Michael McAteer


Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande is one of the finest and most influential works of French Symbolist drama from the 1890s. This essay examines the close affinities between the play and W. B. Yeats’s The Countess Cathleen as it was first performed in Dublin in 1899. In illustrating these affinities, it draws attention to performances of Pelléas et Mélisande that Yeats attended in London in 1898 and 1904. Examining features of Maeterlinck’s play and The Countess Cathleen in close detail, the essay develops Katharine Worth’s general observations on the aspects of theatre that Maeterlinck and Yeats shared. These include music, setting and voice; taking account of the development of Pelléas et Mélisande into opera and Yeats’s experiments with chant. The collaborative work of Yeats and George Moore, Diarmuid and Grania, is also considered in this regard, particularly as it relates to Moore’s aspiration for Edward Elgar to compose an opera based on the play. In the process, the essay considers those features of Pelléas et Mélisande and The Countess Cathleen that anticipate aspects of Martin Heidegger’s ontology in his seminal 1927 work, Being and Time. A preliminary version of this paper was presented at the W. B. Yeats 150th anniversary symposium, Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), Budapest, Hungary, in November 2015, an occasion supported by the Irish Embassy in Budapest.