Dah Duit (Hi) and welcome

A return to Dublin and Trinity College, on the waves of memory

By Ted Gup, Published: October 3, 2013 E-mail the writer

The last time I passed through the gates of Trinity College, Dublin, I was 20, a student studying the classics and Irish poetry — William Butler Yeats and Patrick Kavanagh. I was living in a boardinghouse in Rathgar, where the owner, Mrs. O’Doherty, not only cleaned my room but also secretly saved my trash, hoping to cash in should I become famous (as she later confessed to my mother).
I spent the year trying to be true (with only modest success) to my girlfriend back home, and, determined to be a poet, staying up nights penning quatrains and scanning lines of iambic pentameter. Each morning I was awakened by the sound of hooves striking the cobblestones (if I hurried to the window, I could see sparks fly off the horses’ shoes) as the milk was delivered.
In an old photograph, I have mutton chops, a dreamy faraway look, and am wearing a corduroy jacket and vest, posing before a window in Building No. 40, where we read our Horace, Catullus and Ovid. The year was 1970.
Now, as I pass through the gates of Trinity, I am a 62-year old man with a trick knee and a head full of questions about where the years went. I arrive with my wife of 30 years, Peggy, and my 22-year-old son, Matt. We are staying in the dorms just inside the gates, in a fourth-floor walk-up that leaves me winded and looks out over the campus’s main quad, Parliament Square.
For them, it’s the next-to-last stop on a whirlwind tour of the Emerald Isle. For me, it’s something more. It’s a search for artifacts to prove that I was here, that the memories weren’t implanted but experienced. It’s not an easy task.
Foxes and pubs
The gypsies who begged for coppers — Ireland’s old copper pennies — outside the gate are gone, as are the coppers. (I was here that most confusing Monday, Feb. 15, 1971, when the currency was decimalized and the pound became 100 pence. I continued to feed my shillings, or “bobs” as we called them, into the room heater, hoping to fall asleep before another shilling was required.) The ferries in the port of Dún Laoghaire no longer carry needy classmates to England to shell peas over breaks. Many of the Dublin dives that served curry or chips have been replaced by chic cafes offering nouvelle cuisine and other continental fare. But the Celtic Tiger that roared in my absence has been largely silenced, returning the country to something more modest and recognizable.
Trinity’s new structures, brutish and cold, squat in the midst of Georgian stateliness, reminding me that the future has its costs. Something else is new: A family of foxes has made its home in Trinity and, from twilight on, the foxes have the run of the place.
Bless Ireland, it still exempts artists’ income (the first 40,000 euros, or roughly $54,000) from taxes. The store across from Trinity’s gate still sells Peterson’s pipes, the ones with the sterling silver sleeve. Some of my old pubs — the ancient ones that reeked of smoke and whiskey and poured a proper pint — continue on.
The first night, I take my wife and son to Mulligans on Poolbeg Street, where the pint is still part of the sacraments, though some upstart boutique brews have usurped the place of a Guinness tap or two. John F. Kennedy’s picture still hangs on the wall near the loo, as does a tribute to a local journalist as distinguished for his drinking as for his prose.
The Sinnotts pub I remember was seedy but real, and on Thursday nights, Dublin’s best poets gathered there to read their works-in-progress. Today, reborn and resplendent, it touts itself as a sports bar boasting seven screens. Thank God that McDaids on Harry Street is still there, though the upstairs bar is shuttered most nights for lack of patrons.
It was in that upstairs one night that I engaged an Irish journalist in a drinking contest — or perhaps it was he who challenged me. He was an old man (50?) and a seasoned drinker, convinced that a Yankee posed no threat. So cocky was he that he wagered he could drink two shots of Irish whiskey for every one I downed. There was no money involved, only pride. He stumbled at 16 shots, and I went on to win, triumphantly exiting the pub, seemingly immune to nine shots of Jameson’s.
What I remember next is waking up under the rosebushes of St. Stephen’s Green, my fine dress coat rolled up as a pillow under my head.
Homage to books
Trinity’s Old Library and Long Room are still there, but now, instead of being a solitary admirer lingering over the Book of Kells in its simple wooden case, I find myself in an hour-long queue, part of an operatic production staged for tourists from around the globe who have paid for a glimpse of a single page of text and art.
I wonder at a line so long. It has the feeling of a pilgrimage, and in this era of e-books, it may be just that, paying our respects not merely to one book but to all. The tourists’ reverence does not gladden me. As a classics major, I identify with the monks of old and am tempted to gather up all books and shield them from the cyber-heathens who now threaten them. (There is now an iPad app for the Book of Kells. Blasphemy.)
I remember going on a quest for a first edition of Paddy Kavanagh’s collected poetry. It was 1970, and though he had died but three years earlier, the volume was already scarce. Every bookstore in Dublin was out of it. I walked for hours. Finally, I found Dublin’s last copy in a display case at the Abbey Theatre and bought it for the cover price — about $5. Now I see a copy on the shelf in Ulysses, an antiquarian bookstore on Duke Street. The price: 430 euros — about $580. (I wouldn’t part with mine for twice that.)
Back in 1970, on Ireland’s West Coast, I wandered into a tiny bookstore and found a first edition of Yeats’s 1899 “The Wind Among the Reeds” with a bookplate that read, “From The Library of A. E. Housman,” the renowned Cambridge classicist and poet. But the $40 they wanted for the volume would have busted my budget. Not buying it remains one of life’s nettlesome regrets.
Time passing
The one person from my days at Trinity whom I had hoped to see was Brendan Kennelly, my mentor and instigator-in-chief. He was a randy Kerry man, the very embodiment of mischief, who had been miscast as a dean and who also just happened to be one of the country’s finest and most beloved poets.
I’d followed the wondrous arc of his career over the decades. But in seeking him out, I learned that he had retired from Trinity eight years earlier, and if I was to find him, it would be at a cafe called Lemon’s on Dawson Street where he daily sipped an espresso and watched the passersby. I also learned he’d had bypass surgery and had given up drink a quarter-century earlier.
Each of the three days we were in Dublin I passed by the cafe, looking for him. I even left a note. Nothing. Then on the afternoon of the last day, there he was in all his glory — at 77, still possessing those cherubic cheeks and lusty laugh.
I joined him, and instantly it was as if no time had passed. I reminded him of stories and misadventures shared — and for a few brief moments, the sap again rose in our veins and whatever collective sorrows or missteps we had endured melted away. Peggy took our picture as we rocked with laughter. Then it was time to say goodbye, the sort that I have grudgingly come to accept as final.
Eve Patten, head of Trinity’s School of English, tells me that I can go online and find the poetry I published in the literary magazine Icarus, but I have no stomach for that. Besides, searching it out in cyberspace might somehow disturb the space-time continuum, sending the universe into spasms.
The poet in me died long ago. In his place, a journalist and teacher took up residence, bringing his own joys and illusions of significance. My visit to Trinity reminds me of the welter of contradictions my life has become. Increasingly, it seems that text and subtext are one, that “the meaning of life” is best left to the 21-year-olds with time enough to puzzle it out.
The last night at Trinity, after Peggy and Matt and I have played an hour of hearts, I take to wandering the campus. I revisit Building No. 40 (now being readied to house the law classes), the green field where I listened to a girl named Sarah from Belfast (the field is now a muddy track being prepped for something grand) and the library where centuries of memories are stored — not in some ethereal cloud but here on Earth.
And this last night, again I see a fox in Parliament Square. I’d like to think that he has come to see me off. He trots about the yard, invisible but for his tail, a spirit from some time long ago, always welcome to return.

In Ireland, climbing the summits of the national literature

By Raymond M. Lane, Published: May 29 E-mail the writers

Another rainbow formed and then began dissolving slowly, not above, but below us.
The gauzy half-circle hung motionless in a long, deep valley. Threads of lightning flickered a time or two from a black thunderhead crawling over the valley floor. We never heard the thunder.
Perhaps five miles toward the valley head was a thin blue lake, and beyond, a bristle of black-green trees girdling the farther lower hillsides. At least three streams traced paths down the lumpy mountainsides, a lacy damask fingering toward straight-drop waterfalls that led to the lake and its little river draining into the bay to the west.
Then, just like that, two more rainbows appeared. They looked like wedding bands and touched both sides of the valley.
If you go: Mountain walking in Ireland
The temptation was to cup them in the palms of our hands, if only somehow we could leap the boundary between man and nature. Silently, the color and motion playing beneath us insisted that while nature conveys beauty, man alone frets over its meaning.
“No wonder Yeats loved this place,” my wife said.
We were standing in pale sunshine about 1,300 feet off the valley floor with our guide, at the top of Ben Bulben in Sligo. In the distance was the tiny snail-horn steeple of Drumcliff church, burial site of poet William Butler Yeats.
There was a time when many schoolchildren’s first exposures to poetry included the grave song of the Irish Nobel Prize winner, with its evocative place setter:
Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
And its closing stanzas — cut into the headstone — the stark ending of one of his last poems.
Cast a cold eye
on life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!
That sharp, unsparing language was what we sought on Ben Bulben, coupling as it does the wildness of Ireland’s mountains with the tangled narratives of myth and yarn spun by her great literary masters.
Literary summits
We knew the wordy part of Ireland fairly well, and where to find some of its lowland temples. Over the years, we had flat-footed the long walks of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s “Ulysses.” We’d rooted out the homes of Ireland’s other Nobel laureates, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney. We’d found the digs of Oscar Wilde and even of Bram Stoker, whose “Dracula” still sends shivers down the spine.
But that’s all in Dublin, the seaside, pancake-flat Irish capital. Last summer, we wanted to climb.
What about the cliff walk at Howth Head, we wondered, the rocky peninsula on the coast just north of Dublin? Could we find the spot where, lying among candy-colored rhododendrons, the fictional Molly drew Leopold Bloom to her bosom to accept his marriage proposal?
And there was Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels.” The gigantic Gulliver was inspired by the mountains overlooking Belfast, the 1,214-foot Cave Hill summit being the “nose” of the Gulliver face outlined on the mountain.
Ben Bulben and Knocknarea anchor Yeats country in Sligo, his ancestral home. And then there’s Ireland’s sacred mountain, Croagh Patrick, a.k.a. the Reek, in County Mayo. Most Americans know little about it, but its 6,000-year history shows up repeatedly in Irish literature. As many as 25,000 men, women and children climbed it last Reek Sunday, the last Sunday in July — some barefoot and reciting the rosary on their way to Mass at the summit. Others no doubt climbed to have a nod and a wink at the spot from which Saint Patrick is supposed to have driven the snakes from Ireland.
On Howth cliff
Each of our walks started at sea level, and with clear weather, each promised spectacular mountain and water vistas.
First we walked Howth, the most accessible. A simple half-hour train ride from downtown Dublin terminates at Howth’s little harbor. It’s a tourist town, full of restaurants and bars, and signs lead immediately eastward to a shore path to the four-mile cliff walk circling the peninsula.
On a sunny day, the path was full of strolling families, loners and couples. Dublin Bay glistened, the Wicklow Mountains rose purple behind the city. We saw maybe a piece of Heaney’s old house across the water at Sandymount, and slumbering seals littered the shoreline. There was no evidence of Molly’s rhododendron love nest, but we did see the seaside Yeats family house, Balscadden, which means “the town of herrings” in Gaelic.
“He used to sleep with the windows wide open,” said Stella Mew, past director of the Sligo Yeats Society and of Clongowes Wood College, the Jesuit boys’ school famously depicted in Joyce’s “Ulysses” and “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.”
“Storms would send sea spray into his room,” soaking the bedding by morning, Mew told us. “He was 16, and I suppose the poet is supposed to listen to the pounding waves. . . . he did anyway.”
It was on Howth cliff walks that Yeats first proposed marriage to Maud Gonne. The aristocratic Gonne repeatedly declined the love-struck “Willie,” as she called him. Yeats wrote of the ache of her rejection:
“My world was fallen and over, for your dark soft eyes on it shone; A thousand years it had waited and now it is gone, it is gone.”
Ancient worlds
In Belfast, the path to Gulliver’s nose starts at the city zoo, with signs and a map to the right of the entrance building. Rising above heavily forested lower hills, the Cave Hill path opens to reveal the city resting in its wide, long valley. You can just make out Queen’s University, where Heaney taught as a young poet.
Far below is the elephant enclosure, the beasts looking like plump mice. Their smell and trumpeting rose far up the mountainside.
As I huffed and puffed near the nose — a knob leaning southwestward off the top of the mountain — one of Swift’s observations came to mind: “Every man desires to live long, but no man wishes to be old.” The reminder held weight, standing as we were in sunshine overlooking the new star-shaped Titanic museum beside the River Lagan, a glistening little glass crab in the distance, where the doomed ship was completed in 1912.
Knocknarea is a simple power climb over rising meadows and a series of low walls. You have to look for a long descending path across from the trail leading up, where a deep fissure between two limestone cliffs lies hidden. In this place of utter solitude, trees drape one side of the fissure and move with the breeze, while the stones produce echoes of great clarity.
Yeats, of course, had to take note, writing “Man and The Echo” to pose the ultimate questions, with the echo eerily responding as if in a conversation. Never particularly cheerful, Yeats wrote, “I/ Sleepless would lie down and die,” and the echo cruelly commands, “Die.”
Atop Knocknarea, a loose stone pile 33 by 180 feet and rising perhaps 40 feet, is said to be the grave of Queen Maeve, mythic goddess and ruler of Ireland. Dating back about 5,000 years, the cairn supposedly covers the underground entrance to hell, and within it live the shee, or fairies — a 7-foot-tall race of blue near-humans.
“Many visitors may not realize it, but Knocknarea is a massive Neolith enclosure, a fort,” said Michael Gibbons, an archeologist who lectures at Harvard Divinity School, whom I called on our return to the States. “Climbing it, you’re crossing old ramparts, sacred barrows and tombs.”
“All these mountains and so much of Ireland, they’re part of one of the great European timescapes, places not destroyed by industrialization or the Romans. We’ve looked at less than one percent of that history, and there’s this ancient world still waiting to be discovered.”
Rituals and religion
In 1995, Gibbons led an investigation of Croagh Patrick, finding hundreds of tombs and religious sites all around. At the top of the mountain, the team found a “place of ritual violence,” a walled enclosure with the dressed stone facing inward. “It wasn’t a fort,” he said. “It was a sacred place in Mesolithic times, when the Egyptians were building the first pyramids, and we’re not sure yet what exactly went on.”
For us, Croagh Patrick was the most difficult walk. It was Garland Friday, the Friday before Reek Sunday, and along with several thousand others, we set off for eight hours of climbing, sometimes clawing and a few times falling on our way up 2,507 feet over rock-strewn paths rutted with gullies and fissures. Occasionally, a loose rock dislodged above us and tumbled down.
Once at the top, bathed in sunshine, cooled by gentle breezes and dazzled at the infinitely variable blue colorings of Clew Bay spread below, we paused for reflection, our sandwiches and the waterless latrine.
And a stop at the little chapel, a white building visible for miles and a beacon for climbers. In 1905, pilgrims carrying everything on their backs had assembled it near a declivity used for Christian worship since about the 11th century, and possibly for ritual murder long before that. After momentarily losing track of my wife, I found her inside upon a kneeler. We’d carried along a rosary for her 96-year-old mother in New Jersey. (Once back in America, we’d share with her the story about how, after Saint Patrick converted the Irish around 400 A.D., God granted him a wish — to judge all the Irish at the end of time. Patrick then blessed Ireland and, throwing a silver bell off the mountain, banished snakes from the island forever.)
There are stations of devotion on the mountain, where believers may win plenary indulgences for the climb. Some of our fellow climbers knelt barefoot before the little stone altars. The only sound was the soft play of the breeze, and an occasional cough from the two donkeys, tethered to the tiny snack bar, that haul up the soft drinks and snacks sold to climbers the last week of July.
Along the sheep trail
John Paul Ryan met us in Drumcliff cemetery parking lot. Behind us, Ben Bulben — “Binn Ghulbain” in Gaelic, meaning “jaw-shaped peak” — rose straight up 1,000 feet. Treeless, serrated with dry waterfall gullies, it was dotted with white specks.
“It’s not a hard climb. We just follow the sheep,” said Ryan, a certified mountain guide and longtime volunteer at the Coast Guard station on Sligo Bay. “But it can be a death trap.”
Carved by glaciers beginning 320 million years ago, Ben Bulben is unstable — porous mud stone, peat and bog on top of a mountain of limestone that acts like a sieve, he said. The underbrush hides sinkholes big enough to break an ankle or to suck down a small car.
In wet weather, quicksand forms on the boggy top, and the gullies rage water over the serrations seen from below, he said. “A sunny day can turn quickly, with cloud cover so thick you can’t see 10 feet in front of you, and then the water vapor cools you rapidly. Hypothermia stops your thinking; you can make terrible decisions.”
In his backpack were two GPS systems, a tent, blankets, food, water, a cellphone and a radio, “and a good map,” he emphasized.
We walked the sheep trail, hearing their bleating near and far, and rose through the afternoon higher and higher to eventually follow a small stream tish-toshing quietly to a notch at the top. It becomes Ballaghnairillick River on the lowlands, but it starts as a shallow pool, “champagne of the mountain,” as Ryan called it.
On top, we found the rainbows and lush landscape coupled to the poetry in our backpacks. We saw the Isle of Innisfree and mumbled along:
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree. . . .
And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.
To the west below was Glencar Waterfalls and Yeats’s haunting “The Stolen Child:”
Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car
And the aching refrain:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Maybe the poet’s job is to press us on the large, existential questions, we reflected later that night, after roast lamb and red wine in town. But the climbs had somehow cheered and consoled us. Somber discourse is for men, here in their lowlands, we concluded. But the mountains rise above it, and give peace.

Lane is editor of the African Psychology Association in Washington.

‘Seamus Heaney suggested that if the American national myth is the frontier, the Irish national myth is the bog.’

Joe Humphreys

Through such writers as Beckett, Shaw and Wilde, Irish literature cannot be accused of ignoring philosophy, but very often it features as the butt of a joke rather than the central plot.
Picture a philosopher from Irish books or theatre and you may well think of Flann O’Brien’s De Selby in The Third Policeman, or O’Casey’s The Covey in The Plough and the Stars who ruminates on how we’re all just “the accidental gatherin’ together of mollycewels an’ atoms”.
In broader European and American literature, it is easier to find genuine marriages of philosophy and fiction, though not always happy ones. Dr Áine Mahon, who lectures in the School of Philosophy at UCD, has studied the intersection between these two disciplines for a forthcoming book. She provides today’s idea: Irish literature misses what’s universal about the human condition by focusing on the local.

Novels down the ages have been used as a vehicle for introducing philosophical ideas. Any examples you would highlight?
Áine Mahon: “When we think of the philosophical novel we tend to think firstly of the existentialists: Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus. All of these writers explored the human condition by writing novels as well as works of philosophy.
“Beyond the European context, Ralph Ellison in Invisible Man and Richard Wright in Native Son extended existentialist themes to the African-American experience. Of course, modern literature has also poked fun at the pretensions of philosophy. Flannery O’Connor has a very funny short story where a young woman well-versed in existentialist themes – in the philosophy of Martin Heidegger, in particular – has an unfortunate encounter with a Bible salesman who runs off with her prosthetic leg.
“But one point I try to highlight in my own research is that the relationship between philosophy and literature is much more nuanced than literature simply parroting or parodying philosophical ideas. Fiction can also be a rich resource for philosophy. The philosopher Cora Diamond, for example, has drawn on the writer John Updike to argue that there are certain aspects of our lived experience so difficult to face up to, so resistant to our everyday frameworks of understanding, that their careful contemplation can almost drive us mad.”

Are fewer philosophers writing novels these days, and why is that?
“Yes, definitely. While some philosophers have carved out successful careers both as novelists and academics (William H Gass being perhaps the most notable example), for the most part, creative writing and academic philosophy are uncomfortable bedfellows.
“It’s important to recognise that ‘philosophy’ doesn’t just identify a set of canonical authors or texts but is defined if at all by its method: by its respect for clarity and comprehensiveness, for logical rigour and argumentative precision. In this professional context, an aspiring philosopher would be forgiven for keeping her novel-writing to herself.”

If Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged is the ultimate conservative novel, what’s the ultimate liberal one?
“That’s a tricky question and depends on how you’re defining liberalism: Judith Shklar argues that the basis of any liberal democracy is its cultivation of sympathy and compassion. And such cultivation, for many moral philosophers, is where the modern novel comes in.

McBride wins top literary award for first her novel at Listowel Writers Week

By Donal Hickey

A 38-year-old author last night scooped the richest literary award confined to Irish writers for her first novel.
The €15,000 Kerry Group Irish Novel of the Year Award went to Eimear McBride for her book, A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing.
The winner was announced at the official opening of the 43rd Listowel Writers’ Week. Also on the shortlist were Deirdre Madden, Colum McCann, Frank McGuinness and Donal Ryan.
Ms McBride’s novel has taken the literary world by storm, winning the Goldsmith Prize for fiction and being short-listed for the Bailey Prize. It tells the story of a young woman’s relationship with her brother and the long shadow cast by his childhood brain tumour.
Born in Liverpool, she was raised in Tubbercurry, Co Sligo. She wrote the novel in six months but it took nine years to get it published. She lives in Norwich with her husband and daughter.
Speaking at the presentation, Kerry Group corporate affairs director Frank Hayes said the award, which celebrates excellence in Irish fiction writing, grows in stature each year.
“This year’s shortlist included the work of five exceptional Irish writers, each of whom has showcased the breadth of talent Ireland has to offer and will inevitably continue to contribute to Irish literature on the world scene,” he remarked.
Poet Paul Durcan officiated at the opening at which around 40 literary prizes were presented.
The inaugural Pigott Poetry Prize went to Matthew Sweeney and the John B Keane Lifetime Achievement Award, in association with Mercier Press, to playwright Bernard Farrell.

"Penelope" is an Exciting Odyssey


Enda Walsh’s “Penelope” is not the first piece of Irish literature titled after a character who never speaks, nor is it the first to draw heavily from the works of Homer. Directed by Jacob A. Brandt ’14, this production, which runs from April 25 to May 3 on the Loeb Mainstage, gleefully collides the sublime with the ridiculous, transporting a mainstay of world literature to a banal, seedy modern-day setting. In the able hands of its four main actors, the Harvard-Radcliffe Dramatic Club’s production pulls off the play’s comic elements without passing over the sense of unease at the play’s heart.
Some 10 years after the fall of Troy, a scant four suitors remain prowling around the palace of Ithaca’s Penelope, fruitlessly attempting to win her affection. A prophecy foretelling the impending return of Odysseus––referred to throughout the play as merely “him,” a surprising amount of venom packed into one unassuming pronoun––drives them into a frenzy, and it isn’t long before their vows to work together fall by the wayside.
In this telling of Homer’s lofty epic, the suitors are confined to the bottom of a drained pool and clad in speedos and cheap-looking bathrobes (if there was ever a time to produce a play in the Adams Pool Theatre, this would have been it). The staging is a celebration of the tacky: Party City hats, Pepto-Bismol-pink mylar balloons, and spilled cheetos are among the decorative elements on show. This reimagining of the setting lends the play a claustrophobic feel; tension mounts as the four actors pace about the maddeningly cluttered pool bottom on which they live, attempting to lay claim to a piece of territory. All the same, these choices aren’t entirely original. Both the costuming (by Gina K. Hackett ’15, an active Crimson editor) and the set design (by Madelynne A. Hays ’13) cleave pretty closely to those of the play’s premiere at the Druid Theatre in Galway.
Walsh’s play is full of long, meandering speeches and sometimes bizarre dialogue (the phrase “sensuous ninja” makes an appearance); short on real plot, it takes dramatic chops to contour the play’s long actionless stretches and prevent it from feeling rudderless. As the sleazy lounge lizard Dunne, David A. Sheynberg ’16 manages to trace a believable and heartfelt emotional arc for his character, everting stasis and adding depth to what could easily have turned into a caricature. And in the roles of Quinn and Burns respectively, Ben J. Marek ’14 and Matthew J. Bialo ’15 inject the play with some much-needed energy and tension, Bialo in the form of a taut-lipped frown and an eerily intense gaze, and Marek in the form of a bulldogish aggression, his jaw tensed and his neck veins popping. Of the play’s central quartet of characters, the least compellingly portrayed is Fitz (Teis D. Jorgensen ’14). Though his climactic declaration of love for Penelope, which lures her out of seclusion for the first time in the suitors’ decade-long seige, is endearingly plain-spoken, his overall characterization falls short of the standards set by this successful scene. Easily the oldest man there, Fitz’s age and his habit of pill-popping are the butt of many jokes from his rivals in love, yet nothing about him, from his upright posture and high, unmodulated voice to his seemingly sober demeanor, is reflective of this. The only indication of his age is the makeup job.

An in-depth exploration of the performance of masculinity, “Penelope” offers viewers a compelling new take on Homer that is both unflattering and unflinching.