. Most of the more subtle revisions he made to the text over the years engaged with answering that need. A consequence of this marks out the steady evolution of The King’s Threshold as different from the kinds of localised revision Yeats undertook with his other plays. Generally the result of re-writing was to simplify expression in the interests of conveying an idea, however complex, with immediate lucidity to a theatre audience and a removal from his dialogue of those ‘seeming inherently poetical things that wear out’ that he castigated in his letter to Symons, as quoted above.

21That technique, however, was not possible here, where the situation demanded the creating of a credible bardic style, different from the prevailing stage diction deployed by the rest of the characters. The challenge was to get the necessary clarity within a consciously poeticised rhetoric. Yeats found a way of doing this at least in theory with the revised prose scenario of April, 1903 (32-45) when he chose to start the action with the king swaying Seanchan’s pupils to his point of view so that they will persuade their master to accept the situation and eat. Seanchan, however, teaches the pupils their error by subjecting them to a catechism about the nature and origins of poetry and the poet’s vocation. Surviving typescript fragments show Yeats next attempting to flesh out this idea, searching for a means to convey complex argument through metaphor, chiefly about poetry as ‘as image of the world before the Fall’ (47). First attempts were hesitant and confused but matters improved once Yeats chose to base his metaphors in myths of origin in order to endorse his concept of the bard’s function in his society as educative, to teach virtue through stories and images of a long-past but always recoverable perfection. By the date of the typescript that was submitted for licensing to the Lord Chamberlain’s office in London in October, 1903, Yeats had found the kind of idiom he was seeking:

…the poets hung
Images of the life that was in Eden
About the childbed of the world that it
Looking upon those images might bear
Triumphant children… (331).

22Subsequent revision of Seanchan’s part in particular extended the potential of this style through considerable varieties of expression. In part Yeats was aided by the central action he had devised: hunger takes an increasing grip on the poet’s constitution and psyche and Yeats charts its progress by envisaging Seanchan lapsing into states of dreaming and outright hallucination, where a heightened diction, a speaking through metaphor, is a credible correlative for a mind which sees differently. What his enemies do not perceive till too late is that the heightening of the poet’s sensibility is taking him ever closer to the world of those myths, which are the source of his power. When he looks back at the everyday world from his new vantage point, he sees it with ever greater exactitude. The idiom expands till he can be at once in Adam’s paradise yet in the comfort of Fedelm’s embrace, confident of her support. Here poetic intensities are wholly justifiable in terms of dramatic necessity; they are not pulled on for effect (to use the terms of Yeats’s critique, as cited above) but arise out of a sure sense of what the staged action will allow.

23The very difference of the text in this regard that emerged out of the revisions of the 1920s and 1930s when compared with the new plays that Yeats was writing in those years shows how developed a sense he had of what was dramaturgically appropriate and possible. It is to Kiely’s credit that he has assembled and organised the wealth of material relating to The King’s Threshold that allows this creative skill and confidence in Yeats as dramatist to emerge so clearly at a reading of his volume. Like Kiely, one must express a debt of gratitude for Lady Gregory’s archival instincts which encouraged her to preserve what is quite the fullest demonstration possible of how she and the poet collaborated and how one of their early plays came into being but subsequently evolved till it was demonstrably his achievement alone.

24Not content with the wealth of textual material he proffers in so illuminating a fashion, Kiely has also included by way of appendices further documents illustrative of the play in production. There is the report of Yeats’s opening night speech, as recorded in The Freeman’s Journal; and a parody of the play from 1911 by A.M.W. (John Swift) published in The Leader; but more informative are Yeats’s two sketches (a view from the Audience’s perspective and a groundplan) for a setting for the play which was realised for the performances at the Molesworth Hall (the drawings were later bound in with a typescript of the version staged in 1903, which is now in the possession of the Houghton Library at Harvard); a formalised scheme for the disposition of the various roles at the fall of the curtain in that first production (also to be found in that Harvard document); a photograph of the scene for Seanchan and Fedelm, as printed in The New York Herald in 1904, which shows in part how the setting was constructed and deployed; and three pages, two showing ground plans for staging The King’s Threshold from the notebook (now in the possession of the National Library of Ireland, MS 30,588), in which Yeats (c.1910) recorded various experiments in devising scenery using the miniature set of screens that Craig gave him along with the full-sized set bought by the Abbey that year. The first of these plans simply turns at an angle the original design for the staging at the Molesworth Hall and adds a large tower-like formation of screens to fill the space now left vacant to stage left of the flight of steps. The second is altogether bolder in offering a grouping of pillars set on a diagonal, with alternating widths of two foot and four foot screens with gaps of over two-and-a-half feet between them and an angled light behind. One light source follows the diagonal formation of the screens; the second comes from immediately behind them and is directed towards the audience (Kiely misreads the annotation accompanying this second source of illumination as ‘also [?head] light’, where it should be interpreted more appropriately in stage terms as ‘hard light’).

25This would allow figures in the entrances to be either fully lit or seen in silhouette. What is not immediately clear from the annotations on either sketch is whether the second group of screens was an alternative design for the play reducing the setting to an absolute formalist simplicity or whether it is a more detailed working out of the arrangement of pillars and doorways that is roughly drawn at the top of the flight of steps to form the entrance to Guare’s palace. What favours the first supposition is the annotation situated immediately beneath the second of the sketches, which reads ‘entire width of stage’, whereas the arrangement of pillars beyond the steps in the first design does not extend so widely. Supposing the second is a design for an alternative independent setting, then the immediate problem it would pose a director is where to situate Seanchan. The remaining annotations beneath the sketch, however, though somewhat enigmatic, illuminate the situation. The first line reads: ‘would do for Seanchan’. This suggests to me that Yeats first designed the grouping of screens and played around with possible lighting effects and only then decided that it might be an appropriate setting for the play that from the first he and Lady Gregory tended to think of as ‘Seanchan’ (most of the original manuscripts are so headed) rather than as The King’s Threshold.

26If this supposition is correct, then what follows becomes clearer. The next two lines read: ‘no steps could lie on | heap of rags’, which indicates that Yeats has perceived the director’s problem outlined above and offered a solution. (Kiely is uncertain how to transcribe some of these musings). The fact that there are to be ‘no steps’ confirms that this design is indeed to be interpreted independently of the earlier sketch. The next annotation, which Kiely leaves untranscribed, picks up the phrasing of the first of this set of annotations and reads: ‘Would also do Baile’s Strand’, which confirms that Yeats was playing with arrangements of screens and that only when he had found an aesthetically satisfying grouping did he look for possible plays of his for which it might be deployed. (The first sketch, though definitely headed ‘Kings Threshold’, carries an annotation on the facing page which reads ‘might do Oedipus’ (a project which was never long out of Yeats’s mind for the Abbey repertoire).

27These are useful inclusions for any reader unfamiliar with how the plays might originally have been staged; but one would have welcomed some indication from Kiely why these alone have been selected. Materials relating to various stagings of The King’s Threshold during Yeats’s lifetime are in richer abundance than is the case with virtually every other play of his. There are more photographs extant of the earliest production in the Molesworth Hall, showing Annie Horniman’s garishly decorated and highly inappropriate costumes. More importantly there is also the actual setting for this play that Edward Gordon Craig designed, which was till recently in the collection of the late Anne Yeats. This was quite unlike Yeats’s attempts with the miniature screens; it depicted two flights of stairs rising from stage left and right, mounting up to opposed doorways set in otherwise featureless tower-structures and leaving a space of unoccupied stage between their ranks. The emphasis in the design is on these two architectural structures with a vague wash of colour to signify a landscaped backcloth. There is some evidence that this design was actually implemented at the Abbey and that the stylised landscape of distant mountains and a plain bisected by a river devised by Jack Yeats (his original watercolour of formal shapes in black, grey and white is currently in the Yeats Museum at the National Gallery in Dublin) was created to fill the void left between Craig’s arrangement of steps and towers.

28There are also the complete set of costume designs by Charles Ricketts for the staging of the play by the Abbey at the Royal Court in London in June 1914, which Yeats considered ‘the best stage costumes I have ever seen’ (CL InteLex 2417 11 June, 1914; L 587). He continued (doubtless with Horniman’s tasteless creations in mind): ‘They are full of dramatic invention, and yet nothing starts out, or seems eccentric. The Company never did the play so well, and such is the effect of costume that whole scenes got a new intensity’ (Ibid.). This collection of designs is now unfortunately dispersed, but many are housed in Prints and Drawings at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London); more were in Anne Yeats’s collection. What is interesting about Ricketts’ designs is that they were deliberately made up in parts and in a matching colour scheme that would allow them to be variously re-assembled to suit characters in On Baile’s Strand. The designs are actually annotated to show how they could be assigned to two distinct roles.

29If, therefore, Yeats’s second design discussed above had actually been implemented, it would have been possible to stage both On Baile’s Strand and The King’s Threshold within the same setting and with the same set of costumes. Sadly this experiment was never attempted, but it is possible that Ricketts’ costumes were seen at the Royal Court on a setting devised by Craig, backed by a cloth designed by Jack Yeats. It seems a pity that, having whetted the appetite of the Yeatsian scholar and the theatre historian with some material relating to the staging of The King’s Threshold, Kiely did not complete the endeavour and offer the full range of extant visual evidence, particularly as this shows how three consummate theatre artists from amongst his family and his contemporaries responded to the creative possibilities inherent in Yeats’s text.