(re-)Living the Myth

Aoife E. Spillane-Hinks ’06

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Aoife E. Spillane-Hinks ’06 spent this past summer living with the 19th century Irish dramatist John Millington Synge. He’s long dead, to be sure, but Spillane-Hinks did everything she could to bring him back to life as the sole occupant of his small island hut and the curator of the museum now housed there. Spillane-Hinks spent her time lighting the hearth and leading tours, immersing herself in the Irish culture she’d been studying at Harvard since her sophomore year.

Her name, to reiterate, is Aoife.

Pronounced “EE-fah,” it’s quite possibly the most unusual name in the senior class. The Folklore and Mythology concentrator tells tales of her many nicknames (Queen Laoife being her favorite) and laughs when she recalls the identity crisis she had when she met another Aoife in the woodlands of Ireland. “Actually,” she says, “there are lots of Aoifes in Irish mythology. In ‘The Children of Lear,’ Aoife is this evil woman who turns all of her children into swans for 300 years, and then, by the time they turn back to people, they’re all old and die.”

Whether or not she has the power to turn people into swans remains to be seen, but Spillane-Hinks has worked her magic here in the mythological world of Harvard—largely through the theater scene. Using the experience she gained while spending two summers in France learning the Italian performance tradition of Commedia dell’arte (think red-faced pantomime with long, long noses), she created this year’s production of “Slavs!”.

“The first time I experienced theater, I remember I was three years old,” Spillane-Hinks says. “My mom, who is a theater critic, couldn’t find a babysitter and she was forced to take me with her. After telling me I had to be really well-behaved, I came out of my room wearing a long black dress and my lime green sunglasses with the lenses popped out.”

In a way, she’s been dressed that way ever since. As one of only four Folklore and Mythology concentrators in her class, Spillane-Hinks has devoted herself to some profoundly esoteric academic pursuits. For a while, she had a fixation on fairy-rape imagery in Irish folklore. Today, she is studying the works of John Millington Synge, who was known during his lifetime as the most hated man in Ireland. In addition to her research on Synge, Spillane-Hinks will be putting on his most famous play this spring, Playboy of the Western World, which caused riots in Dublin when it was first performed in 1907.

When she graduates, Spillane-Hinks plans on returning to Ireland to get a Masters in Theater at the National University of Ireland. After that, more huts!