(O’Toole’s article appeared in the Irish Times, 8/25.)
CULTURE SHOCK: There are glimmers of Ireland in Shakespeare’s work, but even after all these years, theatre makers don’t quite know how to handle them
WATCHING THE Globe’s very entertaining production of As You Like It at the Kilkenny Arts Festival last week, I was struck again by the weird ways in which Ireland worms its way into Shakespeare’s imagination. The play is largely set in a fantasy world, the Forest of Arden, where there is no war or tyranny and the ruling duke is a benign child of nature.
It is the last place you would expect references to Ireland, the main source of contemporary turmoil and darkness. Yet there it is – not the place or the people but, in this great celebration of nature, in the animals. One of the references is straightforward enough. Rosalind, driven astray by a cacophony of declarations of love, cries out “Pray you, no more of this: ’tis like the howling of Irish wolves against the moon.” The train of thought is clear – Ireland is a wild place; wolves are the standard image of barbarous wilderness, so Irish wolves are doubly wild.