Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Reading Boland's 'Femininity and Freedom'

Verse drama is dead, and attempts to resurrect it only raise a zombie. Until someone comes along and proves the genre ripe and the climate right for a revival. Boland’s extract from her play ‘Femininity and Freedom’ is not it; it proves only how easy it is to sound archaic or awkward when writing a blank verse play.

Deirdre envies Cathal for her freedom to slip into the woods, whereas she has to prettify herself to receive High King Conchubar’s wooing. Cathal points out the dangers in the wood, which is “As full of snares and monotony as this court.” The 34-line extract is too short to flesh out the characters, so it is impossible to understand why Cathal warns of the adders “Coiled at first like bracelets in the grass,” and of berries “Which in the mouth suddenly strangle breath/ And then blacken the face and foul the blood.” Is she persuading Deidre to accept her courtly life? Is she appealing to Deidre’s sense of adventure? Is she, spitefully, increasing Deidre’s envy of her? I cannot tell.

The best bit of the extract is Deidre’s humorous description of her old nurse puffing round her chamber so hard “She lights the fire in the grate so there’s no need/ For the brass bellows.” The verse limps, but the wit laughs.

I am guessing that this extract is included to provide a bridge to the later feminist poetry. Here, instead of pining for an immortal lover, as in “The Wooing of Etain,” the beloved has to pummel blood into her pale cheeks before meeting the king. Here, instead of a horseman who is a human bower, the royal wooer comes on “his donkeys weighed/ With stones and lockets for your wrists and ears.” The debate between femininity and freedom has only just begun.

__________

Reading ‘Femininity and Freedom’

The women in my gym are thin with running,
running on the mechanized bracelet.
The stones they wear are more than their weight,
their suits of body are quite stunning.

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