Seán O’Casey: Commentary

W. B. Yeats
James Agate
A. E. Malone
P. S. O’Hegarty
Denis Johnston
Charles Morgan
Marvin Magalaner
Oliver Snoddy
Ronald Ayling
Brendan Smith
Samuel Beckett
Bernard Benstock
Roy Pascal
Paul Murray
Sean Moffat
Terence de Vere White
John Jordan
H. Coston
Brendan Kennelly
Terence Brown
David Krause
Declan Kiberd
Peter Costello
Richard Kearney
D. George Boyce
Tomas Mac Anna
Gabriel Fallon
Elizabeth Butler Cullingford
Andrew Porter
Nicholas Grene
Bernard Adams
Colm Toíbín
Michael Billington
Patrick Burke

Raymond Williams writes of the dramatic method of O’Casey’s Dublin plays in general: ‘It is done from the inside, this tenement life, but with an eye on the audience, on external and “educated” reactions.’ (Drama from Ibsen to Brecht, London: Chatto & Windus 1968, p.148; quoted in George Watson, Irish Identity and the Literary Revival Croom Helm 1979, p.257.)

W. B. Yeats (to the audience of The Plough & The Stars): ‘You have disgraced yourselves again. Is this to be an ever-recurring celebration of the arrival of Irish genius? Synge first and then O’Casey. Dublin has once more rocked the cradle of genius. From such a scene in this theatre went forth the fame of Synge. Equally the fame of O’Casey is born here tonight. This is his apotheosis.’ (The Irish Times, 12 Feb. 1926 - to which Yeats supplied the text, having found he could not be heard in the theatre; quoted in A. N. Jeffares, W. B. Yeats, A New Biography, London: Macmillan 1988; also in David Krause, Sean O’Casey and His World, Thames & Hudson 1976, p.28; Robert Hogan, Dictionary of Irish Literature, 1979, p.490 [“O’Casey”].)

The speech: “Dublin has once more rocked the cradle of a reputation. From such a scene as this went forth the fame of Synge. Equally, the fame of O’Casey is born here tonight. This Is his apotheosis.” Text of Yeat’s speech, thus quoted in ‘They Weren’t Riotous Comedies, But Riot-Provoking Drama’, in NY Times (14 Nov. 2019)
Further notes that ‘ Barry Fitzgerald, perfectly in character as Fluther Good, intervened with a punch that sent the young man sprawling back into the orchestra pit’ and cites Sean O’Casey’s Autobiography: ‘Rowdy, clenching, but well-groomed hands reached up to drag down the fading black-and-gold curtains; others, snarling curiously, tried to tug the very chairs from their roots in the auditorium; while some in frenzy, pushed at the stout walls to force them down..- calling it ‘verg[ing] on the fantastic’. it (Idem - online; accessed 09.06.2019.)

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W. B. Yeats (on The Silver Tassie): ‘[...] But you are not interested in the great war; you never stood on its battlefields or walked its hospitals, and so write out of your opinions. You illustrate these opinions by a series of almost unrelated scenes, as you might in a leading article; there is no dominating character, no dominating actin, neither psychological unity nor unity of action; and your great power of the past has been the creation of some unique character who dominated all about him and was himself a main impulse in some action that filled the play from beginning to end.’ (Letter to O’Casey, 20 April 1928, in Allen Wade, ed., Letters of W. B. Yeats, London; Hart-Davis 1954, p.741; for longer version, see infra.)

See also remarks on Joyce: ‘James Joyce differs from Arnold Bennett and Galsworthy, let us say, because he can isolate the human mind and its vices as if in eternity. So could Synge, so could O’Casey till he caught the London contagion in The Silver Tassie and changed his mountain into a mouse.’ (Pages from a Diary written in Nineteen Hundred and Thirty, 1944 [q.pp.]; rep. in Richard Finneran, ed., The Yeats Reader, NY: Scribner 1992, p.342; also in Ronald Ayling, Seán O’Casey: Modern Judgements, London: Macmillan 1969,pp.86-87.)

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W. B. Yeats, Letter to Sean O’Casey on rejection of The Silver Tassie (published by O’Casey in The Observer, 3 June 1928, with part of his reply, and rep. with comments from other Abbey directors in the Irish Statesman, 9 June.)

‘My Dear Casey [sic]:

[...] I had looked forward with great hope and excitement to reading your play, and not merely because of my admiration for your work, for I bore in mind that the Abbey owed its recent prosperity to you. If you had not brought us your plays just a that moment I doubt if it would now exists. I read the first act with admiration, I though it was the best first act you had written, and told a friend that you had surpassed yourself. The next night I read the second and third acts, and tonight I have read the fourth. I am sad and discouraged; you have no subject. You were interested in the Irish Civil War, and at every moment of those plays you wrote out of your own excitement with life or your sense of its tragedy; you were excited, and we all caught your excitement; you were exasperated almost beyond endurance by what you had seen or heard, as a man is by what happens under his window, and you moved us as Swift moved his contemporaries.
 But you are not interested in the Great War; you never stood on its battlefield or walked in its hospitals, and so you write out of your opinions. You illustrate those opinions by a series of almost unrelated scenes, as you might in a leading article; there is no dominating character, no dominating action, neither psychological unity nor unity of action; and your great power of the past has been the creation of some unique character who dominated all about him and was himself a main impulse in some action that filled the play from beginning to end.
 The mere greatness of the war has thwarted you; it has refused to become mere background, and obtrudes itself upon the stage as so much dead wood that will not burn with the dramatic fire. Dramatic action is a fire that must burn up everything but itself; there should be no room in a play for anything that does not belong to it; the whole history of the world must be reduced to wallpaper in front of which the characters must pose and speak.
 Among the things that dramatic action must burn up are the author’s opinions; while he is writing he had no business to know anything that is not a portion of that action. Do you suppose for one moment that Shakespeare educated Hamlet and King Lear by telling them what he thought and believed? As I see it, Hamlet and Lear educated Shakespeare, and I have no doubt that in the process of that education he found out that he was an altogether different man to what he thought himself, and had altogether different beliefs. A dramatist can help his characters to educate him by thinking and studying everything that gives them the language they are groping for through his hands and eyes, but the control must be theirs, and that is why the ancient philosophers thought a poet or dramatist Daimon-possessed.
 This is a hateful letter to write, or rather to dictate - I am dictating to my wife - and all the more so, because I cannot advise you to amend the play. It is all too abstract, after the first act; the second act is an interesting technical experiment, but it is too long for the material; and after that there is nothing. I can imagine how you have toiled over this play. A good scenario writes itself, it puts words into the mouths of all its characters while we sleep, but a had scenario exacts the most miserable toil. I see nothing for it but a new theme, something you have found and no newspaper writer has ever found. What business have we with anything but the unique? /
 Put the dogmatism in this letter down to splenetic age and forgive it.

—See Alan Wade, ed., Letters of W. B. Yeats, 1934, pp.74-42)

[Also rep. as Letter to ‘Casey’, 28 April 1928; publ. Observer, 3 June; reprinted in Ronald Ayling, Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969, pp.86-87; quoted in part in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.193; 209; For printable full-text version, see attached.]

See O’Casey’s response: ‘Was Shakespeare at Actium or Philippi? Was G. B. Shaw present when St. Joan made the attack that relieve Orléans? And someone, I think, wrote a poem about Tír na nÓg, who never took a header into the Land of Youth.’ Further: ‘God forgive me, but it does sound as if you peeked and pined for a hero in the play. Now, is a dominating character more important than a play, or a play more important than a dominating character? In The Silver Tassie you have a unique work that dominates all the characters of the play.’ (‘The Silver Tassie: Letters’, in Sean O’Casey: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed Thomas Kilroy, New Jersey 1975, pp.113-17; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, 1995, pp.240-41.)

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James Agate, ‘The Irish, who are popularly supposed not to know what they want on their side of the Channel, would appear to have a very accurate idea of what we English want on ours ... Juno and the Paycock is as much a tragedy as Macbeth, but it is a tragedy taking place in the porter’s family. Mr. O’Casey’s extraordinary knowledge of English taste ... is shown by the fact that the tragic element in it occupies at the most some twenty minutes, and that for the remaining two hours and a half the piece is given up to gorgeous and incredible fooling ... [T]his is a great play ...’ (16 Nov. 1925, Sunday Times review of first London production of Juno and the Paycock)’; ‘Mr O’Casey’s people talk too much but not dramatically enough (Review of first London production of The Plough and the Stars, Sunday Times, 16 May, 1926).

Andrew E. Malone, ‘Ireland Gives a New Playwright to the World’, in Theatre Magazine [ed. Arthur Hornblow] 43, 4 (April 1926). pp.9, 58, 62: [...] The English critics hailed O’Casey as “the greatest Irish dramatist since Synge.” That, of course, means very little, as the London reviewers seem quite unable to judge an Irish play. They have placed many Irish dramatists on a level with Synge in the course of their professional careers. / There is really no basis for comparison between O’Casey and Synge, except it be that they are both strange and incomprehensible to Londoners. Synge was a poet, with all the attributes of a poet, O’Casey is a photographic artist who retouches his films with an acid pencil to produce an effect of grotesque satire. All his characters are taken directly from the Dublin slums, placed in surroundings and in positions which give the appearance of caricature. In the streets they would pass unnoticed, they are normal, but on the stage they are figures from Dickens, illustrated by Phiz. His plays resemble those of Eugene O’Neill rather than those of Synge, but in comparison with the work of O’Neill his plays do not live up to the extravagant praise bestowed upon them in the press of England and Ireland. [...] For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, infra.)

A. E. Malone, ‘O’Casey’s Photographic Realism’ (1929): ‘[...] Juno and the Paycock is modern tragedy at its best, almost at its greatest. The Shadow of a Gunman is that parody of tragedy called melodrama. The Plough and the Stars is a social and political satire whihc is very effective in its delineation of Irish disillusionment. Tragedy must present a solemn view of life with depth, with feeling, so that the action depicts the concern of all humnaity. There may be sorrow, sin, death, blood, tears, and suffering, but if the imagination be not led upwards from the individual to the universal, the plan containing them is but spuerficial meldrama. Because of its [70] superficiality, and because of its close resemblance to an Irish weekly newspaper in the year 1921, The Shadow of a Gunman is mere melodrama which must inevitably lose its significance with the pasage of time. Juno and the Paycock has its superficial qualities, but it is uplifted and ennobled by the character of Juno. Juno is the great, the universal mother, as great as the greatest mother in drama, even though her influence be limited to two rooms in a Dublin slum. The tragic significance of Mrs Alving in Ghosts is small when compared with the tragic significance of Juno. Here son dead “for his country”; here daughter betrayed by a worthless liar and deserted by a braggard coward; her husband boasting, lying, drunken weasel; she rises superior to her slum surroundings and prepares to begin her life-struggle anew. / O’Casey’s plots are difficult to summarise; in a sense it may be said that his plays are without plots, and all who thing that a play and a plot are synonymous will rule his out of the list of dramatists in company with Schnitzler, Tchechov, and Eugene O’Neill. His plays depend for their significance upon personalities rather than upon plots; upon Davoren, Shields, Maguire, and Minnie Powell, in The Shadow of a Gunman; upon Joxer Daly, “Captain” Boyle, and Juno, in Juno and the Paycock; and upon Fluther Good, and the Covey, Jack Clitheroe and Nora, and Uncle Peter, in The Plough and the Stars.’ (See in Ronald Ayling, ed., Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, Macmillan 1969, p.70-71).

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P. S. O’Hegarty, ‘A Dramatist of new Born Ireland’, in Northern American Review, CCXXXIV (1927): ‘Sean O’Casey, in his plays, is dealing not so much with men and women as with his epoch. His characters are there only to illustrate the life he knows and the forces that environ that life. He is propagandist in two senses: in that his characters are subordinated to his thesis, and in that his thesis itself is a partisan one. His whole soul feels violently, a soul in eruption, and so his characters are spiritually, and often physically, violent and eruptive. He had been known for a great many years as a man in the Irish Movement, to use a vague but well-understood term; but as a dramatist he came only after Ireland had known three terrible and changing things - the Insurrection in 1916, the Black-and-Tan War, and the Civil War. And he attempts to show the reactions which these three things had upon the common people of the City of Dublin, the heart and centre of the whole business. [...] [Considers dialogue from The Shadow of a Gunman:] The characters are all voices, and nothing more than voices. But they give, in ensemble, an authentic social and historical background to the time, and lay bare what was happening, and what was being thought, behind the ambushing and the shooting. [Considers Juno and the Paycock:] The main interest of Juno is in the characters [...] Yet the atmosphere of the Civil War is worked in so cleverly with the characters that they fit in, and do not spoil each other, which is perfectly true of the actual time. [...] The triumph of the play in the three characters [...] the idle, drunken father, the heroic mother, and the wastrel hanger-on and boon companion. Juno is a real tragic figure, not of ignoble but of high and ennobling import. She is true metal, true mother and true woman, and true to actual life, from the first to the last line. [...] Juno is the high test of the play, and stands it triumphantly. [...] Fate deals its heaviest blows at her, but she meets everything with courage and fortitude and at the end is nobly undismayed.’ [...] (Cont.)

P. S. O’Hegarty, ‘A Dramatist of new Born Ireland’, in Northern American Review, CCXXXIV (1927) - cont: [On The Plough and the Stars]: ‘There is a better attempt at characterisation than in The Gunman, and there is one perfect comedy character, Fluther good [...] but the characters on the whole are unimportant and the play depends upon its subject. It is an unequal play. The first act is bad; the second act, taken by itself, is the most brilliant and most moving thing Mr O’Casey has written; while the third and fourth acts, while in full keeping with Mr O’Casey’s thesis, are not a true picture. They contain truth. it is a fact that there were drunkenness and looting among some of the Dublin poor in Easter week, but it is an untrue picture which gives nothing else but that. And I think the role assigned to Mrs Clitheroe, that of holding back her man, is quite untrue. The end of the fourth act does perfectly give you Ireland immediately after the Rising; but to the extent that the third and fourth acts do not do justice to the Rising itself, the play is an untrue, or rather an incomplete, picture. But the matchless second act! [...] When the play was produced, a small minority of people objected to the second act, and created a disturbance, which was not repeated and did not interfere with the performance. I can only surmise that their minds were quite blinded to beauty. The second act is in a public house, with glasses and bottles, the barman, the drinkers, and the prostitute - this latter a gem of observation, marvellously acted. [...] Their talk is of fighting for Ireland, of dying for Ireland. There is the background, an actual, true, artistic representation of the background which was Ireland on Easter Monday 1916. Across that whole scene comes in flashes, a sentence now and a sentence again, a voice from outside, the voice of the orator at a meeting, and the words are the words of Pearse in that most unforgettable and most classic utterance of his, that speech at the grave of O’Donovan Rossa, which is one of the great Irish national orations. It cuts like a trumpet call, like the sword of the Lord, like a gleam of beauty, right across the squalidity, the maudlinism, the spinelessness, which was Ireland at that time; just as the Rising itself came, suddenly, like an act of heaven. it is a true act, a perfectly beautiful act, true humanly and true historically, and to it I take off my hat.’ (Cont.)

P. S. O’Hegarty, ‘He must cut loose from London and go back to where he belongs. The cosmopolitan Irishman often makes literature in England and in America. But not the Irishman of his sort. Ireland is not alone his mother, but his life, and his future depends upon his making due contact with her. ( ‘A Dramatist of new Born Ireland’, in Northern American Review, ccxxiv, 1927, p.322; rep. in Ronald Ayling, Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969, Introduction, and reprinted infra.)

P. S. O’Hegarty, ‘A Dramatist of new Born Ireland’, in Northern American Review, CCXXXIV (1927) - cont.: ‘[...] In all the thirty years of its existence, and for all its fine and individual work, the audience or the Abbey Theatre was mainly an eclectic audience, a select audience. It was composed of people who wanted to see plays about Ireland. Mr O’Casey brought in the people who wanted to see plays, who were in the habit of going for that purpose to what is miscalled the commercial theatre, and who did not particularly want Irish plays. They came for The Gunman to see the life they led and hear the things they thought, but having come they remained for Mr Robinson’s Big House and White Blackbird, for Pirandello, for Mr Yeats’s moving version of Oedipus. [...] He is the first modern Irish dramatist to come out of brick and mortar and write about brick and mortar. [...] his future is an unknown quantity .. Mr O’Casey, at any rate, must go on. [...] The danger before him is that he might become “literary” [...] a dangerous tendency to manufacture a sort of slum Kiltartan [...] ‘[H]e must cut loose from London and go back to where he belongs. The cosmopolitan Irishman often makes literature in England and in America. But not the Irishman of his sort. Ireland is not alone his mother, but his life, and his future depends upon his making due contact with her. (Rep. in Ronald Ayling, Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969, pp.60-67.)

P. S. O’Hegarty, Review of Inishfallen Fare Thee Well, in The Irish Book Lover, Vol. XXXI [June 1949], p.44: ‘This is the fourth volume of the wishful autobiography of Little Johnny Cassidy, with chunks in which Johnny fades out and Sean, presumably Sean O’Casey, takes his place. The four volumes have shown a progressive decline in interest, both general and particular, and the conception of the work need a writer of much greater talent, greater control over his material, and a less jaundiced view of things past than the actual writer. It is not helped by occasional lapses into a jerky prose which sometimes derives from Synge and some things from Joyce, and which does not help his own style or the general coherence of the book. His portraits of other people, and his description of actual happenings, are so distorted out of actuality as not to resemble their originals in anything as closely as this sort of dramatic and speculative narrative must if it has [sic] to have any value. The best thing in the present volume is the evocation of the atmosphere of the Black-and-Tan War, when nobody really knew whether he would succeed in turning the next corner. / Mr. O’Casey would have us believe that Little Johnny Cassidy was a sort of Admirable Crichton - sage in counsel, a born leader of men, a dramatist of genius. We know that he was neither the first not the second, and that he was made a dramatist by the ruthless pains of Yeats and Lady Gregory, who sent his plays back until he was sick of the sight of them but made him get them right. Since he escaped their tutelage he has not written anything which can be mentioned in the same breath as the three plays they sponsored. / And now, in this fourth volume [of Autobiographies ], he fares us well. As he puts it: / “Yes, London would mould him into a more fully-developed mind and man. The booming of Big Ben would deafen his new-listening ear to any echo from the bells of Shandon [...] It was getting very dark in Ireland, so his flight to London would be a leap in the light.” / We are sorry, because all he did was to cut himself away from his root and his source. He can have Big Ben, and the lights of London, and the Red Flag - he is curiously irritated about the Red Flag and the refusal of Irishmen to adopt it as their flag - and we will keep the three plays. And we shall always have a corner in our hearts, not for the man he things he is, nor for the man he would like to be, but for the man he was.’

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Denis Johnston, ‘Sean O’Casey: Appreciation’ (Daily Telegraph, 11 March 1926): ‘[...] a wonderment has often been expressed as to how the Dublin public could have been persuaded to stand his picture of it in Juno and the Paycock without protest. The reason is not far to seek. The Dublin public - or at any rate the more expressive section - has always been persuaded that Juno is a roaring comedy, and has in consequence been too busy with the roaring to protest. / The Plough and the Stars, however, is a larger and more difficult pill to swallow, and on the Thursday night, when Caliban had gazed upon his own features for one hole act with growing uneasiness, the storm burst with the consequences detailed above. This play is an immense, heart-wrenching satire upon the folly of war, and bloodshed, and centres in that epic period of modern Irish history, Easter Week 1916 ... Sean O’Casey, whose tall angular figure, with its inseparable cloth cap, can be seen almost any evening leaning over the brass rail in the Abbey balcony, had been compared to ... Chekhov and the Russians, to Benavente ... to the late lamented John Synge. / The truth of the matter is that O’Casey cannot seriously be compared to any of these. within the last ten years the world has experienced a cataclysm that has changed the face of nature, and Ireland herself has been turned from the wandering, soulful Cinderella goddess called Kathleen ni Houlihan into the clear-eyed, cynical bourgeois Free State, with its brave Board of Film Censors and its Shannon scheme. Against such divergent backgrounds no two theatres can be compared with any profit or success. / If Sean O’Casey is to be set in apposition to anybody, it must be to another of his post-war contemporaries - to Toller, to the fierce young iconoclasts of the Czechoslovakian stage, or to his American fellow countryman, Eugene O’Neill. ... “I belong to only one club,” Mr O’Casey announced rather defiantly one evening in the middle of Kildare St., “and that’s Jim Larkin’s trade-union.” He was referring to the International Workers of the World, the “Wobblies” - call them what you will, but they embody the only ideal to which O’Casey owes allegiance, and it seems to me that they are right wealthy therein, if in nothing else. [/.../] And yet Dublin as a whole does not seem to be ashamed of her nakedness or of her latest contribution to the international world of letters. Possibly it is because she knows that the only malady from which she suffers is not an Irish one but a world disease. Or possibly because with the originality of the Celt, she would rather be violent than smug.’ / As for her prophet, it is becoming more and more clear that as a realist he is an impostor ... His dialogue is becoming a series of word-poems in dialect. His plots are disappearing and giving way to an undisguised form of expressionism under the stress of a genius that is much too insistent and far too pregnant with meaning to be bound by the four dismal walls of orthodox realism. It will be interesting to see how long in the future he will try to keep up so outrageous a pretence.’ [END; rep. in Ronald Ayling, Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, London: Macmillan 1969, pp.83-90, pp.83-87.]

Note other writings on O’Casey by Johnston incl. ‘Sean O’Casey’, in Living Writers: Critical Studies Broadcast in the BBC Third Programme, ed. G. Phelps ([London:] Sylvan Press Ltd. 1947); ‘Joxer in Totnes: A Study of Sean O’Casey’, in Irish Writing, 29 (Cork 1954); ‘Sean O’Casey: A Biography and Appraisal’, in Modern Drama, IV, 3 (Kansas 1961) [all cited in Ayling, op. cit. 1969, Select Bibl., p.266].

Denis Johnston, in A Paler Shade of Green, ed. Des Hickey & Gus Smith (London: Leslie Frewin 1972), pp.60-72; ‘When I began “devilling” in London I met Sean O’Casey and we used to go to the London Gate Theatre together. He told me his views on the theatre and I told him mine. He was a very amusing person and the best company you could possibly wish for. O’Casey held the centre or the stage as he was entitled to do. he was a very good mimic, acting out the stories he told you. He was really Joxer Daly. It rather irritated me that a man of such enormous ability should write in his later days a play like Within the Gates, in which he tried to make use of the technique of Expressionism which he and I had discovered together in the London Gate Theatre. His attitude towards those who criticised him was childish in many ways, as were his views on politics. But O’Casey was a very likeable person and his cynicism towards Ireland was that of a man who loved his country but wanted it to be more to his heart’s desire.’ (p.62) [And see also a further citation from Paler Shade of Green under Padraic Colum.]

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Charles Morgan, ‘Mr O’Casey’s attempt to make his play take wings from naturalistic earth succeeds; we move in a new plane of imagination. Yet the scene is not a masterpiece. The elements are not truly compounded. There aappear two farcical figures of a Staff Wallah and a Visitor whose coming shatters the illusion and momentarily reduces Mr O’Casey’s irony to the level of a mean, silly, irrelevant sneer ... it is extravagant; it fails sometimes with a great tumbling failure. But it is a method with a future.’ (12 Oct. 1929, Sunday Times; review of first London production of The Silver Tassie.)

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Marvin Magalaner, ‘Mr O’Casey’s Autobiography’ (1929): ‘[...] In writing the six individual books (which appeared from 1939 to 1954), O’Casey evidently encountered the usual problems of the sensitive literary man who attempts autobiography or pseudo-autobiography. Life, as the critical cliché goes, is not art - nor does a straightforward presentation of the facts of one’s career constitute more than good reporting. James Joyce found this out only after he had completed more than a thousand pages of Stephen Hero and had discarded the manuscript as "rubblish" before turning his attention to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In the latter book, with autobiographical facts reduced almost to essences, the author gives up newspaper polemics for contrived art and thereby adds a dimension to the novel of adolescence. / From I Knock at the Door to Drums Under the Windows, the first and third autobiographical books, O’Casey seems uncertain whether he wishes to write in the Stephen Hero or in the Portrait tradition. To simulate a detachment which he does not actually feel, he speaks of his autobiographical hero in the third person, calling himself Johnny Casside, and of his family as the Cassides. Interestingly enough, by the time the reader comes to the third book, Johnny Casside has [229] become Sean O’Casey, as the author determines finally to go along with the Stephen Hero genre. From this point on, he is quite justified in a style of roaming discursiveness which flits, on a single page, from lyric statement of the meaning of life and death to a fierce attack on an unfriendly young critic. Memoir replaces the heightened autobiographical art of I Knock at the Door and Pictures in the Hallway as O’Casey proceeds backward from flirtation with the techniques of A Portrait to adopt the more homely devices of Stephen Hero. Nor should his decision, be regretted, for O’Casey is a magnificent talker in an expressive and rare idiom. In selecting for himself the role of eccentric reporter and commentator on seventy-five lively years, he adopts the medium most suitable to display his prodigious talent. The creator of the garrulous fellow in Juno and the Paycock owed his contemporaries the gift of his conversation.[...]’ (Cont.)

Marvin Malaganer, ‘Mr O’Casey’s Autobiography’ (1929) - cont.: ‘Not fruitful in itself, perhaps, a comparison of Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus and O’Casey’s Johnny Casside can open interesting avenues of approach to Mirror in My House. Direct borrowing need not concern us, though it is inconceivable that O’Casey in 1939 should not have bars of the precedent his countryman had set in one of the most famous novels of adolescent autobiography. / The relationship of a boy to home, school, church, and nation is the theme both of A Portrait and of O’Casey’s early volumes. That Joyce and O’Casey suffered from weak and diseased eyes is, of course, coincidental. On the other hand, there is nothing accidental in the [229] decision of both authors to build their indictment of Church and Stae around the callous treatment to which spiritual and secular authority subjected their physical defect. [...] Johnny, like Stephen, bears the marks of the martyred saint and even of a Christ-like figure. In certain parts of the text the reader has as much right to be suspicious of Johnny Casside’s initials as he has of Joe Christmas in Faulkner’s Light of August. The pattern of the crucifixion is the same for Johnny and Stephen. Both pay the price of physical weakness by occupying a position as outsiders even with companions of their own age. [.../] The motif of suffering youht pilloried by an insensitive world, and especially of the exiled youngster tortured by his environment, is a commonplace of contemproary literature of adolescence. O’Casey’s trouble is that he carried the pattern far beyond the point at which it loses its emotional value. Suppose that Joyce had not ended A Portrait with Stephen, at the age of twenty-one, about to leave Ireland to seek a new life abroad. It is questionable if whether even so consummate an artist as Joyce could have sustained the reader’s sympathy for the flabby, fast graying, slightly balding underdog who would go on experiencing successive crucifixions at thirty, at forty-five, at sixty, even at seventy. / O’Casey, whether he realises it or not, tries to do just this.’

Oliver Snoddy, in an article which examines the political climate of 1911-1914 through the dialogue between Irish Freedom, Irish Worker and Sinn Féin, writes that ‘Among the papers of the extra-parlimentary nationalists (”the mosquito press” as they were called), the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) organ, Irish Freedom, had a markedly more pro-Labor attitude from its inception than had, for example, Sinn Féin.’ (‘Sean O’Casey as Troublemaker’, in Éire-Ireland, 1, 4, Winter 1966, pp.23.)

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Ronald Ayling, [ed.,] Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements ([Aurora] Macmillan 1969): Introduction [11-41] entails reviews of critical literature to date, viz., Jules Koslow, The Green and the Red: Sean O’Casey, The Man and His Plays; Saros Cowasjee, Sean O’Casey, The man Behind the Plays (1963) [berated for excessively biographical approach]; Hogan, The Experiments of Sean O’Casey [stimulating, with many provocative, if occasionally perverse, judgements]; cites Raymond Williams’s summary remarks on O’Casey in Drama from Ibsen to Eliot (1952; rev. edn. 1964), p.174, and answers charges against O’Casey’s use of stock expressions, which Ayling sees as enriched by ironic during the progression of the play]; cites T. R. Henn, The Harvest of Tragedy, n.d., p.213) [in Mrs Boyle’s prayer’ there is ‘a shadow of Synge’s rhythms, the West of Ireland vulgarised by the East’; also remarks to the same effect by Renée Frechet, in ‘Sean O’Casey: un episode de la vie du theatre irlandais’, in Jean Jacquot ed., le Theatre moderne, hommes et tendances, pp.330-1) [‘Evidement la superiorité de Synge est ici incontestable ... L’imperfection des paroles de Mrs Boyle, elle, révèle en son createur un artist imparfait ...’]; embarks on account of the modern standing of the tragi-comic, using Thomas Mann’s comments on Conrad’s Secret Agent as a starting point; ‘the moral irresponsibility of the menfolk in each of these early plays is equal in tragic depth to the formal expression of the nation’s grief represented in the sufferings of the womenfolk.’ (p.24.) [Cont.]

Ronald Ayling (Introduction to Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969) - cont.: ‘O’Casey’s achievement, for all the unevenness and occasional downright badness of writing, can be fully comprehended only approaching his work as the product of a sensitive and well-read artist, to be evaluated within the broad context of the English literary tradition and not merely that of Dublin or even Anglo-Irish life and culture. His profound identification with the consciousness of Dublin, and of the Dublin proletariat in particular, is a characteristic that cannot be ignored, of course; but, at best - and this is more often than is usually recognised - his plays and prose works project a deeply realised experience of Irish life on to a universal plane.’ [24] ‘The late plays, in fact, realise many of the significant conflicts and issues that were the background to O’Casey’s early manhood, while at the same time they project an Arcadian vision of the future which owes as much to Gaelic ideals of equality and community-living as to modern socialist ideals. [...] His socialism was drawn from richly varied sources, John Ruskin, William Morris, Tom Paine, and the teachings of Christ, as well as Marxists such as James Connolly and Lenin.’ [31] [Defence of the Autobiographies:] ‘There is a natural progression of self-awareness (national as well as individual) throughout the narrative, which is firmly rooted in a particular locale, with recurrent and unifying themes and characters. Writing from a considerable distance in time and circumstance, the playwright recreated his earl life with the balanced detachment of a novelist, while yet communicating the enthusiasm and commitments of his protagonist with a vivid immediacy. In the final two books, however, he wrote of more recent events from a relatively static viewpoint - for, as a mature man, his outlook on life was understandably settled and constant - so that the narrative becomes more recognisably reminiscence in an orthodox sense. ... for all the passages of fine writing in them [the last two books], there is not the progression, the concrete homogeneity of setting and subject-matter that gives aesthetic unity to the first four books.’ (p.39.)

Ronald Ayling, ‘History and Artistry in The Plough and the Stars’, in Ariel: A Review of International English Literature, 8, 1 (Jan. 1977): : ‘Sean O’Casey’s mastery of stage-craft is particularly well demonstrated in The Plough and the Stars, and not least in its unobstrusive artistry. There is a seemingly haphazard arrangement of scenes and an arbitrary choice of details within the four-act structure. The narrative has the casual formlessness of life. People come and go in the public house in Act II; leave and then return to the tenement block in Act III. One influential early critic complained that the play’s form was “embodied in a jumbled memory of rather confused events”. (J. W. Krutch, The Nation, CXXV, 21 Dec. 1927, p.718.) Exactly; such an impression was deliberately sought by O’Casey, though he also intended - and, I think, successfully realised - a definite moral pattern, a coherent attitude to emerge from the chaos. The clash of personalities and of ideas, the reversal of values, the balance and juxtaposition of dialogue and scenes: all are carefully orchestrated into a symphony in four movements. [...] (p.73.) [Cont.]

Ronald Ayling (‘History and Artistry in The Plough and the Stars’, in Ariel, Jan. 1977) - cont.: ‘The curtain scene, like that of Juno and the Paycock, contains distinctly symbolic overtones, embodying in concrete terms an experience of universal tragic significance: the all-pervasive power of the lifedenying forces in society and the triumph of anarchy and irrationality. Mollser asks early in the drama, “Is there any [84] body goin’, Mrs. Clitheroe, with a titther o’ sense?”; the play’s finale leaves no doubt of the answer. Those few who did show signs of trying to stem the advance of madness are now dead or insane themselves. Moreover, the effect of the final scene is not limited to criticism of the brutality of the British troops, who are only a part, albeit a powerful and official part, of a social system that inevitably promotes waste and devastation and incites blind anarchy and rebellion by way of reaction. O’Casey’s criticism extends to the destructive elements that accompany poverty and disease - symbolised in the coffin of Mollser that is removed from the stage very shortly before the end of the play - and to the nihilism that has been seen to influence the idealistic motives of the revolutionaries: the Platform Orator of Act II, for instance, on the evidence of his speeches might be content with the extent of the destruction by the end of the drama, for it certainly fulfills his demands for blood-sacrifice on a large scale. Yet the final effect is not confined to satire alone: indeed, the more closely one studies the play the more one appreciates the complexity of the emotional and intellectual responses that are invoked throughout its four acts. Here, from an analysis of stagecraft and documentary features, one may stress once again the range of vision and the depth of human feeling which make it such a powerful play and a fitting climax to the first important phase of O’Casey’s drama.’ (p.85; end.) [For longer extracts, see attached.]

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Brendan Smith, ‘The Drums of Father Ned: O’Casey and the Archbishop’, in Des Hickey & Gus Smith, A Paler Shade of Green (1972): O’Casey reacted to the Archbishop’s refusal of a votive mass to open the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1958 on the assumption that his contribution The Drums of Father Ned was being censored and wrote immediately wrote to the Irish Times [q.d.]: ‘[...] There we go: the streets of Dublin echo with the drum-beats of foot-steps running away. The Archbishop in his Palace and the Customs Officer on the quay viva watch out to guard virtue and Eire; the other Archbishop draws the curtains and sits close to his study fire, saying nothing; and so the Hidden Ireland becomes the Bidden Ireland, and all is swell.’comments that O’Casey’s assumption was ‘quite incorrect’, and further that some member of the committee had leaked to the British Press that there had been a correspondence with the Archbishop: ‘it was then open and the whole issue became disorientated’; confusion was added by the chaplain forming the May that there was no harm in presenting Ulysses, though ‘it didn’t become clear until later that he was confusing Homer’s Ulysses with that of Joyce’; ‘the chain of errors began with the mistake of asking him [Archbishop McQuaid] to hold a Votive Mass’ (p.138.) Quotes Padraic Colum suggesting that Archbishop McQuaid’s refusal to permit a votive Mass was not prompted by any spirit of censorship but by the inappropriateness of such a thing, and that O’Casey was being paranoid about his play which he presumed to be the object of ecclesiastical censorship; further that Beckett was misled by the news and withdrew his accordingly ‘mime plays’. (Smith, p.21); Smith concludes that the Archbishop ‘had been placed in a very awkward position in having an application made to him to have the Festival opened with a Mass’ since the Festival included ‘plays with which, according to his reasoning, a Votive Mass could not be associated’; ‘I am convinced to this date that the situation develops as it did because members of the Tóstal Council representing non-theatrical interests provoked a public row quite unnecessarily ... as a means of sabotaging the Theatre Festival. They had an idea that Ulysses was dirty and that O’Casey might be anti-clerical’ (p.151). Smith remarks that O’Casey ‘was elderly at the time, and living outside of Ireland for so long he had acquired an unbalanced view of what was happening’ (p.150); and further expresses his firm opinion view that O’Casey’s ‘brand of communism was tongue in cheek’ (p.151).

Samuel Beckett, ‘Mr O’Casey is a master of knockabout in this very serious and honourable sense - that he discerns the principle of disintegration in even the most complacent solidities. This is the energy of his theatre, the triumph of the principle of knockabout in situation, in all its elements and on all its planes, from the furniture to the highest centres.’ (Sean O’Casey’, in Disjecta, NY 1984, p.82; quoted in Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland, Jonathan Cape, 1996, p.220).

Bernard Benstock, ‘the would-be hero accepts the role thrust upon him, since it not only earns the gratuitous admiration of [...] locals ... but proves the catalyst that thrusts the lovely Minnie Powell into his arms’ (Paycocks and Others [Chap. 4, ‘The Hero as Hero’], p.95.) ‘[T]he world of Easter 1916 moves much too fast for Nora Clitheroe, she falls victim to its relentless turbulence and senseless brutality’ (Ibid., p.159).

Roy Pascal, ‘The character of the autobiography involuntarily begins to change, the story loses in concrete substantiality; convictions which had the massiveness of experience now thin out into opinions and opinionativeness; and when O’Casey leaves Dublin, inconsequent reminiscences, tender or hilarious, take the place of autobiography. The four earlier books are not reminiscence, but life regained, relived, passionately, with all the intensity of a man still fiercely engaged.’ (Design and Truth in Autobiography, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1960, p.151; cited in Ayling, Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, p.39.)

Patrick Murray, It is mainly through the medium of Nora that O’Casey reflects the brutality of war and exposes the inadequacies of the sentimental, self-glorifying patriotism exemplified in the military figures of the play, who include Jack her husband.’ (Companion to The Plough and the Stars, Dublin: Educational Co. of Ireland, 1988, p.27).

Sean Moffat, ‘her [Bessie’s] death, paralleled by Nora’s spiritual death, is truly heroic – unlike the pretentious “gleam of glory” that marked Jack’s death’ (Sean O’Casey, The The Plough and the Stars, ed., Sean Moffat, Gill & Macmillan, 1987, p.26).

Terence de Vere White, ‘The Blind is Up’, in The Irish Times (10.5.1969), review essay based on Brooks Atkinson, The Sean O’Casey Reader (Macmillan [1961]), from which the Shadow of a Gunman is omitted among the plays; ‘O’Casey’s perfect translation of certain Dublin types to the sage and their perfect rendering by players who recognised those types and gave an extra quality to the plays which must have been lacking in them for those not born in the know [...] I believe we were lucky in our generation, and that nobody who is young has ever really enjoyed O’Casey on the stage to the full, from a falling off in the acting of the players.’ ‘[S]urely the repetition by Mrs Boyle of Mrs Tancred’s celebrated threnody for her son, word by word, strikes a false note! It did, for me at least, when Miss Siobhan McKenna pulled at our heart-strings in that lamentable Gaiety production. / With these reservations I think one can claim - a huge claim for him - that nobody since Shakespeare, in English, has been able to allow comedy to intrude upon and heighten by contrast a tragic theme.’ Of The Plough and the Stars, de Vere White remarks the wonderful creation of Bessie Burgess, a ‘Protestant slum woman’, but characterises Fluther as ‘only the Captain and water’ and the covey ‘Joxer and soda’. Further: ‘And the play has very little plot. It has the shape of a good music-hall entertainment. / These three plays of 1923-36 crowned O’Casey’s years of efforts to write for the stage. They drew not only on his experience as a dweller in the slums but on the untapped reservoir of the 1916 and 1922 fighting in Dublin. He lived where it was and was of the people who made it and who suffered it. He took it in through the pores of his thin skin and involved it into these plays, of which one is nearly perfect. After than he had no theme: and he was not a brilliant beginner, he was but a few years off the age when Shakespeare laid aside his pen forever. / Yeats and Lady Gregory on the Abbey Board did a terrible thing when they rejected the Silver Tassie. they were right about the play; but O’Casey might have learnt from cruel experience and come home to them, It was his only chance. He was not an intellectual man. He was a man of acute observation and excellent ear with a passion for words. Being a Protestant he had the enormous advantage over his Catholic contemporary that he could feast on the incomparable prose of the authorised version. Shakespeare he also knew. And he owed, as a dramatist, most off [sic] all to Dion Boucicault, in whose plays he acted. Without Boucicault there would never have been “Juno”. / The rest of his palsy are almost impossible to read; and such as I have seem on the stage are hell to sit through. O’Casey’s indiscipline, his passion for alliteration, his awful sentimentality about women, his unsubtle anti-clericalism, and his innocent one-track bawdy make for motiveless, shapeless monsters, divided for no clear reason into acts./His autobiographies, in their Joycese, are little better. They are ruined by self-pity and self-justification.’ Further, de Vere White indicates that the collection contains the ‘ingenuous article in which [O’Casey] attacks the critics of his Bishop’s Bonfire’, which ‘makes interesting reading, but for an unworthy reason’; it also contains ‘“Donat O’Donnell’s merciless criticism of that unfortunate stage episode (for the New Statesman) and the bewildered O’Casey’s angry reply.’ Nnote also the reply from Lieut. (N.S.) L. Smith in Letters (Irish Times, q.d.), proposing that the condemnation of the Plough is ungrounded, or only founded on the insertion of intervals between all four acts, and remarking the superiority of the new production of the Shadow, as directed by Vincent Dowling, with the accent on ‘fear not fun.’ (Papers of Alan Warner, University of Ulster.)

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John Jordan, ‘Illusion and Actuality in the Later O’Casey’ [essay based on Christian Gauss Seminars in Criticism lecture at Princeton Univ. in 1966]; rep. in Ronald Ayling, ed., Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements, 1969, pp.143-61): Jordan emphasises the element of fantasy in the life of the characters but also the Utopian element in O’Casey; ‘Without detracting from O’Casey’s visionary aspirations, one may see that they are at least as insubstantial as the common Christian apprehension of “Heaven”. That can only be dreamed about, intuited, at best sensed fleetingly in the heterogeneous epiphanies of the natural, corporeal and intellectual planes of existence. and they must, these brushings with a presumed everlastingness, be treated as consolatory or nutritive illusions: no-one can gainsay the impossibility of relating finite experience to infinite being unless we are willing to go down and soar up with the mystics. [/.../] I do not think that it is possible to appreciate, let along love the later O’Casey, unless one accepts the aesthetic validity of his grand illusion as a standard by which he measures the conduct of the world. [...] the prototypes of those who will march towards the New Jerusalem are, most of them, the least successfully realised as theatre-figures [...] In his first three plays [...] O’Casey had already shown that he was imaginatively enthused by the spectacle of the various levels of illusion on the plane of what I have chosen to call actuality. [...] The theme of spiritual paralysis is treated also in Within the Gates [...] Jannice [...] is a meaningful symbol of the life-force that, for O’Casey, will bring forth the new order. / The nature of the new order is first overtly linked with the revolutionary action of Communism in The Star Turns Red [...] Even O’Casey’s warmest enthusiasts seemed embarrassed when they have to discuss this protracted paean to Communism and hymn of hate against Fascism in Church and State [...] I am myself devoted to the play [...] It is, of course, a propaganda play. But it is not by any means a socialist-realist play [...] [Compares the Saffron Shirts with the Irish brown shirts]; [...] the militant workers who form the Red Guards are led by one Red Jim, who is modelled on Jim Larkin the great Irish trade unionist [...] Historically, politically, and temporarily, then, we are in a never-never land: an imaginary Ireland in which the force of Communism is shown as throwing over the force of Fascism, with Jim Larkin taken out of his time and glorified as a Communist and, to a certain extent, a Christian leader. The play, in fact, is a fantastic allegory for the stage, paying tribute to Communism as the instrument of the new order. [...] The Star Turns Red is very much better than most Moralities. / This is the only play in which O’Casey allows the grand illusion to conquer actuality [...] The new order [...] will sweep away those who [...] live in the sterile fantasies of their prejudices and appetites. [...] And the new order must cleanse society of a pathological obsession with the pleasures of the flesh as the certain green light for damnation ‘(p.144-48; continues with full discussion of Purple Dust, and other plays.) Jordan also notes of the banning of Drums, that ‘in that year of disgrace 1958, at a meeting of the Dublin Council of Irish Unions, a Mr. J. Lynam stated ‘that if the clergy took objection to the production of these plays they would be quite safe in stepping behind the clergy. If they disregarded the advice of the clergy, they were lost’ [in D. Krause, Sean O’Casey, 1960, p.215]. (Jordan, in Ayling, 1969, p.150.) Jordan cites the Globe Theatre Company as being involved in the first production of Drums of Father Ned (p.159).

Herbert Coston, ‘Prelude to Playwriting’, in Ronald Ayling, ed., Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements (London: Macmillan 1969), p.47-59: ‘Mistrusting the nationalists, he vigourously fought against a coalition with them ... Like Ireland, O’Casey was being unconsciously propelled to independence. As forces about him swirled forward to the bloody Rising of Easter Week 1916, they were brought into collision with the inflexible position he had taken on the role of the Citizen Army. The result was that O’Casey was deflected into a kind of political limbo, and the nationalists were strengthened. [.../...] The price of independence was isolation, but the severance of his political ties freed him to find a new identity [...] Coston remarks ‘peculiar belligerence which is characteristic of his later disputative writings [...]’ Quotes O’Casey on the rejection of his early plays: ‘it was years after, when he had left Ireland forever, that bitterness, mingled with scorn, overtook him, for he began to realise that the plays refused by the Abbey Theatre were a lot better than many they had welcomed, and had played on to their stage with drums and colours.’ (Autobiographies; Colston, op. cit., p.58.)

Brendan Kennelly, In ‘Patrick Kavanagh’, in Ariel (July 1970): ‘[...] Seán O’Casey was another man who knew what poverty was, and his picture of it in his three great realistic early plays gets the bare, brutal treatment which the man who knows that world of viciousness, deprivation, and squalor at first-hand can give with complete authority. O’Casey rejected that world and created a different drama. It was as though he had purged himself of a consuming intimacy with a deprived world, and then proceeded to create another world distinguished for its fulfilment, vitality and joy.’ (Rep. in Sean Lucy, ed., Irish Poetry in English [Thomas Davis Lectures], Cork: Mercier 1973, also as ‘Patrick Kavanagh’s Comic Vision’: in Kennelly, Journey Into Joy: Selected Prose, ed. Åke Persson, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe 1994, 109-26; here Lucy, op. cit., 1973, here p.165.)

Terence Brown, ‘Literary Autobiography in the Twentieth Century’, in Augustine Martin, ed., The Genius of Irish Prose (Cork: Mercier Press 1985), pp.89-98: ‘it may be possible, therefore, to read parts of his Autobiographies as polemical expositions of how different he was from the other writers of the period, in origin and social experience. This one certainly senses in the first volume where his sufferings and those of his mother in the midst of Dublin’s destitution are emphasised to the point of this reader’s credulity. But there is no mistaking the author’s sense of outrage at the pain, misery and degradation that he believes had been his lot in Ireland’s capital. And more generally O’Casey’s huge work, flawed as it is by linguistic bombast and by lack of verbal control, creates a powerful impression of a modern Ireland struggling to be born.’ (p.93).

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David Krause, Sean O’Casey, The Man and His Work (London: MacGibbon & Kee 1967): ‘Nora and Juno are against war and not Ireland. As wives and mothers they realise there can be no victory in war for them if they lose their men and homes. They repudiate war and illusion that the soldiers alone are chief sufferers, the illusion that the soldiers die bravely and beautifully for their country, the illusion that the women willingly send their men out to die. For centuries romantic Irishmen had nurtured these illusions by celebrating in a poem and stories the glorious deeds of rebel patriots who kissed their beloved colleens farewell and went off to sacrifice themselves for a greater love, Kathleen Ni Houlihan (Eire). O’Casey was now mocking all these illusions. He depicted the brutality of war through the realistic eyes of working class Irish women, instead of through the haze of sentimental patronising.’ (p.70.) ‘The women in O’Casey’s plays may be inhibited creatures but they always reamin close to the realities of life and when there is a call for responsible action, they put aside self-gratification and act.’ (p.75; both the foregoing quoted in Gemma Breslin, UG Diss., UUC 2006.)

David Krause, ed., The Letters of Sean O’Casey, Vol. IV 1959-64 (Washington: Catholic University of America 1992), concluding the set, with a total between them of 2445 letters 1910 to 1964, over 3580pp. Vol. dates: Vol. I: 1910-41 (1975); Vol. II: 1942-54 (1980); Vol.III: 1955-58 (1989); Vol. IV: 1959-64 (1992); the earlier vols. from another publisher; 5 letters and a telegram to Raisa Lemonsova, 1925-26, discovered in Leeds by Richard Davies & W. J. McCormack, eds., in Irish Slavonic Studies (1984), showing support for Soviet leadership; Friel wrote of the tutelage of O’Casey in 1980 programme notes, and in Irish Literary Supplement for 1987, saying that he and his generation ‘all come out from under his undercoat’. Further remarks from Frank McGuinness arguing that the tradition of Irish working class drama represented by Martin Lynch and Graham Reid is ‘a vigorous revival of Irish working class drama, adding to the tradition of its founding father, Sean O’Casey ‘[who is] now surely more significant as a historical rather than an imaginative influence on theater in Ireland’ (ILS 1984). 45 letters to Lady Gregory; Krause Denis Donoghue’s adverse criticism of the earlier volume, printed in New Republic (26 May 1975), and later in We Irish, ‘O’Casey was the most quarrelsome writer in Ireland, a notoriously quarrelsome country’, and further claimed - employing Yeats - that O’Casey brought his ‘fanatic Ireland’ with him and ‘held on to its rancour’ wherever he was; Within the Gates, banned in Boston on instance of the mayor in 1935. (See Review, Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1993).

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Declan Kiberd, Anglo-Irish Attitudes [Field Day Pamphlet, No. 6] (1984): ‘Subsequent writers came increasingly to question the legacy of Yeats and to turn instead for guidance to that socialist tradition of Irish writing initiated by Wilde and Shaw. Both Sean O’Casey and Brendan Behan record in their autobiographies the shock of recognition on reading John Bull”s Other Island. In The Plough and the Stars O’Casey goes to great lengths to imply that the English and Irish have a great deal more in common than they care to admit. He drops his final curtain on the spectacle of British soldiers sipping tea that had been brewed for their Irish enemies and embarking on that same fragile attempt at domesticity with which the tenement dweller Nora Clitheroe began the play. Even the clichés employed by both sides in the conflict turn out to be interchangeable. When the British gun-boat pounds the inner city, Fluther Good complains “that’s not playing the game”, the precise phrase used by a British soldier when he discovers that the rebels are firing dum-dum bullets. (In fact, no report on the Rising offered evidence to convict the rebels of this charge, but O’Casey is more anxious to complete his Anglo-Irish parallelism than to give a clear account of the facts). When a passing British soldier is asked what he is doing in Dublin, he says “defending my country”. He receives the swift retort: “You’re not fighting for your country here, are you?” Clearly, the imperialist nature of the British presence in Ireland wasn’t something O’Casey wished to deny, but it is given a tragic irony by the soldier’s baffled avowal “I’m a socialist myself”. Socialists on both sides have been sucked into the maelstrom of nationalism; and even the radical Covey begins to make glowing references to “General” Pearse, whom he has unwittingly promoted in the ranks.’ (p.14.) Further, ‘In The Plough and the Stars O’Casey goes to great lengths to imply that the English and the Irish have a great deal more in common than they care to admit. [… &c.].’ (pp.14-15.)

Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (1995) [remarks on Sean O’Casey:] ‘There is a real sense in which The Plough and the Stars (1926) derives more from On Baile’s Strand (1903, 1906) than from the Dublin streets: the notorious scene where Pearse’s speechifying is juxtaposed against the prostitute Rosie Redmond plying her trade in a pub seems a deliberate reworking of Yeats’s play, in which a posturing Cuchulain, at war with the waves, proves utterly irrelevant to the needs of the hungry fool and blind beggar. [212] A vital question remained: was this diagnosis that of a cynical nihilist or did O’Casey offer it from some alternative point of vantage? [222] [T]he play (Shadow of a Gunman) ... amounts to little more than an attack on all -isms and a celebration of those wives who picked up the pieces left in idealism’s wake. [...] O’Casey’s code scarcely moved beyond a sentimentalisation of victims, and this in turn led him to a profound distrust of anyone who makes an idea the basis for an action. [...] As a dramatist (if not as a prose-writer) O’Casey proves no more capable than any of his characters of developing or analysing an idea. [...] he told people that they had the power to shape their own lives, to be the subjects as well as the objects of history: but he aborted the dialectics at that point in a play which resolutely mocks anyone who takes an idea seriously. [223] [O’Casey faced the same challenge as Yeats:] how to represent on-stage a revolution in all its nobility, its baseness, and its unprecedented turbulence. [223]; Juno and the Paycock ... a retrospective attempt to justify his absence from the Rising and to question the motives of those who fought. [226] O’Casey faced with the same problem [how to render a turbulence that has eluded previous framing devices] refused to attempt a solution at all. This is scarcely the radical ploy it has sometimes been made to seem. Rather than admit the powerful disruption of both Christian and Celtic codes by their subversive combination in the rhetoric of Pearse, O’Casey opted for the much safer, traditional repetition of Christian moralism: his Bessie Burgess, the loyalist alcoholic, is centralised. While the rebels are portrayed as prating of blood-sacrifice, she is extolled as the one personality on-stage who actually honours that code. The gunmen are depicted by O’Casey, and by later revisionist historians, as Catholic bigots rather than as men who my rising risked damnation by official Catholicism. The Pearse on O’Casey’s stage does not die. […; 227]. In The Plough and the Stars, however, the nationalist case is never put, merely mocked. [228]. An urge to self-justification mars the artistic balance of O’Casey’s play, an urge [that] probably had roots in his survivor-guilt of a former Citizen Army man. .. a natural aggression that remained unpurged was finally vented on the rebels in his text. [228] [O’Casey] portrayed the rebels using dum-dum bullets [229]. When Cuchulain is used to underwrite the welfare state, or Christ to validation the process of decolonisation, then the donning of historical garb may not be quite as conservative as O’Casey thought [...] (p.229.)

Declan Kiberd (Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation, 1995): ‘[...] He is unable ... to allow for any complexity of motive. There can be no suggestion that the Rising might have been Clitheroe’s way of seeking to advance the fortunes of his family and install a government that would dismantle the tenements in an independent Ireland. O’Casey, instead, has him return to the Citizen Army because he is bored with his recently married wife and anxious for the social acclaim [of] captain [230]. [O’Casey’s slum is] populated by urban leprechauns and sloganeering caricatures, forever jabbering in a sub-language of their own which owes more to the texts of Synge than to the idiom of the Dublin tenements [...] the loveable peasant has thereby been introjected into the native Irish psyche to reappear as a twentieth century slum-dweller [232]. [On the handling of dramatic form:] [T]he author [is] so incurious, so derivative in this that one can only wonder if he ever suspected that his art might be complicit with the counter-revolution. [...] In the Plough and the Stars, the tradition of the strong woman and hesitant male which lent so much excitement to the plays of Wilde, Synge, Shaw, and Yeats, is degraded to the level of a dead formula. [233] O’Casey gave the appearance of challenging a triumphalist nationalism in his audience: but the truth is that he outraged only the radical republicans in it. Covertly his plays exercised a powerful appeal over the new elite ... [233] Somewhere along the line, the young O’Casey’s project had inverted itself: he who had glimpsed the future at a moment when it could be fully realised in history seemed to fall back, exhausted, upon the available forms. [234] [NOTE, Kiberd finds it excessive to call O’Casey a satirist ‘for satire presupposes some norm by whose criteria other ways of living are found wanting’, whereas O’Casey ‘uses socialism to denounce nationalism, and then finds socialism inadequate anyway’, 234]. [F]or him all -isms are wasms [235]; [O’Casey represents] the strangest modern phenomena: an autodidact who becomes fiercely anti-intellectual [235]. The trouble is that O’Casey himself became a party to that acquiescence, in his political denial of all hopefulness and in his artistic acceptance of outmoded forms. [238]. [The Silver Tassie maintains] a near miraculous balance between the real and the symbolic [241]. [His] search for a sort of Protestant self-election explains the visionary quality of Purple Dust and Red Roses for Me, in which he develops a fully-fledged Christian socialism of a kind lacking in the Dublin trilogy. In Red Roses for Me he faintly summons up the courage to imagine Dublin not as the city is but as he would want it to be: the inference is that man will only transform the world through socialism after he has been first transformed by religious belief. Neither religion nor socialism alone was enough for O’Casey [... .] Only a vision encompassing both could satisfy him in the end, and that vision was achieved for the first time in his portrayal of the battle-fields of Europe in The Silver Tassie. /…/ That achievement is of a rare order in modern European writing, and almost unexampled in the dramatic form. It may have seemed churlish to criticise him for evasions, when he also confronted so much that other artists passed swiftly by. [245]

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Peter Costello, The Heart Grown Brutal: the Irish Revolution in Literature from Parnell to the Death of Yeats, 1891-1939 (Gill & Macmillan 1977), p.256ff., for account of the reception of The Plough and the Stars in Dublin and the rejection of The Silver Tassie by the Abbey; also his view of Jim Larkin as expressed in Drums Under the Windows. [See under Larkin.]

Richard Kearney, Myth and Motherland [Field Day pamphlets, No. 5] (Derry: Field Day Co. 1984), for account of Beckett’s hostile reaction to the literary revival, picking out Sean O’Casey exceptionally for praise in view of his anti-nationalism in Juno and the Paycock [here Peacock] especially as a testimony to the colapse of all notions of national identity: “mind and world come assunder in irreparable dissociation - chassis.” (‘Recent Irish Poetry’, in Bookman, No. 86, 1934; Kearney, p.16.)

D. George Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (London: Routledge 1982; 1991), citing Seumas Shields, O’Casey’s pedlar, “there wasn’t a gun in the country; I’ve a different opinion now when there’s nothin’ but guns in the country” [Shadow of a Gunman]; with comments to the effect that ‘Irish nationalst appeals to the “hillside men” were no longer a safe rhetorical device.’ (p.324.)

Tomas Mac Anna, ‘A Two-Edged Sword’, review of David Krause, ed., The Letters of Sean O’Casey, Vol. I (Cassell [1975]), in Hibernia (Friday, 3 Oct. 1975), p.12: notes the battering received by Walter Starkie, Lennox Robinson, and others, and the warmth enjoyed by Gabriel Fallon, ‘oul buttie’; cites Limerick refused Arthur Sinclair’s production of the Plough, changed Mary Boyle’s unborn baby by galloping consumption [sic], and burned two reels of Hitchcock’s Juno by way of Catholic protest against ‘the filth and obscenity’ of his plays; Silver Tassie banned in Boston y Mayor Mansfield; C. B. Cochran refused Within the Gates; London critics panned the play at The Fortune Theatre; Windfalls and the first vol. of authobiography, I Knock at the Door, banned in Ireland; encouragement from Brooks Atkinson; Eileen O’Casey and the ‘happiest of happy marriages’.

Gabriel Fallon, describes Saros Cowasjee’s book Sean O’Casey (1968) as ‘a futile attempt to track down the originals of O’Casey’s characters’ [essay in Sean McCann, ed., The World of Sean O’Casey, 1966)]

Elizabeth Butler Cullingford, ‘British Romans and Irish Carthaginians: Anticolonial Metaphor in Heaney, Friel and McGuinness, PMLA, March 1996, pp.222-36: ‘McGuinness wishes to highlight “great areas of experience, female experience” previously ignored in Irish theatre. If he flirts with essentialism, he also complicates and challenges stereotypes of feminity, for example, through the figure of Juno, the parton of Carthage. Dido’s tranvestite play ‘The Burning Balaclava’ contains several parodies of Juno Boyle’s famous lament from Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock: “Little did I think that the pain I hade bringing him into the house would be anything like the pain I have carrying him out of it.”; “Son, son, where were you when my Sacred Heart was riddled with bullets”; “Take away these quick pints”. Through this mockery, McGuinness distances himself both from O’Casey’s sentimental overestimation of Irish motherhood and from the essentialist myth of Mother Ireland. McGuinness’s Juno figure, Mrs Doherty, a Derry mother “tormented by the troubles” and fanatically devoted to the Sacred Heart, is revealed to be a hidden source of violence. Like Yeat’s Cathleen ni Houlihan and Joyce’s Old Gummy Granny, Mrs Doherty, demands bloodshed: “I depend on the dying ... I knit all the balaclavas.” (p.234.)

Andrew Porter, reviewing Mark-Anthony Turnage’s production of The Silver Tassie (Coliseum, Feb. 2000), remarks that ‘the plot is in effect that of Wilfred Owen’s poem “Disabled”, about a footballer who loses his legs on the Western Front: ‘He say in a wheeled chair, waiting for the dark […]. Now he will never feel again how slim / Girl’s waists are, or how warm their subtle hands …. / Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goals … Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes / Passed from him to the strong men who were whole.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 15 Feb. 2000, p.18.). Porter also guesses that the Expressionist second act ‘sowed a seed for Britten’s War Requiem, with its searing juxtapositions of Owen’s war poems .. and the liturgy.’ (idem.) Turnage’s production is purged of religious references.

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Nicholas Grene, ‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, in Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, eds., Irish Studies in Brazil (Sao Paolo: Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), II: ‘The Plough and the Stars’: ‘[…] Even when The Plough was produced, its first night was applauded, the reviews were on the whole very favourable. […] The row over the Plough did not ignite until the fourth night of its run, and when it did it was in some sort a continuation of the Civil War by other means. [...] Of course it was significant that in 1925 the Abbey had been given a [77] subsidy by the Free State government, that Yeats, one of the founder-Directors of the Abbey – he of the thundering denunciation of the audience – was a Free State Senator who had supported the government in their draconian anti-Republican legislation. This gave the protesters a thick stick to beat the play and the theatre. “The Free State government is subsidising the Abbey to malign Pearse and Connolly”, declared Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington, leading spokeswoman on the Republican side. […] Once again, the row produced ludicrous-seeming arguments over authenticity, turning particularly on the second act, with the notorious appearance of Rosie Redmond the prostitute. […] Great offence was taken at the appearance of a prostitute in such a situation [i.e., when Pearse’s oratory is heard off-stage]. Prostitutes: there were no such people in the holy city of Dublin. (This was not the experience of Ria Mooney, the young actress who played the scandalous part of Rosie against the advice of many older colleagues. In the old Abbey there was no way actors could cross from one side of the stage to the other behind the scenes [other than going] down a lane at the back of the theatre. […] This Ria Mooney had to do every night in her whore’s costume; and every night she was attacked by the real street-walkers who imagined she was invading their pitch.’ [Ftn., ‘I was told this story by Ann Saddlemyer, who had it from Ria Mooney herself.’] [...] what was at issue was a felt need for a complete identity between the sacred and the real. Easter 1916, the foundational act in the creation of the new Ireland, was a sacred drama, played out as such by its leaders with a full sense of the symbolic and the theatrical [..., &c.]’ (p.79.)

Nicholas Grene (‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh’, 2001), discussing the ‘second life’ conferred on ‘the battle over O’Casey and The Plough in the world of criticism in 1980s and 90s in a series of sharp attacks on the play’s politics by, most notably, Seamus Deane and Declan Kiberd): ‘In one sense, there is no doubt that Deane and Kiberd are fight: 0’Casey does upstage the Rising, reduce it to a series of noises cd, while he foregrounds its impact on non-participant Dubliners. It is equally clear that his selection of extracts from Pearse’s speeches and writings, placed in the Voice of the unnamed Man at the window m the back of the pub in Act II, is a malicious medley of the most bloodthirsty, the purplest of purple patches from the orator’s greatest bits. This is politically unbalanced reporting. But of course O’Casey is not a reporter, he is a playwright, a creator of dramatic fictions. Why should he be expected to tell the historical truth, and what sort of historical truth is it that Deane and Kiberd want him to tell? What they want, it seems to me is a certain story of 1916 that places it at the origin of modern Ireland. Roy Foster’s book The Irish Story has as its subtitle “telling tales and making it up in Ireland”. That is not intended to suggest that the Irish story, the construction of a historical narrative for Ireland, is just made up, just a fictional tale. The leaders of 1916 did fight bravely in what they knew was a doomed cause. Their deaths did transform what had been a thoroughly unpopular rebellion into a politically unstoppable movement: witness the 1918 General Election two and a half years later in which Sinn Féin carried all before them. The complaint about O’Casey is not just that he leaves out these facts as facts, but that he excludes the heroic narrative built upon those facts that for post-] 916 Irish nationalists was to become the primary reality of their nation. The Plough and the Stars, from that point of view either in the original protest of 1926 or in the latter-day critiques of Deane and Kiberd, misrepresents the reality of the Rising.’ (p.81.)

Bernard Adams, Denis Johnston: A Life (Dublin: Lilliput Press 2002), notes that Sean O’Casey quarrelled disastrously with the cast of The Plough and the Stars in 1926, having previously fallen out with F. J. McCormick whom he accused of acting his part as Tanner in M. J. Dolan’s production of Shaw’s Man and Superman with “extravagant vehemence”, while pouring scorn on the performance of Eileen Crowe, ‘soon to be McCormick’s wife’ [Adams], as “the weakest manifestation of the surging life force that one could imagine” [O’Casey]. Others in rebellion were Boss Shield (as Lieutenant Langon): ‘not suprisingly, Dolan and some of the company had taken extreme umbrage, and now set out to sabotage O’Casey’s audacious new play. Dolan went even went so far as to write to Lady Gregory suggesting that she should think twice about having anything to do with The Plough and the Stars.’ (p.78.) Further notes that Crowe refused to play the part of Mrs Grogan so O’Casey obligingly wrote in the Rathmines Woman for her, while McCormick as Jack Clitheroe refused to say ‘snotty’ to Shelah Richards as Nora. (idem.) Further, Adams gives an account and some quotations from Johnston’s diary entry on an evening spent with Sean O’Casey and some English theatrical personages in London during 1926, after the playwright’s removal to that city. (pp.83-84.)

Colm Toíbín, ‘A complex Personality ...’, reviewing Christopher Murray, Sean O’Casey: Writer At Work, in The Irish Times (20 Nov. 2004), Weekend: speaks of O’Casey’s legacy as power and enduring and his own sense of the response to the ‘sheer rightness of the shifting styles’ of The Silver Tassie, seen at the Abbey in the 1970s and later productions by Joe Dowling and others. ‘O’Casey was like Synge and Becektt, a difficult figure, attracted to the shadows and the margins, unable to join any group for long. The talent of all three seemed to stem somewhat from a personal shyness or limnal position: they were fascinated by excitement, their theatrical skills flourishe almost in spite of their education and background. [...] O’Casey was, in many ways, a loveable man. But he did not play politics or keep his views to himself. His offensive letter to Hilton Edwards, who was interested in directing The Silver Tassie at the Gate, meant that the Gate was closed to him. Some of his other fits of epistolary temper are almost funny. To Harry Kernoff, for example: “My first impressions, against which I fought, have been abundantly justified: you are precisely the little tyke I first thought you were”. When a director who had overseen an especially hated production of one his plays committed suicide, O’Casey did not soften: “The fellow’s gone now, making his exit by way of a gas oven, giving in the kitchen a better production than he ever gave on the stage”. / For anyone writing about O’Casey, there is the great surprise of the personal happiness which came his way once he moved to England. Eileen O’Casey, whom he married in 1927, was a remarkable person; he was lucky to meet her. His life was changed by having a family. There is a real tenderness and ease in his relationship with his sons, Breon and Niall, and daughter Shivaun. He found them interesting, enough to satisfy any social needs as he lived the life of a recluse in Devon. / The death of his son, Niall, from leukaemia at 21 is a heart-breaking moment in the book, as indeed were O’Casey’s published diaries of the year after his son’s death. “Oh God to think of it,” he wrote. “I buried a father when I was a little boy, and a son when I was an old, old man.”’ Further, ‘When he was wiser, O’Casey knew that he should not have denied Lady Gregory the chance to see him happy. For some years, they had one of the most remarkable and fruitful relationships in the history of the Irish theatre. As his autobiographies, in their sour way, and her diaries, very beautifully, attest, he was lucky to have her in those crucial years of his development, as he has been lucky with his latest biographer.’ [End]

Michael Billington, review of The Plough and the Stars (Barbican), Guardian (21 Jan. 2005), p.32: ‘While Barnes acknowledges O’Casey’s political critique [of nationalism, viz., “Ireland is greater than a wife”], he puts equal stress on his fascination wtih economics and expressionism. In the second-act pub scene, [...] Redmond is not some comic prostitute but a desperately hard-pressed working girl. And, as the barflies bicker, we see the shadow of a nationalist orator looking over Francis O’Connor’s windowed set like some demonic monster, as he proclaims: “Bloodshed is a cleansing and a sanctifying thing”. By the end, Dublin has become a flame-lit hell evoking the carnage simultaneously taking place in Flanders. / Barnes, in short, implies that O’Casey’s play is closer to The Silver Tassie, which followed it, than to Juno and the Paycock, which preceded it. Inevitably, this exacts a certain price. The comedy out of which the tragedy crows, gets largely lost and certain key roles are underplayed. Bessie Burgess [...] is inexplicably played by the beautiful Catherine Byrne [.... &c.].’ Also notes Cathy Belton as Nora, Olwen Fouere as Mrs Gogan, and Eamon Morrissey as Fluther, and Amelia Crowley as an ‘outstanding RosieAmelia Crowley’s outstanding Rosie’.

Patrick Burke, letter to Times Literary Supplement (?26 Nov. 2005), criticises Paul Johnson’s ‘rather priggish’ review of Christopher Murray’s life of O’Casey as ‘[o]ffensive in its racist reference to “the self-deceiving nature of Irish nationalism, its bombast and blather and its ultimate contempt for human life”; Burke suggested that the view is Johnson’s not O’Casey’s and refers to Patrick Pearse’s reason for surrendering in 1916 as the avoidance of further civilian casualties; likewise finds Johnson’s reference to Hanna Sheehy Skeffington as a “virago” offensive in relation to a ‘not intelligent woman’ who may have been ‘wrong-headed in her reactions to the Plough [and the Stars]; &c.’

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