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Plough and the Stars


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A: Sean O'Casey Pf: 1926, Dublin Pb: 1926; rev. 1952 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: Living rooms of the Clitheroes and of Bessie Burgess in a tenement house, the street outside, and a public house, Dublin, 1915–16 C: 10m, 6fAgainst the background of mounting resistance to British rule in Ireland, we meet the inhabitants of an old Georgian tenement house in a Dublin street: Jack Clitheroe, a bricklayer, and his pretty wife Nora; his uncle Peter, a labourer who fancies himself in an antiquated uniform; his cousin, The Covey, a fitter with aggressively left-wing views; Bessie Burgess, a loyalist fruit-vendor; Fluther Good, a commonsensical carpenter; and Mrs Gogan, a charwoman with a consumptive daughter. At last Jack and Nora are alone together, but their romantic interlude is broken by news that Jack has been made a commandant in the Irish Citizen Army, which is preparing to rise up against the British. Nora is distressed as Jack marches off with his men. In a nearby pub, the drinkers comment on events while a noisy meeting of nationalist rebels takes place outside: the prostitutes complain that business is bad, Uncle Peter is inspired by the rhetoric, and The Covey argues for a Marxist revolution. Fluther leaves with a prostitute, while Jack Clitheroe is heard marshalling his men. Half a year later, and the 1916 Easter Rising is in full swing. Outside the tenement house the inhabitants are discussing the crisis, when Fluther carries in Nora. She is now pregnant and had gone through the battle lines in search of Jack, when she collapsed. Bessie denounces the Rising, while The Covey insists it is the wrong fight. Bessie and Mrs Gogan seize the opportunity to do some looting with an old pram. Clitheroe rushes in unhurt, and, despite Nora's desperate pleas, he returns to the battle. Half crazed, Nora goes into labour, and Bessie bravely goes off in search of a doctor. A few days later, everyone is hiding in Bessie's attic room. Nora has lost the baby and is now completely deranged. The men nervously play cards, when news comes that Clitheroe has been killed. British soldiers come and take the men away. Nora stands by the window, and her life is saved by Bessie who, pushing her away, gets shot herself. She dies singing a hymn. The British are victorious, and the soldiers return to make themselves a cup of tea and have a song.

A: Sean O'Casey Pf: 1926, Dublin Pb: 1926; rev. 1952 G: Trag. in 4 acts S: Living rooms of the Clitheroes and of Bessie Burgess in a tenement house, the street outside, and a public house, Dublin, 1915–16 C: 10m, 6f

This final part of O'Casey's Dublin trilogy (with The Shadow of a Gunman and Juno and the Paycock) is chronologically the earliest, dealing with the Easter Rising. While it seemed just acceptable that O'Casey should mock elements of Irish nationalism in the two earlier plays, the Easter Rising, ill-conceived as it was, had become a sacred event in republican thinking. O'Casey's sober assessment, together with the depiction of prostitutes on stage, led, as with The Playboy of the Western World, to rioting in the theatre, and caused Yeats to denounce the Abbey audience once again. O'Casey considered this his best play, because the comic element did not dominate as much as in Juno, thus allowing the political commentary to emerge with greater clarity. We may disagree.

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Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Sean O'Casey (1880—1964) playwright and writer


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