“A player, a playwright, and the most famous poet in the world”: Highs and Lows in The Player Queen





Yeats published The Player Queen, a play he had struggled with for more than a decade, in 1922, just a year before he was awarded the Nobel Prize. This article argues despite its appearance of complete wackiness, The Player Queen constitutes a significant landmark in Yeats’s elaboration of his own theatrical aesthetics, as well as a meditation on artistic responsibility—or failure thereof. Why does the poet Septimus fail to communicate his beautiful vision of the Unicorn to anyone, and why does no-one in the play listen to him? On the one hand, the citizens in the play are figures of the incompetent spectators, reminiscent of the audience who rejected Synge at the Abbey. On the other hand, Septimus himself is an incompetent spectator, who is so engrossed in his poetic vision that he fails to pay attention to the momentous change that is really going on before his eyes, although this concerns his own wife Decima, the eponymous Player Queen who comes to replace the real queen. Septimus fails to make himself heard because he is not paying attention to what really matters, he is not fulfilling his duty, as a playwright and a poet, of translating the shapeless chaos of reality into intelligible forms.

Author Biography

  • Alexandra Poulain, University of Sorbonne Nouvelle

    Alexandra Poulain is Professor of postcolonial literature and theatre at the University of Sorbonne Nouvelle (France). She has published widely on modern and contemporary Irish drama and performance, in particular Yeats and Beckett. Her latest book, Irish Drama, Modernity and the Passion Play (Palgrave, 2016), looks at rewritings of the Passion narrative as a modality of political resistance in Irish plays from Synge to the present day. Her current research focuses on decolonial projects in contemporary theatre and art, with a special focus on the dynamics and creative potential of shame. She is a former President of the International Yeats Society and the current President of the SAES (the French Association of English Professors in higher education).


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How to Cite

Poulain, A. (2023). “A player, a playwright, and the most famous poet in the world”: Highs and Lows in The Player Queen. ABEI Journal, 25(2), 33-45. https://doi.org/10.11606/issn.2595-8127.v25i2p33-45