Teaching W. B. Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well in a transnational context

Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well (1916) provides a fantastic central text for a lesson on transnational modernism.

Assign these readings:
W. B. Yeats, At the Hawk’s Well (1916) in Four Plays for Dancers, available online with Edmund Dulac’s drawings and score.
Hagoromo, either in Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa’s Certain Noble Plays of Japan, also available online, or ask students to compare several translations provided by University of Virginia’s Japanese Text Initiative.
W. B. Yeats’s Introduction, “Certain Noble Plays of Japan.”
For advanced undergraduate courses or graduate courses, you might also include selections from my Chapter 2 about the original production of Hawk’s Well and from Chapter 3 about Ito Michio’s Hawk Tours.

Questions and Activities:

1. Why was Yeats interested in the Japanese noh theater? What features of Hagoromo or noh more generally did Yeats adapt for At the Hawk’s Well?

2. Discuss Yeats’s interest in Irish nationalism and the sociopolitical context in which At the Hawk’s Well was first performed. What might Hawk’s Well have meant for an Irish audience? For the elite British audience in the drawing rooms where it was first performed? For the Japanese audiences who first watched Hawk’s Well in Ito Michio’s translation or Yokomichi Mario’s adaptations, Taka no Izumi and Takahime?

3. Yeats has been accused of cultural appropriation for his adaptation of noh. What does cultural appropriation mean? Why is it a concern? Pretend the class is putting Yeats on trial for cultural appropriation: What evidence would be presented by the prosecution? What evidence would be presented by the defense?

4. How do the meanings of Hawk’s Well change for you as a reader and potential audience member after these discussions?