A synopsis of the play by William Butler Yeats

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 117.

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ACCORDING to ancient legend the fairies on Midsummer Eve possess a strange, unusual power over mortals. On this night they sometimes even steal away the fairest of the mortals to become their brides. It is with her head full of such fancies that Mary comes to the peasant home of Shawn Bruin as his bride. She can see no harm in the tales of the fairy folk. Indeed, she is far more interested in reading a book of legends she has found than in performing the housewifely tasks suitable to her new state. Shawn's parents, Bridget and Maurteen, appeal to Father Hart, who has come on Midsummer Eve to sup with them, to dissuade Mary from her book. She is, however, too greatly fascinated by the tale of the Princess Edain who followed a voice to the land:

"Where nobody gets old and godly and grave,
Where nobody gets old and crafty and wise,
Where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue."

They fall to discussing the fairies, and Mary is warned of the dangers that beset her on Midsummer's Eve. Far from being terrified at the prospect, Mary welcomes the thought of release from Bridget's sharp tongue and constant, carping criticism and even invites fairies to take her. Unwittingly, however, she has placed herself in their power by giving food and drink to some mysterious strangers. Finally she permits a little child whose singing fascinates her to enter the kitchen.

At first the older people believe that the little stranger is the lost child of well-to-do parents and make much of her. Because of her distaste for the crucifix which she terms "ugly," the priest is even persuaded to remove it from the wall and put it out of sight in an inner room.

But presently by various signs the older people realize that the child is not of this world. It is only after Father Hart has removed the crucifix, however, that she is free to work her spell on Mary's soul. With song and dance she utterly fascinates the girl while the peasants gather round Father Hart in abject terror. Too late, Mary repents of her willfulness. In the absence of the crucifix, the priest is powerless to save her, and the spirit of another mortal is lured away to the "Land of Heart's Desire." Only Mary's lifeless white body is left to the grieving Shawn. She has gone to a land where:

"... the fairies dance in a place apart,
Shaking their milk-white feet in a ring,
Tossing their milk-white arms in the air;
For they hear the wind murmur and laugh and sing
Of a land where even the old are fair,
And even the wise are merry of tongue."

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