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.
 (December 2016)


Glenda Jackson’s Great Lear

Glenda Jackson as Lear and Morfydd Clark as Cordelia in the Old Vic’s production of King Lear

King Lear

by William Shakespeare, directed by Deborah Warner
In 1980, when the actress Glenda Jackson was at the height of her fame, the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar published his story “We Love Glenda So Much.” It is narrated by a member of a cult devoted to the adoration of Glenda Jackson. At first, they meet in cafés after …

Beckett Plays Beckett

Samuel Beckett, Paris, 1964; photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson

The Letters of Samuel Beckett Vol. IV: 1966–1989

edited by George Craig, Martha Dow Fehsenfeld, Dan Gunn, and Lois More Overbeck
What did the elderly Samuel Beckett think about in the dark of night when he could not sleep? The hollowness of human existence? The inevitable failure of all expression? In fact, he played in his mind the first five holes of Carrickmines golf course overlooking Dublin Bay and facing the …

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.