Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Katharine B. Worth
First published in 1903, Where There Is Nothing was never reprinted in the author’s lifetime. It lost its place in collected editions of Yeats’s plays to a new version, The Unicorn from the Stars, in which Lady Gregory had a major share. There has long been a need for an edition of Where There Is Nothing to restore to general view an interesting play which, unusually for Yeats, has a modern setting, a middle-class hero, and a predominantly naturalistic technique.
Yeats gave various reasons for abandoning the original play. Perhaps one he did not mention was his doubt whether its open and direct style and modem Irish background might not identify the author too closely with the visionary central character, Paul Ruttledge. Many of Yeats’s deepest preoccupations are reflected in Paul’s pursuit of his apocalyptic vision: he abandons a life of bourgeois comfort for hard freedom among the tinkers, follows a religious life in a monastery, and finally dies a martyr at the hands of a mob who cannot understand his ecstatic message: “Where there is nothing, there is God.”
The drastically revised version, The Unicorn from the Stars, changes the period and social milieu and introduces new characters and plot complications which bear the marks of Lady Gregory’s distinctive style. Both plays are included in this volume to allow comparison of the plays themselves and to throw light on the characteristic methods of these two preeminent playwrights.