Behan, Brendan (Vol. 15)
Behan, Brendan 1923–1964
Behan was an Irish dramatist, novelist, and essayist. His work was often drawn from his own involvement in the political struggles of contemporary Ireland and reflects a compassion that transcends partisanship. Critics have consistently remarked on the uneven quality of Behan's work, praising the vitality of his dramatic language while noting his weakness in plot and character development. (See also CLC, Vols. 1, 8, 11, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 73-76.)
There are artists whose public performance is so flamboyant … that their contemporaries, repelled or dazzled by the man, have failed to measure his artistic quality. This has been the fate of Brendan Behan…. That Behan's writings have some virtue is allowed—but of what kind is it? For in all assessments I have read of writing in English in the past decade, while significance is bestowed on many a dullard whose productions are deemed, by the critical investigator, to conform to the "trend" or "pattern" he discerns, the name of Behan somehow gets forgotten. This surprises me, for of all the writers of my generation, including myself, the only one who I am certain will be read a century from now, is he.
Or rather, this does not surprise me; for the reasons that make the unwary undervalue his achievement are so evident. Chief of these is that he's an Irish writer…. [We] seem to believe a benevolent magic makes it so easy for Irishmen to be fine writers, that this gift of nature deprives them of true merit. (p. 53)
I exaggerate, of course; but wish to suggest this patronizing attitude to Irish writing, largely unconscious and totally detestable, has as its basis—even in the most enlightened English minds—a political motivation…. It strikes me as significant, for example, that while dozens of Irish writers (including, of course, Brendan Behan) have found in [our centuries' old war with Ireland] the chief...
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Brendan entertained with words … the sort of words that always kept his audience hungry … and kept them wondering just what would come next. 'He wrote,' said the poet Louis MacNeice, 'with plenty of hyperbole and emphasis. He was a man of humanity, gusto and formidable wit.' Formidable indeed. His totally disordered life consumed a measure of porter that should not obscure the fact that he was one of the great Irish wits—comparable indeed with Wilde or Shaw. (p. 7)
Brendan Behan was the talker talking. The writing was just a way of letting the world know what he was saying. There was hardly a story he told that he didn't write and there was hardly a quip he wrote that he didn't repeat and repeat, again and again. (pp. 7-8)
Yet behind [the witty Behan] was another side … the serious writer; the man who was conscious that he had a contribution to make to world writing and who critics believe made it with his magnificent Borstal Boy. (p. 8)
Snatches from the streets of Dublin, from the old lags in prison, from the bookies' runners, from the painters and decorators … Behan carried them all into his conversation and into his books. (p. 10)
Sean McCann, in his introduction to The Wit of Brendan Behan by Brendan Behan, edited by Sean McCann (© Sean McCann, 1968), Leslie Frewin, 1968, pp. 7-10.
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An Giall [is] the restrained and almost forgotten tragi-comedy in Irish by Behan on which The Hostage is based….
An Giall (The Hostage) had its première in … Dublin. At the end of a successful run, [Joan] Littlewood offered to stage the play in London if Behan would translate it into English. Behan accepted the offer and The Hostage was presented to the English-speaking world…. However, a comparison of the Irish and English texts reveals that The Hostage is not a translation; it is a drastically modified version of the original play.
The fact that The Hostage is more than a translation begins to emerge as soon as one examines the characters in the two versions of the play. There are ten characters in An Giall; there are fifteen in The Hostage. (p. 165)
The added characters contribute nothing to the plot of The Hostage, but they contribute a great deal to its tone, which is very different from that of the original…. The tone of the opening of An Giall is solemn; the tone of the opening of The Hostage is that of a stage-Irish interlude [with the added characters dancing "a wild Irish jig"], and such interludes interrupt the play with monotonous regularity.
The added characters also serve to make The Hostage a much more bawdy play than the original and allow the introduction of a host of...
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