Professor Timothy Cochran
Introduction to Theater
May 8, 2014
Irish Playwrights Often, when people think of theater, they think of the Shakespeare or the Greek tragedies. This is likely because plays such as Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, or Hercules are popular and often taught in high school literature classes. The writings of Irish playwrights such as Sean O’Casey and George Bernard Shaw are often overlooked. Sean O’Casey was born in Dublin on March 30, 1880. His father, a broth and his sister all died while he was young. He completed only three years of schooling, not learning to read or write until he was 13 years old. He had ulcerated eyes, making vision difficult. Because his father had passed away, and the family was becoming poorer, O’Casey was forced to go to work as a laborer at the age of 14. He found solace in reading, stealing books to read and pass time. He had a special fondness for Shakespeare, which is credited for his decision to write for theater.
Much of O’Casey’s works was dramatic and tragic, targeting political strife, social affairs, poverty, and issues of the working class. He was involved with the Irish Republican League and the Gaelic League. He used the knowledge he gained through these groups to depict the struggles of the Irish working class of Dublin in his writings.
Some of his most famous works include “The Dublin Trilogy”, three plays addressing the struggle for Irish freedom in the early 1900’s. The plays, The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, and The Plough of the Stars, were performed in The Abbey Theater between 1923 and 1926, however each play depicted an earlier time and struggle in Irish history than the previous play did. The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), set in Dublin, 1920, is a story of a young poet who is mistaken for an IRA assassin during the Irish War of Independence. The next in the series was Juno and the Paycock (1924). This play was set in Dublin in the early 1920’s in a working class tenement during the Irish Civil War. The last, The Plough of the Stars (1926), is set during the liberation of Ireland and the Easter Rising in late 1915, early 1916. All three plays target the political unrest of the times. His view point was so confrontational that a riot broke out during the opening of The Plough of the Stars.
Mr. O’Casey was very controversial for his time. He had been exiled from Ireland for most of his life. One of his plays was selected by the summer festival of the Dublin Theater in 1958, but was withdrawn shortly after. In retaliation, he banned the production of his plays in any theater house in the Irish Republic. He even went as far as to extend this ban to the Irish Pavilion at the World’s Fair. This ban remained in place for the remainder of his life. Sean O’Casey died of a heart attack on September 18, 1964. He was 84 years old.
George Bernard Shaw, born in Dublin, 1856, is an Irish playwright with over 60 plays to his credit. Initially his career began as a theater critic, however he decided to begin writing plays and use the stage to illustrate his criticism of English theater. Shaw is known best for using comedy to highlight social problems such as education, marriage, government, religion, and privilege.
His play The Doctor’s Dilemma, 1906, poked fun at the medical profession. The story examines good versus evil. Although Shaw classified The Doctor’s Dilemma as a tragedy, the play uses comedy to highlight greed, dishonesty, and the lack of medical resources at the time. The main concept of the play can be described as “what goes around, comes around”.
An earlier play, Candida, 1898, examined social attitudes towards sex, love, and fidelity. The comedy in Candida is largely because of the fact that the main plot revolves around a love triangle, which includes a minister and his wife. This brought forth the error of human ways, regardless of beliefs and stature in the community.
Even before Shaw or O’Casey