Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy: A closer look on how social settings and political events interact with the characters and lead to certain features in their portrayal

Seminar Paper, 2001

17 Pages, Grade: 2,0 (B)




1. Sean O‘Casey
1.1 Life of Sean O‘Casey
1.2 Brief summary of the political events and the social situation during the time when the „Trilogy“ was written

2. Juno and the Paycock
2.1 Short summary of the play, context and background
2.2 Poverty and death as the main theme
2.3 Irony, Tragedy and Characterization with a focus on Boyle and Juno

3. The Plough and the Stars
3.1 Short summary of the play, context and background
3.2 Anti-War and Socialistic thoughts
3.3 The suffering of the people with a focus on Nora and Bessie
3.4 „Distancing“




Hundreds and thousands of articles and books have already been published on Sean O‘Casey, his life and his writings. One may rightly ask whether it is necessary to compose yet another essay about the famous Irish writer.

It is!

While reading Sean O‘Casey and once, if not Irish born, you have learned to read and accept his „Irish-English“ language and background, one can‘t argue that his writings are brilliant. They are rich in images, metaphors, language and intentions. It is almost impossible to get an eventual or comprehensive and finally decisive look upon his work.

Especially the „Trilogy“ provides a lot to interpret and to discus from various points of view depending on the specific status quo of a society.

This „Hausarbeit“ now is not meant to give yet another attempt to analyse the author‘s intentions from a new angle but to give an overview about what famous and less popular critics have said about O‘Casey‘s „Trilogy“ so far.

It‘s also neither a try to picture, as in a historical dictionary, the political events in a chronological order. These surroundings and the setting they provide for the Dublin Plays are of course crucial in order to understand O‘Casey and therefore worth to be mentioned in the context of this essay.

More important though are the questions „WHY“ and in a sense „HOW“ the author used the particular social and political actions and influences to create a certain setting for his characters; how they cope or fail with the intrusion of the outside world into their daily live and business.

The „Hausarbeit“ is divided into three main parts. The first one deals with Sean O‘Casey and his life as a playwright.

The second one gives an insight look into „Juno and the Paycock“ with a special emphasis on the portrayed poverty and death and on how Juno and Boyle are presented.

Eventually the third one provides a closer view on how O‘Casey dealt with the „Easter Rising“ of 1916 in his work „The Plough and the Stars“. It is shown what intentions, ideas and dramatic devices critics believe the author has chosen in order to create a certain result amongst his audience.

It goes of course without saying that an advanced familiarity with the context of the presented texts must be required to understand the ideas mentioned in this “Hausarbeit”.

1 Sean O‘Casey

1.1 Life of Sean O‘Casey

Sean O’Casey, born 1880 in Dublin, can be considered as one of the most important and famous Irish writers in the early 20th century.

Important in a sense how well his major books and stage dramas went in performance throughout the world’s theatres.

Important also in a way of setting an example using various literary devices that should later establish an own class of literature (expressionism)[1].

Important finally in a sense that he was able to influence Irish society through his plays.

Being the youngest of thirteen children was not easy. O’Casey was only poorly educated and mainly received his knowledge through one of his older sisters who was a teacher and through all kinds of books he could lay his sore eyes upon. For the most part of his youth though, O’Casey worked as a labourer doing plenty of different jobs.

He later joined the Irish Citizen Army and became one of their leading their secretaries. He also recruited for the IRB (Irish Republican Brotherhood) and was a member of the Gaelic league.

Never, however, did O’Casey adopt the sort of fanatic nationalism that many members of the Citizen Army developed over the years and he especially distanced himself from popular nationalistic figures like James Connolly. O’Casey retired when Connolly became the leader of the ICA and many believe that in his play “Plough and the Stars” he tried to condemn the uprising of 1916 and their so called “Heros” by saying that they abused the ideals and intentions of the Dublin working class.

His fame as an author should begin later. Though he has been publishing little articles in the “Irish Worker” from 1912 on and been writing essays about Irish labour, a book about the Citizen Army, as well as texts about his most admired writers Shakespeare, Yeats, Ibsen, Shaw and others, did he not start to arouse public interest before submitting his works to the Abbey Theatre.

“The Shadow of a Gunman” in 1923 was the first one to be approved and staged at the Abbey. O’Casey quickly became famous through this work and he also helped saving the Abby of financial ruin by drawing so many people into the theatre.

The “Gunman” followed “Juno and the Paycock” in 1924 and “The Plough and the Stars” in 1926.

As “The Silver Tassie” in 1929 was rejected by the Abbey officials O’Casey decided to start experimenting and he eventually moved over to Great Britain.

After writing numerous other, yet less famous plays, including a voluminous biography, Sean O’Casey died in Devon in 1964.

The three “Dublin Plays”, however, remained a huge success for a long time after the author’s death throughout the world’s stages.

Their influence on Irish society as well as their, sadly, still very topic theme is appreciated by a wide range of different audiences today and has yet to be fully measured.

1.2 Brief summary of the political events and the social situation during the time when the „Trilogy“ was written

The “Dublin Trilogy” roughly covers the historical period between 1916 and 1923. “The Plough” deals with the “Easter Rising” of 1916, the “Gunman” with the time of the Independence War with Great Britain and “Juno” is set in the time of the Irish Civil War. As a matter of fact this “Hausarbeit” is not about the “Gunman”, therefore there is no historical background provided for this play. Nevertheless, the reader should keep in mind that certain issues and political events during the “Gunman”-time are also to appear, less accentuated, in the two other works and a reading of the first Dublin play might be important for the further understanding of some of the points later to be mentioned about the other books.

The “Easter Rising” of 1916, taking place mainly between the 24th and the 29th of April in Dublin, was an uprising against British Rule over Ireland conducted by a small number of people. The ICA under James Connolly, the IRB under Padraic Pearse and the Irish Volunteers occupied prominent buildings throughout the city of Dublin on Easter Monday and Pearse, as President of the provisional government, proclaimed the Irish Republic.

Being no more than 1600 insurgents and without proper arms compared to the Crown soldiers and their artilleries the British forces quickly reclaimed most of the city.

Only a few days later, on the 29th, Pearse had to surrender unconditionally. In the aftermath of the rising most of the rebels were taken into custody and Pearse, Connolly and some others were executed.[2]

The time of the Civil War is basically to be set between 1921 and 1923. “Free Staters”, who supported a recently made deal with England that allowed some independence to Ireland fought a bloody fight against “Republicans”, who claimed fully separation from the kingdom. Tragically, as always in Civil Wars, it was a fight between brothers and friends. People who had fought side on side during the Easter week suddenly became enemies and killed each other.[3]

A good example of this is given in the “Plough” by O’Casey’s character Johnny Boyle, who betrayed a former comrade and eventually suffers his own death as consequence.

2 Juno and the Paycock

2.1 Short summary of the play, context and background

When “Juno and the Paycock” was first staged on March 3rd, 1924 at the Abbey it was an immediate hit.

The story of the poor Boyle family living in the slums of Dublin in a tenement house during the time of the Civil War was just magnificent realistic and such a great mixture of tragedy and comedy rarely ever seen before.

Joseph Holloway, who attended the premiere wrote:

[...]”The last act is intensely tragic and heart-rendingly real to those who passed through the terrible period of 1922 [...]

In Act III some in the pit were inclined at first to laugh at the tragedy that had entered into the ‘Boyle’ family, but they soon lost their mirth and were gripped by the awful actuality of the incidents enacted so realistically and unassumingly before them.”[4]

The promised legacy that awaited the Boyles, later though failed to materialize and lead to infinite poverty, the unwanted pregnancy of Mary, the death of Johnny, the separation of the family in the end and above all Captain Boyle’s stubbornness and his carefree living in a world of dreams, caught the audiences around the world.


[1] De Baun, Vincent C. „ O‘Casey and the road to Expressionism“ in Ayling, Roland . „Casebook Series“ p.165 f.

[2] Tierney, Mark. „Modern Ireland since 1850“, chapter 6. p.127 f. „The Easter Rising“

[3] Tierney, Mark. „Modern Ireland since 1850“, chapter 8. P.169 f. „Drifting into War“

[4] Holloway, Joseph. „Comment and Reviews“ in Ayling, Roland . „Casebook Series“ p.83 f.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy: A closer look on how social settings and political events interact with the characters and lead to certain features in their portrayal
University of Dusseldorf "Heinrich Heine"  (Anglistics Institute)
Sean O'Casey - The Dublin Trilogy
2,0 (B)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Sean, Casey, Dublin, Trilogy, Sean, O‘Casey, Dublin, Trilogy
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Sebastian Goetzke (Author), 2001, Sean O'Casey's Dublin Trilogy: A closer look on how social settings and political events interact with the characters and lead to certain features in their portrayal, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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