Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Conflict, Carnage, and Cats: Toward a Comic Cu Chulainn in Martin McDonagh's the Lieutenant of Inishmore

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Conflict, Carnage, and Cats: Toward a Comic Cu Chulainn in Martin McDonagh's the Lieutenant of Inishmore

Article excerpt

   Acres will be dense with dead,    as he mows the battlefield,    leaving a thousand lopped heads:    these things I do not conceal.     Blood spurts from soldiers' bodies,    released by this hero's hand.    He kills on sight, scattering    Deda's followers and clan.     Women wail at the corpse-mound    because of him--the Forge-Hound.        --Fedelm, Tain Bo Cuailnge     So all this terror has been for absolutely nothing?        --Davey, The Lieutenant of Inishmore 

Martin McDonagh is one of Ireland's (1) most visible and controversial theatrical exports, and perhaps none of his works has garnered as much controversy and critical discourse as The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2001). McDonagh's plays can be seen as a bricolage of traditional Irish drama, imagery, folklore, and, interestingly, stereotypes, melded with the films of Quentin Tarantino and John Woo; violence and humor commingle with an exaggerated image of the "stage Irish," resulting in a troubling tapestry of tradition and iconoclasm. A great deal of scholarship has been devoted to identifying his connections to earlier Irish playwrights such as Synge, O'Casey, Yeats, and Gregory. (2) However, while much has been made of these playwrights' affinities for folklore, oral tradition, and mythology, there have not been similar attempts to link McDonagh or his works to these ancient tales and traditions. That said, there are nonetheless certain thematic, ideological, and figural connections between Cu Chulainn, (3) the epic hero of the Tain Bo Cuailnge of Ireland's mythological Ulster Cycle, and Lieutenant's Padraic. In the following pages, I will utilize the mythology of Cu Chulainn as a lens through which to view McDonagh's contemporary exploration of the Irish "hero" as it pertains to both theatrical and cultural spheres. Through a comparative study of the two texts, I shall examine the ways in which The Lieutenant of Inishmore satirizes ideologies permeating the sectarian conflict in Ireland during the latter half of the twentieth century. To that end, I will analyze McDonagh's comic subversion of Cu Chulainn's status as a symbol for Irish nationalism, leading to the development and construction of a postmodern comic hero for a divided Ireland. (4)

Briefly, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, set on the titular island in 1993, tells the story of Padraic, a rogue INLA member who, having splintered off from a smaller splinter group, returns to his father's, Donny's, cottage in Inishmore after hearing that his beloved cat, Wee Thomas, has fallen ill. When he arrives, he finds that his cat is not sick, but has been killed and replaced with Mairead's orange cat, Sir Roger (who Padraic promptly shoots); Christy, a former colleague of Padraic, has seen to the cat's death in order to lure Padraic to Inishmore so that he might kill him. So begins a gruesome and bloody tale of revenge, or perhaps more accurately, vengeance. After unintentionally seducing Mairead through their mutual appreciation of violence, Padraic kills Christy and his two cohorts. Mairead discovers Sir Roger's corpse and kills Padraic in another act of revenge, adopting the title of "Lieutenant of Inishmore" and vowing to mount a full investigation into the cat's death. After all this slaughter, Wee Thomas enters the cottage, alive and well--the original dead cat was a case of mistaken identity. Mairead's brother, Davey, and Donny, having survived the massacre, try to kill Wee Thomas in retribution for all the blood shed in his name, but cannot bring themselves to do so and instead feed him a bowl of Frosties as the play ends. Written in 1994, but not performed until 20015 (presumably due to anxieties surrounding the play's controversial material), Lieutenant is, to date, McDonagh's only overtly political work, set amidst and referring to the violence of the period known as "the Troubles." (6) Indeed, the play takes on the form of a farcical "living newspaper" of sorts, where references to real-world violence meld with the play's chaotic comic spirit; the comic center of the play is the wildly unpredictable and bloodthirsty Padraic, who bears more than a passing similarity to the mythological Cu Chulainn. …

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