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Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats…: An Irish Medea

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on 21 December 2014

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Transcript of Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats…: An Irish Medea

Marina Carr
Standing at the forefront of a new generation of Irish dramatists, Marina Carr (1964- ) has achieved rapid success and wide critical acclaim.

Carr has proved herself a writer with an original voice which "has become one of the most powerful, haunting voices on the contemporary Irish stage"
About the Author
Objectives of the Study

-To examine Carr's adaptation of Medea myth in her play By the Bog of Cats… (1998) through finding out the motives that drew her to such an adaptation.
-To show how far Carr succeeds in her adaptation of an ancient story to articulate a present experience.
-To examine various techniques Carr employs in the play that help her give a comprehensive view of Ireland at a certain era.


Division of the paper

-
An overall view of Irish writers, including Carr, who have hen been interested in the Greeks, is given.
The Medea myth as treated by Euripides is illustrated.
-Carr's approach to Euripides' tragedy in terms of characterization, themes and techniques is investigated with the aim of showing how original Carr's play is.

Carr's reputation has been established not only in Ireland but worldwide. Her plays were premiered at the Abbey and Gate theaters in Dublin as well as in the United States and Europe.
Carr has been awarded several times and her plays have been translated into different languages. Carr is considered as "the most significant and successful female Irish playwright since Lady Gregory“.

A Seminar Presented by
Dr. Fathia Al-Ghoreibi

Marina Carr's By the Bog of Cats…: An Irish Medea
Irish writers have showed interest in the Greek legacy as is evidenced in the number of works based on that tradition.

This phenomenon is not only a consequence of "colonial oppression" but also because Greek tragedy " is a suitable vehicle for a 'literature of protest'".

How does Carr Approach Greek Tragedy?
-
Carr handles the work as a loose adaptation that usually transposes the action to the modern world.
- By the Bog of Cats is viewed as a woman's attempt to revision Greek literature.
The story of Medea is one of the gloomiest in Greek mythology. From the beginning of the play, Euripides, on whose play Carr has based her own, presents Medea as a woman alienated and victimized in a male-controlled world.
The unfortunate princess falls in love and elopes with a Greek hero called Jason after betraying her father and killing her brother.

Because she participated in the death of Jason's uncle, the pair have to live as exiles in Corinth where Jason falls in love and marries the local princess under pretense of providing financial security for their children.
Rejected by her husband and unable to return to her father's land, Medea wreaks havoc on Jason.

In avenging herself, she not only kills Jason's bride and father-in-law, but also murders her own children to make Jason's destruction
By the Bog of Cats transplants the Greek tragedy to the dark bogs of the Irish Midlands.

Euripides' Medea has become "a frame of reference“ to Carr's play.
complete.

Carr's reworking of the Greek classics is seen as a presentation of Ireland as " England's Trojan women; its Medea exploited by Jason; its Antigone, who in the face of insufferable odds, does not falter, but retains a sense of justice”.

Critics' Views of Carr's Reworking of Greek Tragedies
The feminists conceive Carr's use of Medea as an attempt to "historicize the woman's struggle for constructing her identity and reaching a subject position in a culture structured by male-centred values."

By the Bog of Cats is a tale of abandonment and betrayal of Hester Swane, a woman of tinker stock, an itinerant group who are sometimes identified as being gypsies.

Unfortunately, her lover, Carthage Kilbride, with whom she has a daughter, decides to abandon her and marry a younger and more beautiful woman who will bring him land, wealth and respect.

About the Play
Unable to swallow such a blow, Hester wages a vicious war on her oppressors. She not only burns the house and farm with live stock, but also kills her own daughter and eventually commits suicide.

Hester's tragic doom is established. Her first appearance on the stage dragging a dead black swan while being watched by a Ghost Fancier gives the impression that she is fated to die.
The Catwoman repeats similar information when telling Hester her mother's words that she "will live as long as this black swan, not a day more, not a day less."

Hester Swane Vs Medea
Medea and Hester are not identical
Medea is an alien in a foreign country, while Hester Swane is living in her own country.
Sometimes Hester suffers alienation because of her stock.
She is considered a member of "a group of people often referred to as Ireland's 'national outsider[s]“.


Struggling to assert their identities, both Medea and Hester are viewed by the male-centered values as having "the characteristics of the wicked woman, the monster, the savage, the hysteric, the mad, or the witch“. This witch-like quality brings Hester close to the Greek Medea who is more a sorceress and uses the supernatural to achieve her desires as is the case of the poisoned dress she uses to annihilate her enemy.
Her savagery is seen in the way she kills her brother Joseph by slitting his throat with the fishing knife and then throwing him overboard after taking his money. This inhuman behavior is motivated by sheer jealousy of her brother for being the mother's favorite.

Hester Shares Medea's Savage Qualities
Hester's savagery is further emphasized in the revenge she inflects upon Carthage for abandoning her.
Hester's sudden outburst of astonishing violence is balanced by her sense of deeply wounded pride due to:
- Her mother’s abandonment
- Carthage Kilbride’s abandonment

The play is moving toward tragedy which is a product of both Hester's undeserved heartbreaks as well as her capacity for cruelty and pettiness.

Being abandoned at an early age by her mother, Hester suffers all her life. Her suffering wins her the sympathy of the audience as well as of Marina Carr herself who once declares "I am on her side“.

Carr's siding with Hester is an evidence of her "compassion for the damaged, the distraught, for those who howl and rage as they rush towards their inevitable doom"

Hester is Sympathetic
The community in which Hester Swane lives reflects that of the Catholic Irish Free State whose politics and social views confine women within the domestic sphere. This patriarchal community marginalizes women and undermines their fight for social equality.
In the world of the play, Hester is brutalized by:
-Carthage
- Xavier Cassidy, Carthage's would be
father-in law
- Father Willow, the representative of
religion, fails Hester when she asks
support by saying: "They've never
listened to me“.

The community of the Play
In a sense, one is tempted to see this disappointment as a reflection of that of Carr herself when contemplating her experience as a writer in a patriarchal Irish tradition. At a certain stage of her literary career, Carr has been struggling to incorporate the ghosts of patriarchal literary authority into her writing while at the same time trying to assert her individuality.

While Hester in By the Bog of Cats seeks to defy and destroy the patriarchal forces that intend to silence and oppress her, Carr's dealing with patriarchal ghosts of the past is much healthier.
" Stifled by the voices of great dead writers, part of Marina Carr has "retreat[ed] into silence," while the public playwright has not yet "found her own voice."

The Catwoman, a mystical figure representing the Greek blind seer who is semi-creature, semi-human.
Like Hester, the Catwoman is able to converse with ghosts and is considered a witch who despite her blindness, can see the future.  

Greek Elements in the Play
Cassidy tries to bully everybody around him including his family members. Had it not been for his "land and money and people's fear of [him] (Marina Carr,2004, I, 30), Cassidy would have been tried and punished.
He is accused of "deliberately smear[ing] strychnine on his son's dog" so as he will be able to "eliminate a weak and ineffectual male offspring“.
This is reminiscent of what the mythical Medea does with the dress she poisons and sends as a gift to Jason's bride so she would die the moment it touches her body.
Cassidy's Poisoning of his Son
In Carr's updating of the Irish Medea, there are no heroes. All what we have in the play are wounded people and those who will wound over and again which resonates with what is found in literary works that are concerned with the drastic changes in the social fabric of the Irish nation since the onset of the Celtic Tiger.

In fact, Carr's drawing on Greek tradition, like many Irish playwrights and poets, is seen as an attempt to "craft out ancient Greek sources in new works that encourage their audiences to reexamine contemporary issues and problems from fresh perspectives" .
In Carr’s plays, she presents "Ireland as a benighted dystopia" inhabited by " the poorly educated, coarse and unrefined" where violence is displayed as " inhering in the people themselves”.

Carr focuses on those who are marginalized and oppressed in the success obsessed Ireland of the Celtic Tiger. Her female characters mirror "the situations that Irish women have encountered and continue to encounter today" .

By the Bog of Cats presents the two options offered to Irish women and these lend a hand to their trapped existence:
- Hester Swane is set apart from the rest of the community. Her understanding of the damaging effect of social values urges her to defy such values even at the expense of her life.
- Mrs. Kilbride, Monica Murray and Caroline Cassidy represent the group of women who live by the rules of society, women who surrender personal power to secure acceptable places in that society.

Carr is not against the traditional role of wife and mother for she herself is a wife and mother, but she is attacking " the oppressive nature of Ireland's addictive society [that] has warped the roles of wife and mother into subservient and secondary roles, thereby stripping women of personal power and identity“.
Through her plays, Carr confronts her audience with the problems faced by Irish women with the hope of encouraging them to find solutions for such problems.

Euripides' Medea, the cardinal sin of the heroine is racial; she is not Greek but a barbarian who is rejected by the dominant community that seizes every possible opportunity to deny this outsider her civil and human rights.
Carr presents Hester Swane in the same light which focuses on the cultural clash between Ireland's rural farmers and the gypsy class; a marginalized group who live next to nothing.

Similarities
Hester Swane who, like other Carr's heroines of The Mai (1994) and Portia Coughlan (1996) , fails to fulfill acceptable feminine paradigms and thus exposes herself to cultural exclusion and punishment.

Attack on the traditional Catholic church
By showing how impotent and incapable its representatives are to offer the sanctuary and assistance the female characters are in particular need of.

Themes:
Gender
Story-telling and oral tradition:
The use of story allows Carr to explore questions of identity and ontology. The audience gathers information about Josie Swane from what Hester recalls about her and what the other characters think of her.


Carr’s use of language:
She uses a dialect spoken in the Irish Midlands . It could be a physical attack on the conventions of Syntax, spelling, and sounds of Standard English.

Technique
The play is set in the bog of the title; a grim mysterious place that is "stark, bleak, endless,“ and feels utterly hopeless.
The bog, for Hester Swane, is her physical and spiritual home to which she is permanently connected.
The bog plays "a significant role in understanding the importance of the Greek model on the Irish re-telling”.


Setting
In Euripides'' Medea when the heroine is confined inside the house, the feminine domain, nothing is known of Medea but her wailing from inside the house. It is only when she steps outside into the masculine world, that she is driven to act and carry out her revenge.
Similarly, Hester in By the Bog of Cats is affected by "exposure to the outside the environment" i.e. the bog which "becomes a source of spiritual fulfillment for her". Both Medea and Hester gain power through contact with the outer space but unfortunately both are "in a sense destroyed by their need to belong to these outer realms. "

I
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