Set in the turbulence of the rebellion of Easter, 1916, The Plough and the Stars is a landmark in O’Casey’s career for a number of reasons. First, it is the powerful conclusion of his Troubles Trilogy (the struggle for Irish independence is familiarly known as “the troubles”). It is also a more complex and far-reaching play, both formally and intellectually, than its predecessors. Unlike O’Casey’s earlier plays, The Plough and the Stars draws on O’Casey’s own personal experience as a member and subsequent critic of the Irish Citizen Army. The Plough and the Stars also gave the playwright his first taste of theatrical controversy in the hostile reaction of the audience to the first production, which was staged at the Abbey Theatre on February 8, 1926.
The play’s title refers to the flag of the Irish Citizen Army. In this way, O’Casey identifies his principal characters in terms of their class and their organization. As a result, the social and economic vulnerability that has typically affected the characters of O’Casey’s earlier works is less evident here. Nora Clitheroe not only aspires to respectability, which is what Mary Boyle expected Charles Bentham to provide in Juno and the Paycock; she can also afford some of respectability’s trappings. This line of thought makes Uncle Peter, who is Nora’s uncle, not entirely a figure of fun. Through him, O’Casey introduces the audience to working-class ritual and grandeur, though, in contrast to Jack Clitheroe’s uniform, what Uncle Peter’s regalia represents is laughably out of date.
These details establish a basis for introducing more important distinctions within the play’s community of characters....
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