This afternoon, we managed to get from our home in snowbound London to the National Theatre for a wonderful Abbey Theatre production of Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock. Browsing in the bookshop before the production, Penelope stumbled upon Theatre and Human Rights, by Paul Rae, who is assistant professor on the theatre studies programme at the University of Singapore.
Rae’s book is a short introduction to the subject (less than 100 pages).
The study focuses on a limited number of plays, notably Sophocles Antigone and Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden (which we saw in London a few months ago; the tickets were a going-away gift from my Galway colleagues). Less obvious, perhaps, is Rae’s focus Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. He makes the remarkable connection between the writing of En Attendant Godot, which Beckett did in Paris (in French) from October 1948 to January 1949 and the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which took place in Paris at exactly the same time.
It is very much welcome that writers attempt to link human rights to the fine arts. At the Irish Centre for Human Rights in Galway we tried to do this a few times with music, holding a seminar on ‘Mozart and Human Rights’ in 2006, and one on ‘Ulysses and Human Rights’ in 2004. Some people may have found them a bit contrived, yet it is so important do show and develop the relationship between the values that underpin modern human rights law and the various representations and manifestations of the human condition that we find in music, theatre and the other fine arts.