Comic Elements in the Drama "Cripple of Inishmaan" by Martin McDonagh

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

20 Pages, Grade: 2,7



1. Introduction

2. About the author

3. About the play
3.1. Plot
3.2. Reference to “Men of Aran”

4. What is comedy?
4.1. Humour Theories – Incongruity, Superiority and Release/Relief Theory
4.2. Ethnic Humour
4.3. Structure of a comedy
4.4. Stock characters

5. Humour in the Cripple of Inishmaan
5.1. characters
5.1.1. Johnnypateenmike
5.1.2. Mammy
5.1.3. Kate and Eileen
5.1.4. Bartley
5.1.5. Helen
5.1.6. Billy
5.2. Style
5.2.1. Language
5.2.2. Repetitions

6. The cripple of Inishmaan – an Irish national drama?

7. Conclusion

8. Works Cited

1. Introduction

The term modern Irish Drama was born in 1897 by William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory and Edward Martin with the “Manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre”. This manifesto showed their intention to build up a national theatre for Ireland to show that” Ireland is not the home of buffoonery and of easy sentiment, as it has been represented, but the home of ancient idealism” (Harrington, x). Two years later they founded the Irish Literary Theatre in Dublin, where Irish plays by Irish authors were performed.

The national drama of Ireland tries to bring upon the stage the deeper thoughts and emotions of Ireland and at the same time it sets the audience the task to consider plays “with a high ambition” (Harrington,x).

The seminar “Irish Drama” with Professor Reinfandt dealt with several contemporary Irish Dramas. All can be considered as national dramas, as they were about Irish history, Irish culture (oral folk culture and mystery tells) or Irish problems (the dispute of Protestant and Catholic church). One of these dramas is “the Cripple of Inishmaan” by Martin McDonagh. It was opened on December, 12th 1996 at Royal National Theatre in London. This play is a part of McDonagh’s Aran Island trilogy, which consists beside of “The Cripple of Inishmaan” of the Lieteunant of Inishmore” (2001) and the “Banshees of Inisheer” (not published yet).

The purpose of this paper is to analyze various comedic elements and their function in the drama “Cripple of Inishmaan”. First, there will be a closer look on the author Martin McDonagh, who is known for his individual style and also for other comedies, like “Behanding in Spokane” of “The Pillowman”. Later, it will be focused on the play itself; what is the plot, which role play setting and characters. It will be also discussed, how the “Cripple of Inishmaan” fulfills the aspects of an Irish national drama. But the main question to analyze is, if the play can be considered as a dark comedy. For this purpose, the term “comedy” will be defined and it will be analyzed how the terminology of Frye and the three theories of humour can be applied to the the play ”Cripple of Inishmaan”. It is to show that the drama fulfills the elements of a comedy. In the main part there will be a closer look on the drama itself; especially on the funny characters and their behaviour.

2. About the author

Even though in Modern Literary Theories[1], the author does not seem to play an important role in the analysis of his work I decided to say a few words on Martin McDonagh, as in the “manifesto for Irish Literary Theatre” Yeats, Martin and Lady Gregory declared that Irish plays should be written by Irish people (cf Harrington, x). Therefore, it seems to be interesting to analyze the relationship between McDonough and Ireland.

Martin McDonagh was born on 26 March 1970 in London. His parents are Irish. His mother is from County Sligo and his father is from Galway. Both cities are located in the Republic of Ireland. His father later moved back to Ireland, and left his sons and his wife in London.

McDonagh’s two trilogies, “the Trilogy of Leenane” and “the Trilogy of Aran Islands” are located in and around County Galway, where he spent his holidays as a child. His first non-Irish play, “The Pillowman“, is set in a fictitious state, and premiered at the National Theatre in 2003. His first play set in the USA was “Behanding in Spokane” from 2010. For his dramas he was awarded in the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards for “Most Promising Playwright” in 1996. Most plays of McDonagh are very extreme, as in the “Lieuteunant of Inishmore” four men and a cat are killed on stage and in other plays like “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” or “Lonesome West” suicide and murder also play an important role in the plot. This leads to the assumption that McDonough’s plays are rather gruesome.

Furthermore, McDonough writes screenplays. According to O’Toole he “even prefer(s) writing films than plays”, he holds “respect for the whole history of films and a slight disrespect for theater" (O’Toole). Mc Donagh also said that “"It's not that I don't respect theater. I'm intelligent enough to know that a play can completely inspire a person as much as a film […] theater isn't something that's connected to me, from a personal point of view, I can't appreciate what I'm doing” (O’Toole).

His film “Six Shooter” even won a Oscar for the best short film in 2006. Another famous film by McDonough is “Bruges”, which also received many positive critics. “Seven Psychopaths” is due to be released this year, starring well known Hollywood actors like Farrel.

3. About the play

3.1. Plot

“The Cripple of Inishmaan” is set on the island Inishmaan, off the Irish west coast in the year 1934. It is about a young man called Billy Claven, who has a physical handicap but is mentally healthy. He suffers from the lack of respect by the local people, which comes from his disability. He has no family and his familiar background is not clear until the end. One day, he gets the chance to escape the island. A Hollywood film director offers him a job in America, where Billy is supposed to play a crippled film protagonist. However, he fails and does not get the role. In the end he realizes, that the life somewhere else, is not better for him, so he comes back to Inishmaan, where at least some people, like his beloved aunties Eileen and Kate, care for him. Furthermore, he wants to see Helen, a young spitfire from the village, again, because he has a crush on her. In the end, the familiar background of Billy is revealed. Moreover, he gets a kiss from Helen and everything seems to be perfect; however, the audience gets to know, that Billy suffers from tuberculosis.

3.2. Reference to “Men of Aran”

The play also refers to the fictional documentary “Men of Aran”. In 1934 the US director Robert Flaherty went on Inishmore to make a film about the hard life at the Irish coast. Flaherty shows a family living in premodern conditions. The film documents their ordinary life which consists of fishing, farming and hunting huge sharks to get liver for the oil lamps. The film creates a romantic and stereotypical picture of Ireland by showing the stormy ocean, bare rocks and a landscape without trees. The life is potrayed as very hard, because for example farming is only possible on the recovery of soil. And also the fishing is very difficult, because on the stormy weather conditions. Some of the content of the film might be true, but it is known, that sharks had not been hunted on the Aran Islands for over 50 years since the film was made. So the most exciting part of the film is based on fiction.

McDonagh criticizes this picture of the Aran Islands in his play. This becomes clear in scene eight, when the habitants of Inishmaan watch the film and laugh about it.


[1] Roland Barthes argues that texts should be interpreted without relation to biographical data and intentions of their author.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Comic Elements in the Drama "Cripple of Inishmaan" by Martin McDonagh
University of Tubingen
Irish Drama
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
530 KB
comic, cripple, inishmaan, martin, mcdonagh
Quote paper
Maren Tanner (Author), 2010, Comic Elements in the Drama "Cripple of Inishmaan" by Martin McDonagh, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Comic Elements in the Drama "Cripple of Inishmaan" by Martin McDonagh

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free