British and Irish Literature Sean O’Casey
by
James Moran
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 July 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0101

Introduction

Sean O’Casey (b. 1880–d. 1964) is one of Ireland’s best-known playwrights, and any visitor to Dublin is likely to encounter O’Casey’s name attached to an assortment of tourist souvenirs, civic buildings, and cultural events. He is less celebrated than his contemporaries James Joyce and W. B. Yeats, and yet—unlike those two figures who wrote drama but never developed a secure place in the theatrical canon—O’Casey’s plays have achieved sustained success in performance. At Ireland’s national theater, O’Casey’s works have been performed more than those of any other writer, and here (as in many other countries) he has been appreciated for using music-hall-style comedy, dealing with contentious historical events, and displaying a consistent sympathy with the downtrodden and poor—whose predicament O’Casey knew from his own childhood. O’Casey had been born as John Casey in 1880, to a lower-middle-class Protestant family in Dublin’s Northside, but his father’s death in 1886 meant that O’Casey experienced insecurity and downward mobility (the would-be writer also suffered from chronic eye disease). As a young man, he worked as a laborer alongside members of the Catholic working class, with whose national and social aspirations he discovered an affinity—changing his name to Seán Ó Cathasaigh. He joined the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood and helped to found the Irish Citizen Army but did not fight in the Easter Rising of 1916 because his mother was dying and because he increasingly endorsed socialist rather than nationalist politics. He submitted scripts to the Abbey Theatre from 1916, and after five rejected efforts, the playhouse produced his sixth play, The Shadow of a Gunman, in 1923. He followed this with Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926)—and these three scripts are often grouped as a trilogy, all being set in the poverty-stricken tenements of Dublin during the Irish revolution of 1916–1922, and all revealing hostility to British imperialism and cynicism about Irish nationalism. These works have proved enduringly popular, although The Plough provoked nationalist riots when first staged in Dublin in 1926, encouraging O’Casey to abandon his homeland and live for the rest of his life in England. Here, O’Casey continued to write plays, essays, and autobiographies until his death in 1964, although his later plays have never found a place in the theatrical repertoire, featuring, as they do, increasingly experimental forms, a committed left-wing politics, and a frequent cynicism about aspects of Irish (especially Irish Catholic) life.

General Overviews

O’Casey’s prolific and varying writing life has posed problems for those who would compile short summaries and general overviews. O’Casey continued writing well into his eighties and produced six volumes of autobiography, at least seven other volumes of prose writings, and more than twenty-five plays. The question for most readers and critics is therefore where exactly to start. Most guides tend to foreground O’Casey’s most frequently produced plays, those of the Dublin Trilogy. Murray 2000 focuses only on these works and provides the best introductory guide to them. Simmons 1983 is also a very helpful beginner’s guide to those three plays in particular. However, other critics, when introducing O’Casey, have attempted to emphasize not only the three most famous plays but also the increasingly experimental works that O’Casey produced later in his career. Moran 2013 is the most recent example of this, following O’Riordan 1984. A more polemical argument in favor of the late plays is provided by Hogan 1960, which uses the New Critical methods of the mid-20th century to urge his readers to examine the “technical dexterity and the bold formal experimentation of O’Casey’s last dramas” (p. 6). An alternative approach to surveying O’Casey is taken by Scrimgeour 1978, which begins by analyzing the autobiographies rather than any of the plays. Meanwhile, readers who are already acquainted with Irish writing of the period may find it useful to consult Krause and Lowery 1980, which describes O’Casey’s connections with other Irish literary figures.

  • Ayling, Ronald, ed. O’Casey: The Dublin Trilogy: The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars: A Casebook. London: Macmillan, 1985.

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    Now a little dated, but does introduce readers to some of the main debates over O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy. For each of the three plays, Ayling includes comment and review from the 1920s and then later critical reaction primarily from the 1960 to the 1970s.

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  • Hogan, Robert. The Experiments of Sean O’Casey. New York: St. Martin’s, 1960.

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    One of the first serious academic studies of O’Casey. Does not include plot summaries, and avoids focusing on themes and biographical connections, but instead focuses on form and structure to argue that O’Casey’s later drama shows considerable skill and artistry.

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  • Hunt, Hugh. Sean O’Casey. Dublin, Ireland: Gill and Macmillan, 1980.

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    A useful student introduction, proceeding in an admirably clear chronological way in order to show how the plays and autobiographies grew out of particular historical circumstances. More advanced researchers will find some of the discussion somewhat truncated—the final twenty-five pages cover more than two decades of the writer’s life.

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  • Krause, David. Sean O’Casey and His World. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

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    A beautifully illustrated volume, containing photographs and pictures that contextualize O’Casey’s life and work. Readers should be aware that Krause sometimes accepts uncritically O’Casey’s own views and statements, such as the now-discredited idea that O’Casey was the last of thirteen siblings (p. 5).

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  • Krause, David, and Robert Lowery. Sean O’Casey: Centenary Essays. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1980.

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    Dominated by contributions by the US scholars who attempted to advance O’Casey’s reputation during the 1960s. At times the volume lapses into a generalized attack on O’Casey’s critics, but it does give a broad introduction to O’Casey’s interrelationship with other Irish literary figures, including chapters on Joyce, Lady Gregory, Shaw, and Yeats.

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  • Moran, James. The Theatre of Sean O’Casey. London: Bloomsbury, 2013.

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    Uses archival material in order to reassess O’Casey’s playwriting from across the range of his writing career. Includes discussion of the autobiographies alongside the plays, and emphasizes the international reception of O’Casey’s work.

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  • Murray, Christopher. Sean O’Casey: The Shadow of a Gunman, Juno and the Paycock, The Plough and the Stars. London: Faber, 2000.

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    The most straightforward introductory guide to the Dublin Trilogy for undergraduate students. Sets out, in clear terms, the structure and action of the Trilogy, explains O’Casey’s use of character and language, and describes the performance history. Also glosses unfamiliar terms from O’Casey’s scripts.

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  • O’Riordan, John. A Guide to O’Casey’s Plays, from the Plough to the Stars. Houndmills, UK: Macmillan, 1984.

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    Contains extensive plot summaries of each of the twenty-three plays that Macmillan printed in the 1984 edition of O’Casey’s Complete Plays (O’Casey 1984, cited under Plays), along with details of stagings and remountings of the plays.

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  • Scrimgeour, James R. Sean O’Casey. London: George Prior, 1978.

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    Care should be taken when using this wayward study, which is nonetheless interesting because, unlike the other general introductions, it indicates a different way of prioritizing O’Casey’s writings: Scrimgeour begins with two chapters on the autobiographies rather than the plays, suggesting that O’Casey’s dramaturgical sense can be found in his prose.

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  • Simmons, James. Sean O’Casey. London: Macmillan, 1983.

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    A very perceptive, if at times idiosyncratic, introduction to the writer. The poet Simmons focuses particularly upon the Tassie controversy and the Dublin Trilogy, which is helpfully discussed in terms of literary tradition and in the context of contemporary television and radio productions.

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Primary Texts

O’Casey has always been best known as a playwright, and his reputation largely rests upon his dramatic output, particularly on three of his plays that the Abbey Theatre premiered in 1923–1926. Yet that trio of scripts constitutes a relatively thin slice of his overall output as a writer. His 1984 Complete Plays (O’Casey 1984, cited under Plays) includes an additional twenty dramatic scripts, and O’Casey also showed himself prolific in other literary forms. Before his work was produced on the stage he had written poetry (some of which later appeared in O’Casey 1934, cited under Other Writings, although his poetry was first published in pamphlet form in Dublin when printed by Fergus O’Connor in 1918). The young O’Casey had also published a history book about recent Irish politics (O Cathasaigh 1919, cited under Other Writings), and he had written journalism (his very first published work being a 1907 article about education policy, reprinted in O’Casey 1963a, cited under Other Writings). More significantly, O’Casey also became a prolific essayist, letter writer, autobiographer, and (to a lesser extent) writer of short stories. It is in studying these other works that we can find O’Casey qualifying—and sometimes bluntly contradicting—the views that are associated with his Dublin Trilogy.

Plays

Unfortunately, there exists no variorum or critical edition of O’Casey’s dramatic output, even though such an edition is badly needed. After all, O’Casey often revised his work after it had been performed and sometimes published the plays in different versions. For example, the version of The Silver Tassie that he published in 1928 has an ending completely different from the one published later in the 1949–1951 Collected Plays (republished in turn as O’Casey 1984). Even more extensively revised is his play Within the Gates, which was originally published in 1933 with the subtitle “play of four scenes,” but published later in the Collected Plays with major alterations and the subtitle “stage version.” Macmillan first published O’Casey’s Collected Plays as a four-volume edition in 1949–1951 and reissued the volumes in 1984 along with an additional—much longer—fifth volume, which included the plays that O’Casey had written during his final decade and half of life, as well as some early pieces that had been left out of the 1949–1951 version. The 1984 Complete Plays is therefore the standard reference work, containing, as it does, more of O’Casey’s plays than any published collection before or since (twenty-three plays in total). When the O’Casey estate moved to Faber in 1994, Faber decided not to reprint the collected plays but instead produced a new two-volume edition of O’Casey’s work (O’Casey 1998a, O’Casey 1998b) that contained just nine plays, mostly from the early part of the writer’s career. The publisher realized the popularity of the Dublin Trilogy, and so—alongside the two-volume edition—also published a separate edition of the trilogy in 1998 with an introduction by Christopher Murray, a volume that is often used to introduce O’Casey in the seminar room (O’Casey 1998c). Since that 1998 publication, theater and opera producers have increasingly shown an interest in O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie, which Faber therefore reissued as a stand-alone volume in 2014 (O’Casey 2014), to coincide with a revival of the play at the Royal National Theatre. For students and readers who are new to O’Casey, the most helpful edition of the plays is O’Casey 1985, which contains O’Casey’s best-known dramas with useful annotations.

  • O’Casey, Sean. The Silver Tassie: A Tragic Comedy in Four Acts. London: Macmillan, 1928.

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    This edition is now difficult to get hold of, but it is well worth examining for an example of how O’Casey revised his plays after they had been produced on the stage. There are some notable differences in the ending here when compared with the versions of the play in O’Casey 1984 and O’Casey 2014.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Within the Gates: A Play of Four Scenes in a London Park. London: Macmillan, 1933.

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    This edition is difficult to obtain today, but is well worth examining because O’Casey entirely revised the piece after this printing, and the version of the play in O’Casey 1984 is a very different theater piece.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Complete Plays of Sean O’Casey. London: Macmillan, 1984.

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    The standard reference work of twenty-three plays. The first four volumes are arranged in chronological order, but the fifth volume disrupts this, as it includes the three full-length plays that O’Casey wrote between 1951 and 1964, three unpublished works that preceded The Shadow of a Gunman in 1923, and two one-act works staged at the Abbey in 1923–1924.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Seven Plays by Sean O’Casey: A Student’s Edition. Edited by Ronald Ayling. London: Macmillan, 1985.

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    This edition is highly recommended as an introduction to O’Casey’s work as it contains a helpful set of notes explaining unfamiliar phrases and historical references. The annotated plays include the Dublin Trilogy, The Silver Tassie, Red Roses for Me, Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, and The Bishop’s Bonfire.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Sean O’Casey: Plays 1. London: Faber, 1998a.

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    This edition of the plays Juno and the Paycock, Within the Gates, Red Roses for Me, and Cock-a-Doodle Dandy also includes an introduction by poet Seamus Heaney, which praises the Dublin Trilogy but criticizes the “shakier conventions of his later, more experimental work” (p. x).

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Sean O’Casey: Plays 2. London: Faber, 1998b.

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    Contains The Shadow of a Gunman, The Plough and the Stars, The Silver Tassie, Purple Dust, and—somewhat randomly—Hall of Healing. It also contains an introduction by playwright Arthur Miller, in which he describes his own affinities with O’Casey.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Three Dublin Plays. Introduced by Christopher Murray. London: Faber, 1998c.

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    This popular edition of the three plays includes a helpful introduction to some of the political context of the dramas. Murray’s introduction also highlights the way that O’Casey navigates theatrical forms to include naturalistic elements alongside melodrama and music hall.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Silver Tassie. London: Faber, 2014.

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    This version reproduces the version of the text found in O’Casey 1984 rather than the first 1928 publication of the play. The volume includes an introduction by James Moran, explaining the 1928 controversy over the play and pointing to some contemporary resonances.

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Autobiographies

O’Casey had originally thought about writing a book about his experiences as early as August 1926 (see Lowery 1981, cited under Autobiographies in Commentary and Adaptation, p. 4), but it was the perceived slight of the Abbey Theatre’s rejection of his 1928 play The Silver Tassie that provided the catalyst for him to set down the autobiographies. In an Observer interview of 1929 he declared that he had now “written part of an autobiography” (see Kenneally 1988, cited under Autobiographies in Commentary and Adaptation, pp. 1–2), and he initially envisaged writing just one book. However, in 1938, after he had finished the first volume about his childhood, he told his publisher Harold Macmillan that two more volumes now required completion. The project continued to balloon, so that O’Casey eventually composed his autobiography over the course of two decades, publishing six volumes between 1939 and 1954, and describing his life from birth up until the age of seventy-three. The narrative is written in the third person, and two of the volumes were banned for a time in Ireland. The volumes enjoyed great popularity in the second half of the 20th century, when they were published as a two-volume edition (first published in New York in 1954 as Mirror in My House, and then in London as Autobiographies between 1963 and 1992), staged in New York and Dublin, and adapted into the Hollywood film Young Cassidy. However, the popularity of the volumes did not endure and they went out of print in the 1990s. Between 2008 and 2011 the only edition still in print was a German version of the first volume, but in 2011 Faber decided to reissue the volumes in a three-volume edition as part a series of print-on-demand texts (O’Casey 2011). A further notable work of autobiography, the short diary Niall (O’Casey 1991), was written by O’Casey after the rest of his autobiographies had been completed, and which was triggered by the premature death of his twenty-year-old son, Niall, from leukemia in 1956. O’Casey intended that diary to be a private record of his grief, but his widow eventually decided to publish the work in 1991.

  • O’Casey, Sean. I Knock at the Door: Swift Glances Back at Things That Made Me. New York: Macmillan, 1939.

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    The first autobiographical volume sets out O’Casey’s birth and childhood in late-19th-century Ireland, describing the death of his father and taking readers up to the point where O’Casey had learned poetry and kissed a girl. Volume was banned in Ireland between 1939 and 1947.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Pictures in the Hallway. London: Macmillan, 1942.

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    The second volume of the autobiographies begins with the death of Parnell, and, as Ireland deals with the aftermath of the failure to gain Home Rule, O’Casey gains an interest in national history, as well as in theater and sex. Volume was banned in Ireland between 1942 and 1947.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Drums under the Windows. London: Macmillan, 1945.

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    The third installment of the autobiographies sees O’Casey losing his Christian faith and instead gaining a belief in socialism, although sympathizing with those who participate in the Easter Rising, which concludes the book.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well. London: Macmillan, 1949.

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    In the fourth volume of the autobiographies the Irish Free State is established, but O’Casey feels distanced from this new, pious and censorious country and decides to leave for England.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Rose and Crown. New York: Macmillan, 1952.

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    The fifth part of the autobiographies begins with O’Casey’s arrival in London, where he faces the Abbey’s rejection of The Silver Tassie, as well as other travails of the professional writer, but where such struggles are offset by meeting his wife and starting a family.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Sunset and Evening Star. London: Macmillan, 1954.

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    The final volume of the autobiographies is set against the backdrop of the Second World War and concludes with the thought that despite the Allied victory, worse conflicts may be predicted for the future. Nevertheless, the writer reflects that he is still able to raise a toast to life, and the volume ends with a resounding cheer.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Niall: A Lament. London and New York: Calder/Riverrun, 1991.

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    Not part of the original six-volume autobiographical project. This is a traumatized private diary that O’Casey kept for four years, about the 1956 death of his son. O’Casey’s widow found the diary in 1964 after the playwright’s death, and decided to publish in 1991, although critics including Murray 2004 (cited under Biographies) have questioned that decision to publish.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Autobiographies. 3 vols. London: Faber, 2011.

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    Today, this is the only English-language edition of the autobiographies that is currently in print. This three-volume version is a repaginated version of an earlier two-volume Macmillan edition and sadly lacks the attractive frontispieces of the original publications, thus missing something of the pleasure of reading the original, standalone books.

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Letters and Manuscripts

Between 1975 and 1992, David Krause published a comprehensive set of O’Casey’s letters that had not been published before. These volumes provide a treasure trove for researchers, although may not necessarily have enhanced O’Casey’s critical reputation, as many of the letters reveal O’Casey’s quarrels. In addition, the vast majority of these letters came from outside the period of his most frequently revived plays, as only about one-twentieth of the 3,500 pages dates from before or during the premiere of the Dublin Trilogy. Since the publication of the letters there have continued to be other discoveries of notable O’Casey manuscripts. In 1999 Nicholas Grene discovered the prompt book for The Plough and the Stars, which included a number of changes by the author: the revisions are discussed in Grene 1999–2000. In 2005 the manuscript of an O’Casey play which had long been thought lost, The Cooing of Doves, reappeared at an auction and was then edited for publication by Christopher Murray.

  • Grene, Nicholas. “The Class of the Clitheroes: O’Casey’s Revisions to The Plough and the Stars Promptbook.” Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal 4.2 (1999–2000): 57–66.

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    Grene located this document in the Abbey Theatre archives, and his article shows how the Abbey management persuaded O’Casey to rewrite the play in order to delete some of the bourgeois elements of the drama.

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  • Nathan, George Jean. My Very Dear Sean: George Jean Nathan to Sean O’Casey: Letters and Articles. Edited by Robert G. Lowery and Patricia Angelin. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1985.

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    Reveals the relationship between O’Casey and one of his greatest friends and supporters in the United States, the critic George Jean Nathan.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Letters of Sean O’Casey. Vol. 1, 1910–41. Edited by David Krause. New York: Macmillan, 1975.

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    This is usually the volume of letters of most interest to scholars, containing as it does the letters that were written at around the time of the Dublin Trilogy being staged, the Plough and the Stars riots, and the 1928 quarrel with Yeats. The earliest letter dates from 1910, although there is only one letter from that year, and only two from 1911.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Letters of Sean O’Casey. Vol. 2, 1945–54. Edited by David Krause. New York: Macmillan, 1980.

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    Includes O’Casey’s correspondence from the period when he was writing works including Red Roses for Me, Oak Leaves and Lavender, and Cock-a-Doodle Dandy, a period that—despite O’Casey’s view that the latter play was his best work—is generally found less interesting by scholars of his work than that covered in volume 1.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Letters of Sean O’Casey. Vol. 3, 1955–58. Edited by David Krause. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1989.

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    Includes O’Casey’s correspondence from the time of the death of his son Niall, and from the time when the organizers of the Dublin Theatre Festival famously tried to censor some O’Casey’s The Drums of Father Ned after complaints by Archbishop John McQuaid.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Letters of Sean O’Casey. Vol. 4, 1959–64. Edited by David Krause. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 1992.

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    This volume is primarily of interest for biographical reasons, revealing O’Casey’s reactions to events such as the death of Pope John XXIII and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. O’Casey also wrote Behind the Green Curtains in this period, his last full-length play.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. “Sean O’Casey’s The Cooing of Doves: A One-Act Play Rediscovered.” Introduced and edited by Christopher Murray. Princeton University Library Chronicle 68.1–2 (2006–2007): 327–356.

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    Early one-act play, reemerged at auction in 2005. Had been the first script submitted for production at the Abbey after the production of The Shadow of a Gunman. Was rejected, but has similarities to O’Casey’s sketch Kathleen Listens In, and also to the second act of The Plough and the Stars.

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Other Writings

O’Casey was a prolific writer of essays and reviews, and this aspect of his writing life has generally been underexplored by scholars. O’Casey often writes such works as polemics and sometimes to settle old scores. For example, in O Cathasaigh 1919 (the “P” in the author’s name of this volume is a printer’s error), we find O’Casey expressing a partisan view of James Connolly, and in O’Casey 1937 we find O’Casey dealing in a similarly acerbic way with the British theater critic James Agate. O’Casey’s short stories and poetry have also received little critical commentary, and are not yet collected in one volume but across O’Casey 1934, O’Casey 1963a, O’Casey 1963b, and O’Casey 1967. Notably, a number of the short stories revolve around sexually daring subject matter. Also revealing in O’Casey 1963a is how the young O’Casey attempted to advance his writing career in a number of different literary forms before being molded into a playwright through his contact with the Abbey Theatre. Finally, the interviews printed in Mikhail and Riordan 1974 reveal something of how other acquaintances and companions remembered O’Casey’s working methods.

  • Mikhail, E. H., and John Riordan, eds. The Sting and the Twinkle: Conversations with Sean O’Casey. London: Macmillan, 1974.

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    Contains first-hand records of conversations that O’Casey had with actors, scholars, reviewers, and collaborators. The interviews date mostly from 1925 to 1964, and almost all had previously appeared elsewhere.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Windfalls: Stories, Poems and Plays. London: Macmillan, 1934.

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    In 1934, became the first of O’Casey’s works to be banned in Ireland. The sexual nature of the short stories is set alongside love poetry that O’Casey wrote for his wife and for a former Dublin girlfriend. Volume also contains two theatrical farces that were praised in the notable review of Beckett 1983 (cited under Influence).

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Flying Wasp: A Laughing Look-Over of What Has Been Said about the Things of the Theatre. London: Macmillan, 1937.

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    O’Casey published this volume of essays after having moved to London but failed to establish himself as a regular fixture on the British stage. His anger turned outwards toward the British critics, and particularly toward James Agate and the writer that Agate most admired, Noel Coward, and there is a disturbingly homophobic undertone here.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. The Green Crow. London: W. H. Allen, 1957.

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    This volume begins with an edited version of O’Casey 1937, includes a range of other occasional essays, and then reprints the four short stories that appeared in O’Casey 1934.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Feathers from the Green Crow: Sean O’Casey, 1905–1925. Edited by Robert Hogan. London: Macmillan, 1963a.

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    Reprints some of O’Casey’s earliest writings, revealing that, even before O’Casey achieved fame with the Abbey Theatre, he served a literary apprenticeship in Dublin by writing dozens of newspaper and magazine articles, songs, works of contemporary history, short stories, and theatrical sketches.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Under a Colored Cap: Articles Merry and Mournful with Comments and a Song. London: Macmillan, 1963b.

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    This nontheatrical prose volume contains fragments of autobiography as well as long essays. The most affecting piece is “Under a Greenwood Tree He Died,” a piece dating from 1957 about the death of his son, Niall.

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  • O’Casey, Sean. Blast and Benedictions: Articles and Stories. Edited by Ronald Ayling. London: Macmillan, 1967.

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    Posthumous volume of articles and reviews that had mostly already appeared in periodicals with small circulations, but none of which had previously appeared in book form. It includes “The Bald Primaqueera” of August 1964, the last essay ever penned by the writer, and also includes three short stories.

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  • O Cathasaigh, P. [Sean O’Casey]. The Story of the Irish Citizen Army. London and Dublin, Ireland: Maunsel, 1919.

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    O’Casey’s very partial history of the organization that he had helped found but had resigned from after arguing with its leaders in 1914. He is particularly critical of James Connolly’s leadership of the organization, seeing him as having sold out international socialism to narrow nationalism.

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Biographies

One of the main arguments that has affected biographical studies of O’Casey is whether or not he can actually be labeled a “working-class” writer. O’Casey himself wrote a series of autobiographical volumes which are quite openly mythical and allegorical, but in which he presented himself as an uncomplicated slum dramatist. A group of O’Casey scholars in the 1950s and 1960s (including David Krause, Robert Hogan, and Ronald Ayling) became powerful advocates for the dramatist, but this sometimes their support involved an uncritical view of the author’s autobiographical pronouncements. Most notably Krause 1960 asserts that O’Casey’s autobiographical statements are factually true. But this approach became increasingly untenable when Butler 1966 and Margulies 1970 revealed the young O’Casey as a boy whose father earned roughly twice what the Dublin manual laborer could expect to earn. By the time of O’Connor 1988, O’Casey could therefore be presented as a dramatist who had a “contempt for factual truth” (p. 5). Nonetheless, Murray 2004 comes to a more nuanced view: yes, O’Casey was embellishing the reality when he wrote his autobiographies, but then he never pretended that he was doing anything else. And O’Casey may not have been one of Dublin’s very poorest children, but he did know the poor districts well and experienced a chronically insecure childhood. Murray’s biography, relying as it does on an unrivalled array of archival and personal sources—but without much of the partisan score-settling that mars some earlier studies—is the definitive biographical work and is now essential reading for any serious study of O’Casey.

  • Butler, Anthony. “The Makings of the Man.” In The World of Sean O’Casey. Edited by Sean McCann, 12–29. London: Four Square, 1966.

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    Butler, a Dubliner, knew O’Casey’s city well and felt that foreign scholars had been misled. Butler found that O’Casey’s family lived respectably, and even O’Casey’s time at tenement-like lodgings in Mountjoy Square had been spent in an area housing doctors and solicitors.

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  • Cowasjee, Saros. Sean O’Casey: The Man behind the Plays. Edinburgh and London: Oliver & Boyd, 1963.

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    Cowasjee spoke to many of O’Casey’s former Dublin acquaintances, arguing that O’Casey’s dramas were based on real Dubliners. O’Casey felt appalled by unreliable and uncomplimentary nature of this oral testimony (see O’Casey 1992, cited under Letters and Manuscripts, p. 480), and Murray 2004 argues the volume makes O’Casey’s plays look unworthy of formalist analysis by overly emphasizing their biographical basis.

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  • Fallon, Gabriel. Sean O’Casey: The Man I Knew. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965.

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    Fallon was O’Casey’s friend and acted in the first Abbey productions of the Dublin Trilogy. However, the men had a serious quarrel in the 1940s when Fallon, now a Catholic theater critic, objected to O’Casey’s outlook. The book details Fallon’s view of the relationship, concluding that O’Casey was “a warm and lovable human being” (p. 213).

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  • Krause, David. Sean O’Casey: The Man and His Work. London: Macgibbon & Kee, 1960.

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    Long viewed as a definitive volume by a writer who knew O’Casey well. The book owes much to the insights provided by the O’Casey household, but struggles to find an appropriate critical distance from the playwright, seeking to confirm the more improbable details of the autobiographies. Reissued in 1975, with a new final chapter.

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  • Margulies, Martin. The Early Life of Sean O’Casey. Dublin, Ireland: Dolmen, 1970.

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    This short book had a profound critical effect. Reveals that O’Casey, the self-declared slum dramatist, had a father earning wages of twice the Dublin manual laborer, and that O’Casey’s school records show the author had a rather good history of passing exams and receiving academic prizes from the age of seven.

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  • Murray, Christopher. Sean O’Casey: Writer at Work. Dublin, Ireland: Gill & Macmillan, 2004.

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    This meticulously researched biography of O’Casey places the playwright within a set of wider contexts, particularly those relating to London and Devon as well as Dublin, and includes unfamiliar material from a range of international libraries. Murray is a sympathetic and intelligent reader of the subject’s life.

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  • O’Connor, Garry. Sean O’Casey: A Life. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1988.

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    A popular biography written with great style, although as a factual source it has been superseded by Murray 2004. O’Connor criticizes O’Casey’s confabulation, saying the “truths in his autobiographies belong more to the ear and the heart than to history” (p. 5), yet paradoxically relies upon O’Casey’s autobiographies for information about the writer’s life.

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Bibliographies and Reference Guides

O’Casey’s international appeal can be gauged by the fact that the first bibliographies of his work were compiled in the 1950s and 1960s by non-Anglophone critics including the German Otto Brandstädter and the Russians I. M. Levidova and B. M. Parchevskaya. The first English-language bibliography appeared in the journal Modern Drama in 1967, but this was soon superseded when E. H. Mikhail published his first bibliography of criticism in 1972, which was accurate up to 1970. Mikhail 1985 is the revised version, which expands the volume from 2,500 to 4,500 entries, and includes intelligent annotations that still provide helpful guidance for critics. After this, Mikhail planned to update his bibliography by including a yearly bibliography in the Macmillan journal O’Casey Annual. However, this project ended when that journal ceased publication in 1985. Most scholars would be advised to head instead to Schrank 1996. In addition, those who are interested in navigating—or finding a particular reference within—the mammoth six-volume edition of O’Casey’s autobiography will find that Lowery 1983 provides useful orientation.

  • Ayling, Ronald, and Michael Durkan. Sean O’Casey: A Bibliography. London: Macmillan, 1978.

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    Details books, pamphlets, and broadsides entirely by O’Casey; his contributions to other books and pamphlets; and his contributions to periodicals. Also includes other versions of his work including translations, stage premieres and notable revivals, adaptations, recordings, radio and television broadcasts, and motion pictures.

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  • Lowery, Robert. Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies: An Annotated Index. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.

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    Extremely helpful for locating a particular reference within O’Casey’s (hitherto-unindexed) six-volume set of autobiographies. Includes alphabetized references to historical persons, events, geographical places, literary works, and some recurring thematic concepts. Appendices also detail the autobiographies’ use of tunes and songs, quotations from other sources, and O’Casey’s other writings.

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  • Mikhail, E. H. “Sean O’Casey: An Annual Bibliography.” In O’Casey Annual. 4 vols. Edited by Robert Lowery. London: Macmillan, 1982–1985.

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    These four annual bibliographies are mainly now of historical interest: they mainly feature items from the year before publication and hence show how the centenary celebrations of O’Casey’s birth in 1980 triggered a set of new inquiries into O’Casey and his work.

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  • Mikhail, E. H. Sean O’Casey and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow, 1985.

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    Includes details of earlier bibliographies, works by O’Casey and their reviews, and criticism of O’Casey. The latter section divides into reference works, books wholly devoted to O’Casey, books partly devoted to O’Casey, periodical articles, reviews of productions, reviews of staged autobiographies, reviews of films, dissertations, manuscripts, and recordings. See original version: E. H. Mikhail, Sean O’Casey, A Bibliography of Criticism (London: Macmillan, 1972).

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  • Schrank, Bernice. Sean O’Casey: A Research and Production Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1996.

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    This extremely useful resource includes a chronology of O’Casey’s life, plot summaries and critical overviews of the plays, and an annotated bibliography of sources sorted by decade. It covers resources up to 1993.

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Databases

In 2001, Sean O’Casey’s papers were acquired by the National Library of Ireland and have since been comprehensively catalogued (Collection List No. 75: Sean O’Casey Papers). In 2006, the NLI also acquired the papers of Eileen O’Casey, whose valuable archive has also been fully catalogued (Collection List No. 137: Eileen O’Casey Papers). The online manuscript-collection-lists provide details about those two collections in full. Furthermore, the New York Public Library also holds an extensive collection of Sean O’Casey’s papers (Sean O’Casey collection of papers, 1904–1964), and the manuscript collection list cited in this section gives a very clear guide. There are also some increasingly sophisticated online tools for analyzing productions of O’Casey. The online archive of the Abbey Theatre provides key details about every Abbey production of O’Casey’s plays (including tours and revivals). In addition, the Abbey Theatre is currently working with NUI Galway in order to digitize its entire archive of 1.8 million items (including programs, stage designs, prompt books, and many other items). This digitization project is ongoing—and is scheduled for completion by 2017—but visitors to the NUI Galway campus are able to search through what has already been digitized. Furthermore, the PlayographyIreland website (PlayographyIreland) comprises a comprehensive online searchable database of all new professionally produced Irish plays written in English since 1904. However, the official O’Casey website (Sean O’Casey: Playwright, Author, Poet), although it does contain some interesting features such as photographs of the Berliner Ensemble’s 1966 version of Purple Dust, has remained a work-in-progress for a number of years and does not appear to be updated very regularly.

Journals

There have been two academic journals solely dedicated to O’Casey, both edited by the US-based critic Robert Lowery, but both now defunct. Lowery established the Sean O’Casey Review at Hofstra University and ran the publication from 1974 to 1981. This publication often included interesting articles but could be excessively defensive about O’Casey’s reputation and status, and the journal has a somewhat adulatory tone when describing his work and personality. By 1980, Macmillan had decided to publish a set of literary annuals, one on Yeats and one on O’Casey. Lowery’s Sean O’Casey Review at Hofstra came to an end, and instead he moved to editorship of Macmillan’s better-produced O’Casey Annual. But although Macmillan’s sister journal, the Yeats Annual, survives to this day as the leading journal of Yeats criticism, the O’Casey Annual appeared only four times between 1982 and 1985. Articles on O’Casey have nonetheless appeared in numerous other journals, including Modern Drama, New Theatre Quarterly, Irish Studies Review, and a special issue of Irish University Review dedicated to O’Casey in (Murray 1980).

Abbey Theatre

The Abbey Theatre played a crucial yet complicated part in the development of O’Casey’s career. O’Casey first submitted a script here on 2 March 1916, and it was rejected four days later. There followed another four rejected submissions before the theater accepted his sixth script (initially entitled “On the Run”) and produced it as The Shadow of a Gunman on 12 April 1923. The theater enjoyed popular and critical acclaim with this and the following two plays in the Dublin Trilogy. Robinson 1951 describes the first two plays in the sequence as saving the Abbey Theatre “from bankruptcy” (p. 121), while in Gregory 1978–1987 we find how Abbey managerial decisions about O’Casey were interlinked with economic concerns (there is a particularly fascinating example at p. 256). The recent work of Arrington 2010 outlines the specifics of these economic factors. However, although the Abbey fostered his talents, W. B. Yeats led his fellow directors in rejecting O’Casey’s work The Silver Tassie in 1928 in a way that had a major impact both upon O’Casey’s career and upon the Abbey Theatre’s own history. Critics have expressive sharply differing verdicts on that rejection, depending largely upon their view of the play. For Benstock 1970 (cited under Post-Abbey Drama), the “rejection of the play remains an almost inexplicable act of absurdity” (p. 13). But Foster 2003 emphasizes the debt that O’Casey owed to the Abbey, and the fact that—compared to some supporters—Yeats’s view of the play “was based on a more reasoned perception of the play’s weaknesses” (p. 371).

  • Arrington, Lauren. W. B. Yeats, the Abbey Theatre, Censorship, and the Irish State: Adding the Half-Pence to the Pence. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

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    Clever discussion of O’Casey’s work at the Abbey, focusing on the playhouse’s subsidy and public role. Argues that riotous Abbey debates over O’Casey in the 1920s are a “reincarnation of debates” (p. 3) about authority and the responsibility of representation that had been seen at the playhouse since 1899.

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  • Foster, R. F. W. B. Yeats: A Life. Vol. 2, The Arch-Poet, 1915–1939. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

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    In this definitive biography of W. B. Yeats, Foster explores Yeats’s reactions to, and perceptions of, O’Casey. Foster writes with particular insight about the reasons why Yeats rejected The Silver Tassie in 1928 and outlines how Yeats steered the managerial decision in this matter. See particularly pp. 365–372.

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  • Gregory, Lady Augusta. Lady Gregory’s Journals. 2 vols. Edited by Daniel J. Murphy. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1978–1987.

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    Posthumously published journals beginning in 1916 and ending in 1932. They record—among other things—Lady Gregory’s interactions with O’Casey (often “Casey” here). There are revealing details about how O’Casey received help from this manager of the Abbey Theatre, but also how O’Casey revived the fortunes of this financially struggling institution.

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  • Holloway, Joseph. Joseph Holloway’s Abbey Theatre: A Selection from His Unpublished Journal, Impressions of a Dublin Playgoer. Edited by Robert Hogan and Michael J. O’Neill. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967.

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    Edited version of a longer diary kept at the National Library of Ireland. The published version includes Holloway’s thoughts on Abbey productions of O’Casey’s work in the 1920s, as well as reports of conversations that Holloway shared with the playwright.

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  • Kavanagh, Peter. The Story of the Abbey Theatre: From Its Origins in 1899 to the Present. New York: Devin-Adair, 1950.

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    Contains a flattering appraisal of O’Casey as “the first and only great playwright who wrote for the Abbey Theatre about the real Ireland” (p. 129). O’Casey read and annotated a copy of this volume himself (see Moran 2013, cited under General Overviews, p. 173).

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  • Mannion, Elizabeth. The Urban Plays of the Early Abbey Theatre: Beyond O’Casey. Syracuse, New York: Syracuse University Press, 2014.

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    Argues against the popular perception that, apart from O’Casey, the early Abbey Theatre was a venue dominated by peasant plays. Mannion’s careful attention to the archive reveals a large number of urban plays, some of which (such as A. Patrick Wilson’s 1914 play The Slough) may have influenced O’Casey.

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  • Pilkington, Lionel. Theatre and the State in Twentieth-Century Ireland: Cultivating the People. London: Routledge, 2001.

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    Brilliantly argues that Abbey productions of O’Casey were connected with the playhouse’s broader political imperatives. Suggests that the discrediting of political militancy in O’Casey’s first two plays may have prompted the government to award the theater a state subsidy in 1925.

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  • Robinson, Lennox. Ireland’s Abbey Theatre: A History, 1899–1951. London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1951.

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    Written by one of the managers of the Abbey Theatre. Acknowledges O’Casey’s centrality to the playhouse in the 1920s, but also reveals a competitive atmosphere. Robinson, an Abbey playwright, asserts “it must not be thought that the Theatre depended on these new playwrights [i.e. O’Casey]. . . My The Round Table appeared in January 1922” (p. 121).

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  • Welch, Robert. The Abbey Theatre: Form and Pressure. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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    Shows how O’Casey’s dramas emerged in the context of the longer-term development of the Abbey Theatre. He points to the way that O’Casey’s methods “were closest to those of Synge” (p. 87) and describes how the early works included characters who had been created with the distinctive talents of the Abbey acting company in mind.

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The Plough Riots

On 11 February 1926, the audience at the Abbey Theatre rioted in response to the opening week of O’Casey’s new play The Plough and the Stars. The objections revolved around the fact that the production was staged at almost exactly the tenth anniversary of the Easter Rising, the foundation event of the Irish state, and took a cynical view of the nationalists who fought in the uprising. The evening was interrupted by a group of female relatives of the dead men, and helped convince O’Casey to move from living in Ireland to England. The intersection of politics and performance has, nonetheless, meant that the event is—along with the 1907 riots over Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World—remembered as a defining moment in Irish cultural history.

  • Blackadder, Neil. Performing Opposition: Modern Theater and the Scandalized Audience. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2003.

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    Rather than simply considering the riots of The Plough and the Stars as a narrowly national event, Blackadder situates them in a more international theatrical context, pointing to the affinity with events such as the disturbances over Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Hauptmann’s Before Sunrise.

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  • Hogan, Robert, and Richard Burnham. The Modern Irish Drama. Vol. 6, The Years of O’Casey, 1921–1926: A Documentary History. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1992.

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    Documents the rise of drama in Ireland in 1921–1926 by editing together a range of primary sources. There is a particularly rich section on the staging and reception of The Plough and the Stars.

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  • Kiberd, Declan. Inventing Ireland. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995.

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    This groundbreaking volume describes Easter 1916 according to a framework taken from postcolonial theory. O’Casey is described in the chapter “The Plebeians Revise the Uprising,” where Kiberd sets out (following Deane 1985, cited under the “Troubles” and O’Casey’s Reputation since 1968) the reasons why, according to that framework, O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars had the potential to offend.

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  • Lowery, Robert, ed. A Whirlwind in Dublin: The Plough and the Stars Riots. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1986.

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    An edited collection of some of the key views expressed about O’Casey’s most controversial play in 1925–1926: includes extracts from writings by O’Casey himself, supporters such as Lady Gregory, and critics such as Hannah Sheehy-Skeffington. Also a number of key newspaper reviews are included.

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  • Moran, James. Staging the Easter Rising: 1916 as Theatre. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 2005.

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    Describes O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars by comparison with other post-1916 dramatic events, most notably Yeats’s The Dreaming of the Bones, Shaw’s Saint Joan, and public commemorations organized by the Irish government.

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  • Morash, Christopher. A History of Irish Theatre, 1601–2000. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

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    In this magisterial history of the Irish stage, Morash devotes pp. 163–171 (“A Night at the Theatre 5”) to describing and explaining the riotous reaction to O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre on Thursday, 11 February 1926. The account here is highly recommended for students.

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  • Murray, Christopher. Twentieth-Century Irish Drama: Mirror up to Nation. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1997.

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    Includes a chapter on O’Casey, pointing to his “search for a hero” and taking as its starting point the Speaker in The Plough and the Stars, who delivers the words of 1916 leader Patrick Pearse. Murray’s decision here to discuss the Dublin plays in the order of their historical content also gives precedence to The Plough and the Stars. See pp. 88–112.

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  • Wills, Clair. Dublin 1916: The Siege of the GPO. London: Profile, 2009.

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    In a compellingly written study of the Easter Rising, Wills considers the first week of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars and draws attention to the planned nature of the interruption (pp. 146–151).

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Post-Abbey Drama

There are two debates that motivate academic discussion of this part of O’Casey’s work. The first is whether, from 1928, the plays that he staged and wrote are inferior to those that he wrote in the earlier part of his career, when he was generally perceived to be a more naturalistic playwright. This debate is well captured in Ayling 1969: here G. Wilson Knight argues that “we are aware of a certain weakening” (p. 175), but Robert Hogan makes “the contrary assertion that most of O’Casey’s late work is eminently, dazzlingly good” (pp. 162–163). The second debate about O’Casey’s drama from 1928 is how to periodize it: that is, whether it should be viewed as a continuation of a pre-1928 project in which O’Casey was never writing in a straightforwardly naturalist style, or whether O’Casey’s post–Abbey Theatre work should be seen as a new departure. Denis Johnston’s essay “Sean O’Casey: An Appreciation” in Ayling 1969 was an early and insightful piece that pointed to the continuities across O’Casey’s work, whereas Harris 2006–2007 presents a clever argument for why 1928 does mark a watershed in O’Casey’s formal style. Some writers such as the author of Smith 1978 have suggested a different sort of periodization that avoids seeing 1928 as the most significant date in O’Casey’s career.

  • Ayling, Ronald, ed. Sean O’Casey: Modern Judgements. London: Macmillan, 1969.

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    Includes diverse critical judgments about O’Casey’s work, largely focusing on his plays (nineteen chapters on his drama, compared with only three on the autobiographies). Features significant essays by figures including Worth and Johnston that debate the symbolic element of O’Casey’s work.

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  • Benstock, Bernard. Sean O’Casey. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 1970.

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    Includes an introduction that explains the centrality of the 1928 rejection of The Silver Tassie to O’Casey’s career. Then attempts to show—in an under-theorized way—that O’Casey personal characteristics can be found in those of his literary creations.

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  • Harris, Susan Cannon. “Red Star versus Green Goddess.” Princeton University Library Chronicle 68.1/2 (2006–2007): 357–398.

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    Highly intelligent recontextualizing of O’Casey’s The Star Turns Red, arguing that Act One of this play establishes a symbolic framework through which subsequent moments of stage realism are viewed as corrupting.

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  • Kleiman, Carol. Sean O’Casey’s Bridge of Vision: Four Essays on Structure and Perspective. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982.

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    Argues that simply to label late O’Casey as an “expressionist” is unsatisfactory and argues instead that O’Casey needs to be viewed as providing a bridge between expressionism and absurdism.

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  • Kosok, Heinz. O’Casey the Dramatist. Translated by Heinz Kosok and Joseph T. Swann. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1985.

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    This volume works to separate some of the realist, experimentalist, nationalist, and ideological elements of O’Casey’s work. Perhaps most interesting, however, is the final chapter, “Influences and Reactions,” which describes O’Casey’s influence on a range of playwrights including Arnold Wesker, Arthur Adamov, and Clifford Odets.

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  • O’Faolain, Seán. “The Strange Case of Sean O’Casey.” The Bell 6.2 (1943): 112–121.

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    O’Faolain’s article—now difficult to obtain—reaches a severe judgment on the later O’Casey, arguing that the playwright lost the source of his inspiration when he left Dublin, and that as a result, the characters are “literary” (p. 118) rather than “men and women moving and speaking in their ordinary clothes” (p. 121).

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  • Rollins, Ronald Gene. Sean O’Casey’s Drama: Verisimilitude and Vision. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1979.

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    Articulates the view that O’Casey used cinematic techniques in the early dramas, but that this was superseded by an increasingly use of surreal, symbolic, and ritualistic elements from The Silver Tassie onwards.

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  • Smith, B. L. O’Casey’s Satiric Vision. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1978.

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    Argues that O’Casey’s use of satire gives a continuity and unity to the works from the earlier and later stages of his career. Makes the distinctive case for re-periodizing O’Casey, claiming that his mid-career is dominated by “Colored Plays” (plays with colors in the titles) that almost all deal with war.

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Plays in Production

A number of critics have taken their starting point for the examination of O’Casey as being the performance texts rather than the written texts. Such an approach draws attention to the problems of animating the scripts of a writer who disliked the idea of directors behaving too freely with the dramatist’s words. Foregrounding the performances also tends to focus on the cultural significance of particular stagings of the drama: the excellent study Lonergan 2009 typifies the “spatial turn” in theater studies, but earlier works such as Canaris 1979 and Atkinson 1982 also point to the way that O’Casey’s drama generated new resonances when mounted in particular locations.

  • Atkinson, Brooks. Sean O’Casey, from Times Past. Edited by Robert Lowery. London: Macmillan, 1982.

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    Here Lowery compiles the numerous essays written about O’Casey by the leading New York Times theater critic, Brooks Atkinson. Atkinson was a particularly strong supporter of O’Casey’s work in the United States, and the collection reveals his advocacy of both the earlier and later works.

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  • Canaris, Volker. Peter Zadek: Der Theatermann und Filmemacher. Munich: Hanser, 1979.

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    This book, about one of Germany’s leading theater directors, discusses his advocacy of O’Casey’s work in the country, with particularly interesting discussion of Zadek’s controversial 1967 production of The Silver Tassie.

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  • Jones, Nesta, ed. File on O’Casey. London: Methuen, 1984.

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    This short book details the premieres of O’Casey’s plays as well as a number of revivals, including international revivals. Also includes extracts from reviews, arranged by play rather than by chronological order.

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  • Lonergan, Patrick. Theatre and Globalization: Irish Drama in the Celtic Tiger Era. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave, 2009.

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    In this groundbreaking account of Irish theater, Lonergan contrasts three Abbey Theatre productions of O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars (those of 1926, 1991, and 2002) in order to make the case that these productions cannot simply be understood as national events, but as expressive of shifting global networks of cultural and economic influence.

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  • Reynolds, Paige. Modernism, Drama and the Audience for Irish Spectacle. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

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    In a short but insightful chapter about the first Abbey performances of The Plough and the Stars, Reynolds argues that the primary optic for viewing this riotous production should not be that of Abbey Theatre history, but that of the large-scale public spectacle.

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  • Stapelberg, Peter. Sean O’Casey und das Deutschsprachige Theater (1948–1974). Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1979.

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    Contains a very full list of German-language productions of O’Casey, showing how O’Casey’s work has consistently proven popular in Germany, where experimental features of his drama have been more widely accepted than in the English-speaking theater.

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  • Stewart, Victoria. About O’Casey: The Playwright and the Work. London: Faber, 2003.

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    This books seeks to think about how performers “realize in performance the words on the page” (p. vii): roughly half the book is taken up with interviews that O’Casey gave to various figures, reprinted from various sources. The remainder is filled with Stewart’s own interviews with a range of practitioners about their relationship with O’Casey’s plays.

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Autobiographies in Commentary and Adaptation

The autobiographies have generally received less critical attention than the plays, although they have been the subject of monographs including Harris 2004 and Kenneally 1988, as well as the edited collection Lowery 1981. The autobiographies have also been repeatedly adapted into dramatic form, two of the most notable adaptations being Ford and Cardiff 1965 and Shyre 1956.

  • Ford, John, and Jack Cardiff, dirs. Young Cassidy. Hollywood, CA: MGM, 1965.

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    This Hollywood version gives a rather simplified version of the autobiographies. Left-wing politics are expunged, and the movie was advertised with the tagline: “Bellowing, Brawling, Womanizing Your Way! He’s in action morning, noon and night—after every woman and wonder in sight!”

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  • Harris, Peter. Sean O’Casey’s Letters and Autobiographies: Reflections of a Radical Ambivalence. Trier, Germany: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 2004.

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    This revised version of the author’s doctoral thesis mines the early parts of the autobiographies in order to show how O’Casey’s early playwriting was influenced by literary figures including Boucicault, Shakespeare, and Shaw.

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  • Kenneally, Michael. Portraying the Self: Sean O’Casey & the Art of Autobiography. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1988.

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    Intelligent study acknowledges that the O’Casey’s autobiographical project comprises an “inordinately long and occasionally uneven work” (p. ix) but finds an overall coherence and literary skill in the six volumes. Does not argue for the factual accuracy of the autobiographies, but draws attention to narrative strategies and principles of selection.

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  • Lowery, Robert G., ed. Essays on Sean O’Casey’s Autobiographies. London: Macmillan, 1981.

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    Contains Raymond Porter’s fine chapter on O’Casey and Patrick Pearse, showing how the autobiographies contradict the view O’Casey gives of Pearse in The Plough and the Stars. The general introduction to the volume, however, strikes a rather cheerleading tone.

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  • Moran, James. “Moving Pictures in the Hallway: Dramatising the Autobiographies of Sean O’Casey.” Irish Studies Review 20.4 (2012): 389–405.

    DOI: 10.1080/09670882.2012.731266Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Uses autobiographical theory to analyze the concept of truth within the autobiographies, and then looks at the way that the volumes might be particularly well-suited to stage adaptation.

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  • Prince, Harold. Grandchild of Kings. London and Toronto: Samuel French, 1993.

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    An off-Broadway adaptation of the autobiographies, emphasizing O’Casey’s struggles with poverty rather than his attraction to Larkinism or communism, with the Dubliner ending the play as a go-ahead, self-made man, vowing “to start now doing things for himself” (p. 119).

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  • Shyre, Paul. Pictures in the Hallway. New York: Samuel French, 1956.

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    Accomplished adaptation of the autobiographical volume, was repeatedly staged in New York between 1956 and the early 1970s. Shyre also published theatrical versions of I Knock at the Door in 1958 and Drums under the Windows in 1962.

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The “Troubles” and O’Casey’s Reputation since 1968

From the late 1960s, the situation in the North of Ireland provoked a new set of criticisms about the politics of O’Casey’s work, focusing particularly on the Dublin Trilogy. For many in Southern Ireland who felt appalled by the modern IRA’s activities at this time, the earlier revolution suddenly appeared a less glorious and more complicated business, with O’Casey’s cynicism about violent nationalism acquiring a fresh relevance. Krause 1976 articulates this viewpoint. However, a number of critics questioned the tendency to graft O’Casey’s historical trilogy onto the contemporary crisis in the North of Ireland. Such commentators took inspiration from Williams 1968, which attacks the ethics of O’Casey’s first two Dublin plays, expressing a Marxian suspicion about the form in which O’Casey had chosen to write. Williams’s argument was then taken up and expressed most brilliantly by Deane 1973 and Deane 1985. Deane’s critique of O’Casey has become pivotal to Irish studies, with some of the best subsequent criticism of O’Casey—including Kiberd 1995 (cited under the Plough Riots), Grene 1999, McDonald 2002, and Cleary 2007—taking a cue from Deane.

  • Cleary, Joe. Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland. Dublin, Ireland: Field Day, 2007.

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    This sophisticated analysis of two centuries of Irish cultural history endorses the view of Deane 1985, but also engages with McDonald 2002 in order to argue that, although McDonald may be proposing “a more interestingly self-contradictory O’Casey”; O’Casey’s trilogy “still has no intention whatsoever of seriously addressing the issues involved” (p. 143).

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  • Deane, Seamus. “Irish Politics and O’Casey’s Theatre.” Threshold 24 (1973): 5–16.

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    In this compelling article, Deane expresses dismay at those who found specious parallels between the situation in the North in the early 1970s and O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy (Deane also shows knowledge of the later O’Casey). This compelling article is now difficult to obtain, but the revised edition in Deane 1985 is widely available.

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  • Deane, Seamus. “O’Casey and Yeats: Exemplary Dramatists.” In Celtic Revivals: Essays in Modern Irish Literature, 1880–1980. By Seamus Deane, 108–122. London: Faber, 1985.

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    This is the better-known version of Deane 1973. But readers should note that it is a revised version of Deane 1973, not a reprint. For instance, Deane deletes here his provocative phrase “O’Casey can’t have his political cake and eat it too; or if he does, it should, on his judgement of it, poison him” (Deane 1973, p. 6).

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  • Greaves, C. Desmond. Sean O’Casey: Politics and Art. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1979.

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    The chapter “And Now Which Way?” reveals how O’Casey’s political affiliations remained in flux after the Rising. Greaves seeks to challenge the “gross oversimplification” (p. 9) of O’Casey’s position with regard to nationalist and socialist and class identity (the simplification that Greaves finds in work such as Krause 1976).

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  • Grene, Nicholas. The Politics of Irish Drama: Plays in Context from Boucicault to Friel. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

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    Argues that the concern of O’Casey’s Dublin work “is not, as Deane 1985 maintains, a matter of promoting a sentimental humanity represented by women and the family over against a stigmatised but unexamined politics of the men” (p. 148). Examines O’Casey’s women, and questions whether they really provide an endorsement of stable home life and of family values.

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  • Krause, David. “Some Truths and Jokes about the Easter Rising.” Sean O’Casey Review 3.1 (1976): 3–23.

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    Sees a renewed relevance in O’Casey’s work, and praises O’Casey’s “intention to nauseate the die-hard nationalists” (p. 5). This is precisely the kind of critique that is antithetical to Deane 1985.

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  • McDonald, Ronan. Tragedy and Irish Literature: Synge, O’Casey, Beckett. Houndmills, UK: Palgrave, 2002.

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    Takes issue with Deane 1985 because McDonald finds something profoundly pessimistic in the Dublin Trilogy and The Silver Tassie. McDonald takes his cue from Beckett 1983 (cited under Influence) to argue that O’Casey isn’t simply refusing an ideology but is profoundly alienated from social circumstances.

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  • Williams, Raymond. Drama from Ibsen to Brecht. London: Chatto & Windus, 1968.

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    Argues that the Dublin Trilogy is written in a naturalistic mode that foregrounds domestic action, and that, while this kind of drama can therefore express the comforts of home life perfectly well, such plays cannot offer a fair critique of the broader political situation in which that home life is located.

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Family

In the years since Sean O’Casey’s death, his family has created a number of resources that are of value to scholars. Eileen O’Casey, the writer’s widow, wrote three separate volumes about her husband; Breon O’Casey, the writer’s son, wrote about his father in O’Casey 1976; and Shivaun O’Casey, the writer’s daughter, created an award-winning television documentary about her father in O’Casey 2005. Shivaun O’Casey has also devoted a great deal of work to promoting her father’s work in other ways: for example, she directed an Abbey Theatre version of his play Purple Dust in 1989; and, with actor Niall Buggy, staged a version of O’Casey’s autobiographical writings in 1997. Morrissy 2013 provides a lively fictional reimagining of the life of O’Casey’s older sister Bella, trying to solve the question of why O’Casey’s own autobiographies kill off his sister a decade before her time (academic readers should note, of course, that in his autobiographies O’Casey fictionalizes and distorts many details, and so the chronological change to Bella’s death in the autobiographies should be seen in that generally confabulatory context).

  • Morrissy, Mary. The Rising of Bella Casey. Dublin, Ireland: Brandon, 2013.

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    A vivid fictional recreation of the life of O’Casey’s older sister, who played a central part in his educational formation. Scholarly readers should be aware that the central character of Reverend Leeper (who rapes Bella in the novel) is a fictional creation, and that even a very determined woman would struggle to push a piano through a war zone.

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  • O’Casey, Breon. “Sean O’Casey: A Portrait.” Sean O’Casey Review 3.1 (Fall 1976): 53–57.

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    O’Casey’s son did not give as many public statements about his father as either his sister or his mother, but here he does describe his father’s work, albeit briefly.

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  • O’Casey, Eileen. Sean. London: Macmillan, 1971.

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    For readers who are only interested in O’Casey’s famous Dublin Trilogy, the memoir of O’Casey’s wife Eileen may be a disappointment, because she only met O’Casey in 1927, after all three plays had been written and premiered. Nonetheless, she knew O’Casey for almost four decades afterwards, and details here an adulterous affair, unwanted pregnancy, and abortion (p. 110).

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  • O’Casey, Eileen. Eileen. London: Macmillan, 1976.

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    A somewhat repetitive follow-up to O’Casey 1971. Still, she does provide many fascinating personal details about her husband and his process of composition, and the tone of the writing contrasts with the frequent bombast of Sean O’Casey’s own autobiographies.

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  • O’Casey, Eileen. Cheerio Titan: The Friendship between George Bernard Shaw and Eileen and Sean O’Casey. London: Papermac, 1991.

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    Murray 2004 (cited under Biographies) points out that some historical detail here appears to have been “elaborated” (p. 513). Harold Macmillan’s biographer doubts the veracity of Eileen’s claim, first made in The Sunday Times of 1973, that she conducted an affair with the prime minister: see D. R. Thorpe, Supermac: The Life of Harold Macmillan (London: Pimlico, 2011, p. 101).

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  • O’Casey, Shivaun, dir. Sean O’Casey: Under a Coloured Cap. RTÉ, Ireland, 4 January 2005.

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    This documentary about O’Casey contains some fascinating archive footage as well as insights by his daughter (along with briefer comments by his son Breon). It was recommended for prizes at the FOCAL awards and Foyle Film Festival. Shivaun O’Casey’s ideas about her father’s work can also be found in the interview printed as part of Stewart 2003, cited under Plays in Production, pp. 128–138. Rebroadcasted on BBC2 on 6 March 2005.

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  • O’Casey, Shivaun (interviewee). Arts Tonight: “Green Crow and Silver Tassie: Sean O’Casey Remembered.” RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland, 21 April 2014.

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    Shivaun O’Casey gives a twenty-minute extended interview about her father’s work and about the forthcoming production of The Silver Tassie at the Royal National Theatre, before the program discusses John Kavanagh’s musical tribute to O’Casey, the 1980 LP “The Green Crow Caws.”

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  • O’Sullivan, Jack. A Celtic Artist: Breon O’Casey. Aldershot, UK: Lund Humphries, 2003.

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    Describes Breon O’Casey’s own career, as an artist in his own right, who made abstract paintings, sculpture, and prints.

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Influence

O’Casey’s playwriting has provided a creative spur for a number of subsequent creative artists, who have wanted to update, relocate, or contest O’Casey’s key themes and ideas. Those who have written in response to O’Casey include some of the key names of the Irish theatrical canon, including Beckett 1983, Behan 1987, and Tóibín 2004. But the plays have also provided a broader theatrical inspiration, as indicated by the British Sikh response of Bhatti 2004 and the Korean response of Yoo 2005. Turnage and Holden 2002 has helped to revive the broader reputation of O’Casey’s play The Silver Tassie: Turnage’s operatic interpretation gives a greater sense of coherence and unity to the play than had been seen in earlier versions of the script, and after Turnage’s adaptation had been staged in Britain and Ireland, O’Casey’s original play was given major revivals by Druid in 2010–2011 and the Royal National Theatre in 2014.

  • Beckett, Samuel. “The Essential and the Incidental.” In Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writing and a Dramatic Fragment. Edited by Samuel Beckett and Ruby Cohn, 82–83. London: Calder, 1983.

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    This was Beckett’s review of Windfalls (O’Casey 1934, cited under Other Writings). Here Beckett praises the two dramatic farces that O’Casey printed in Windfalls, and the critique raises a provocative question about how far O’Casey’s style of humor can be seen in Beckett’s later theatrical work.

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  • Behan, Brendan. “An Giall.” In An Giall and the Hostage. Edited by Brendan Behan. Translated by Richard Wall. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1987.

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    Behan actually died before O’Casey but here shows himself influenced by the older man. This Irish-language play reprises some of the ideas of The Plough and the Stars, being set in a Dublin tenement, and with Monsúr’s risible ideas about sacrifice and martyrdom offering an updating of O’Casey’s view of Patrick Pearse.

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  • Bhatti, Gurpreet. Behzti. London: Oberon, 2004.

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    Bhatti acknowledged in an article in the Guardian (24 May 2014) that O’Casey had been a formative influence upon her playwriting. The link is a particularly suggestive one in the context of this play, which provoked the Sikh community in a way that led to riots at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.

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  • Croghan, Declan. Paddy Irishman, Paddy Englishman, and Paddy. . .? London: Faber, 1999.

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    Retells the story of The Shadow of a Gunman, but updates the setting to London in the 1990s, with disaffected anti-ceasefire republicans taking the place of those fighting the Anglo-Irish War in O’Casey’s play.

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  • Johnston, Denis. The Scythe and the Sunset. In The Dramatic Works of Denis Johnston. Vol. 1. By Denis Johnston, 83–166. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 1977.

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    As the title suggests, Johnston—who knew O’Casey personally—took inspiration from The Plough and the Stars. Johnston’s drama is also set in Dublin during April 1916 and counterpoints the reading of the proclamation of the Irish republic with the expression of sexual desire.

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  • Tóibín, Colm. Beauty in a Broken Place. Dublin, Ireland: Lilliput, 2004.

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    Play staged at the Abbey Theatre as part of its troubled centenary celebrations in 2004, depicting the backstage struggles over O’Casey’s 1926 drama The Plough and the Stars.

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  • Turnage, Mark-Anthony, and Amanda Holden. The Silver Tassie: Tragi-Comic Opera in Four Acts. London: Schott, 2002.

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    Turnage decided to create this operatic version of O’Casey’s play after seeing the Abbey Theatre’s 1990 production, which strikingly included music throughout the second act. This opera has been well received in performance and has in fact helped to trigger a renewed interest in O’Casey’s original play.

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  • Yoo, Ch’i-jin. Three Plays. Translated by Won-Jae Jang. Gerrards Cross, UK: Colin Smythe, 2005.

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    O’Casey’s Dublin Trilogy inspires the creation of this Korean trilogy of peasant plays, which depicts the impoverishment of rural communities. The British colonial power of O’Casey’s writing is reimagined here as the Japanese colonial power. Richard Allen Cave provides a helpful foreword.

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