Fintan O’Toole is Literary Editor of The Irish Times and Leonard L. Milberg Visiting Lecturer in Irish Letters at Princeton. He has just ­completed a book on George Bernard Shaw.
 (September 2016)


The Easter Rising: Powerful and Useless

Nurses in front of a shelled building in Dublin after the Easter Rising of 1916

Ireland’s Exiled Children: America and the Easter Rising

by Robert Schmuhl

“The Bomb, Bhadralok, Bhagavad Gita, and Dan Breen: Terrorism in Bengal and Its Relation to the European Experience”

by Michael Silvestri
On April 18, 1930, sixty-four militants from the Jugantar party in Bengal seized buildings in the eastern port city of Chittagong. They captured weapons at the police armory. They cut off telegraph communications and derailed a train. They controlled Chittagong for four days until they were routed with heavy casualties …

The Ultimate Oedipus at the Opera

Hubert Francis as Laïos, Nicolas Courjal as the Theban High Priest, and Sarah Connolly as Jocaste in George Enescu’s Oedipe, at the Royal Opera House, London


an opera by George Enescu, directed by Àlex Ollé and Valentina Carrasco, at the Royal Opera House, London, May 23–June 8, 2016
In 1911, when Gilbert Murray completed his translation of Oedipus the King, George Bernard Shaw wrote to him to suggest that it was time for a modern rewriting of Sophocles’ play. Shaw proposed that a “great poetic and psychological drama” would emerge if Oedipus, instead of blinding himself on his …

Finding a Lost Ireland

Connemara, Ireland, 1972; photograph by Thomas Hoepker

The Dirty Dust/Cré na Cille

by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Alan Titley

The Key/An Eochair

by Máirtín Ó Cadhain, translated from the Irish by Louis de Paor and Lochlainn Ó Tuairisg
It seems rather apt that the physicist Erwin Schrödinger spent the years of World War II in Dublin. Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment in which a cat is simultaneously alive and dead might have been devised especially for Irish writing of the period. A kind of suspended animation, a state of …

Behind ‘King Lear’: The History Revealed

King James I of England, in a portrait attributed to John de Critz, circa 1606; William Shakespeare, in a portrait attributed to John Taylor, circa 1610

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606

by James Shapiro
That such a play is possible at all is one of the great wonders of human creation. That it was written by a liveried servant of a Calvinist king who devoutly believed in salvation and damnation, and performed at his court, seems almost inexplicable. Or at least it seemed inexplicable before James Shapiro’s wonderfully illuminating The Year of Lear.

Auden: Cranky, Cautious, Brilliant

W.H. Auden, 1953; photograph by Cecil Beaton

The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume V, 1963–1968

edited by Edward Mendelson

The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume VI, 1969–1973

edited by Edward Mendelson
When Wystan Auden wrote his long poetic “Letter to Lord Byron” in 1936, the author was on his way to being almost as famous as the addressee had once been. At twenty-nine, Auden had already established himself, not just as a literary but as a political presence. Soon, his name …

The Explosions from Wolf Hall

Lydia Leonard as Anne Boleyn and Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of Wolf Hall Part Two: Bring Up the Bodies, on Broadway this spring

Wolf Hall

based on the novels by Hilary Mantel, written by Peter Straughan, and directed by Peter Kosminsky

Wolf Hall Part One and Wolf Hall Part Two: Bring Up the Bodies

adapted by Mike Poulton from the novels by Hilary Mantel, directed by Jeremy Herrin, and produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company
In the mesmerizing BBC/Masterpiece television adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s phenomenally successful novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, we can get some notion of what is in Cromwell’s head by tracing the flickers of fear or triumph or humor that the camera catches on Mark Rylance’s long, melancholic, and otherwise impassive face. On stage, that simply can’t be done. If it is to be more than a high-class pageant, the stage version has to find some other way to get under the skin of the story, some richness of language or some wonder of theatrical invention that, for all its impressive technique, the RSC’s production does not possess.

Peter Carey’s Hidden History

Peter Carey in northwestern Australia, circa 2015


by Peter Carey
It is not hard to see Felix Moore, the supposed writer of Amnesia, as an alter ego of the novel’s actual author, Peter Carey. Moore is a muckraking Australian journalist, but also a sometime novelist, most notably of the soon-to-be-filmed satire Barbie and the Deadheads. He is, throughout the book, …

Beckett in Love

Avigdor Arikha: Samuel Beckett au verre de vin, 1969

The Letters of Samuel Beckett, Volume III: 1957–1965

edited and translated from the French by George Craig, and edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn, and Lois More Overbeck
At its simplest, the big thing that happens to Beckett’s work in the years from 1957 to 1965 is the arrival of female voices. It would be crude to suggest that this crucial shift is merely or solely a response to Beckett’s exploration of his feelings for Ethna MacCarthy. But it is obvious that those feelings have a profound effect on the way Beckett allows his female figures to bring into his world memory, erotic desire, even tenderness.