Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Even for an audience unfamiliar with Irish history, the end of The Freedom of the City is evident in its beginning. Because the corpses are present in the opening scene, the audience knows from the start that these three Catholics will die before the combined guns of the British army and the largely Protestant police force. Like a Greek tragedy, this play demands that viewers ask not “what will happen next?” but “what does it all mean?”

Suggested meanings abound. British judicial hearings “prove” that these hapless citizens were armed and dangerous, killed only when a restrained British army found it had no choice. An American sociologist turns events into a depersonalized examination of the culture of poverty. An Irish balladeer simultaneously trivializes and celebrates Michael and Lily and Skinner by transforming them into one hundred Irish patriots who died trying to free their country from British domination. An Irish priest begins by praising their willingness to die for their beliefs and ends by condemning them as part of an excessive fringe element. An Irish telecaster surrounds their funeral with the sticky sweetness of popular sentimentality. Each jargon-studded official voice attempts to confine individual experience within an accepted dogma, and each speaker is literally as well as metaphorically outside the events in the Guildhall.

Balancing these glib efforts to impose order on a chaotic situation are the...

(The entire section is 482 words.)