Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In theme, structure, and dialogue, The Rising of the Moon is typical of the series of brief, one-act plays which were presented as curtain-raisers in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin during its celebrated early years, which date from its foundation in 1904 to the attainment of Irish independence and the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922. A large number of these plays, and almost all those that may be considered artistically successful within their obviously prescribed format, were written by Lady Augusta Gregory. The years in question are celebrated for having inaugurated a new kind of dramaturgy in English, for the discovery of a new generation of Irish playwrights (most notably John Millington Synge), and for making a significant contribution to cultural consciousness and cultural self-respect in Ireland at that time. Lady Gregory made artistic as well as practical contributions to these events, though her managerial skills and moral support meant more to the Abbey Theatre’s survival than her dramatic works.

Although The Rising of the Moon is not in the first rank of the theater’s plays, it does focus attention on the wider world that the theater was addressing and on the Abbey Theatre’s sense of its own importance. The play’s sketchiness, while dramatically limiting, underscores the representation of political activism as an area of stark choices and difficult compromises. Rather than having a plot as such, The...

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The Rising of the Moon Context

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

As in the case of many social and cultural transfers of power, women played a substantial role in enacting and supporting the artistic and political changes which took place in Ireland during the first two decades of the twentieth century. As actresses, activists, ideologues, and combatants, their roles were identical to those of their male counterparts. Lady Augusta Gregory’s career may be construed as an embodiment of the changes in women’s commitment during the heyday of what is loosely referred to by political and cultural historians as the national movement of Ireland. Given Lady Gregory’s origins and early years, her career might be described as exemplifying the reorientation of allegiance that distinguished members of her generation undertook.

The exemplary character of Lady Gregory’s public life is highlighted in particular by her contributions to the foundation and continuation of the Abbey Theatre. These contributions were not merely artistic. It could be argued that her plays were the least significant of her various donations, although to do so would be to overlook their directness and the presuppositions that govern their topicality. Although her plays were praised by W. B. Yeats, whose patroness Lady Gregory became, the poet was much more affected by and appreciative of her generosity, level-headedness, and practicality, so that her personality as typified by Yeats occupies an honored place in the poet’s personal mythology.

Her various artistic accomplishments in the fields of folklore and autobiography, in addition to drama, are a tribute to her capacity to extend her sense of the responsibilities that her social background imposed upon her. They also provide an insight on the changing cultural landscape in the Ireland of Lady Gregory’s day and on the fact that such shifts of emphasis may have the effect of altering conventional assumptions about the role of women in society. Lady Gregory’s career as a writer roughly coincided with the rise of the women’s suffrage movement in the British Isles. Though it hardly invokes that movement, its interest in representing the populace and in giving a voice to its sentiments are in themselves contributions to the extension of the cultural franchise—not only on the part of those represented and the audiences who acknowledge and accept them but also on behalf of the author herself.

The Rising of the Moon Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Ireland. Island nation west of Great Britain that is under unwelcome British rule at the time this play is set. The play’s backdrop is the Ireland of rebel Republican organizations that sought the end of British rule. Violent resistance was uncommon in the first decade of the twentieth century, but Irish nationalism was active and assumed many other forms. Lady Gregory’s characters assume that great popular sentiment supported the cause, even to sympathy with actions deemed illegal by the British regime. This attitude likely sets the scene in the south or southwest regions of the island, rather than in the Protestant-and Loyalist-dominated north and east regions. The police are native Irish, though hired to protect British interests and capture leaders of the cause, such as the unnamed felon. Ultimately the fugitive uses this commonality of Irish identity to dissuade the sergeant from arresting him.


Quay (kee). Wharf where ships are loaded and unloaded in an unnamed Irish port; the play’s stage directions merely indicate “a seaport town.” Such places were indeed doorways through which wanted men escaped authorities and aid to the rebels of several generations was provided. The quay on which the action takes place is situated between the nearby town and its jail (gaol), and the freedom of the open water below. It, too, serves specifically as a doorway that the sergeant initially guards and blocks, and that, in the end, he opens by sending off the other Irish policemen. In addition, it is the setting for his own self-realization, prompted by the “ragged man,” that he, as an Irishman, might easily have been in the unseen boat on the sea of freedom and resistance to authority. However, he is attached to the police corps, jail, and British authority, located symbolically in the opposite direction.

The Rising of the Moon Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Adams, Hazard. Lady Gregory. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1973. A brief, insightful guide to Lady Gregory’s various writings. Contains a biographical sketch and a chapter on each of the main areas of her works, including her plays. A chronology and a brief bibliography are included.

Coxhead, Elizabeth. Lady Gregory: A Literary Portrait. London: Secker and Warburg, 1966. A revised and enlarged edition of a 1962 work which uses a biographical approach to concentrate on Lady Gregory’s writings, a checklist of which is included. Her literary and cultural relations with other leading figures in the Irish literary revival provide a focus for the author’s approach.

Gregory, Lady Augusta. Lady Gregory: Interviews and Recollections. Edited by E. H. Mikhail. London: Macmillan, 1977. A selection of excerpts from memoirs, newspapers, and other contemporary sources that provide a composite portrait of Lady Gregory’s public life. Her celebrated home at Coole Part enters the picture, and some of her remarks in passing about the early, controversial history of the Abbey Theatre are included.

Kohfeldt, Mary Lou. Lady Gregory: The Woman Behind the Irish Renaissance. New York: Athenaeum, 1985. The fullest account available of Lady Gregory’s life and times. Use is made of archival material to broaden the picture of Lady Gregory’s youth, though the main emphasis remains on her public work on behalf of the arts in Ireland.

Kopper, E. A., Jr. “Lady Gregory’s The Rising of the Moon.” The Explicator 47, no. 3 (Spring, 1989): 29-31. A brief account of the play’s origins and place in the Abbey Theatre repertory. Particular emphasis is placed on the work’s debt to actual events of the day.

Saddlemyer, Ann, and Colin Smythe, eds. Lady Gregory: Fifty Years After. Totowa, N.J.: Barnes & Noble Books, 1987. A substantial collection of essays that provide a comprehensive scholarly treatment of Lady Gregory’s life and times. Several essays are devoted to her plays, and this volume also includes considerable material pertinent to an evaluation of the overall cultural significance of Lady Gregory’s contribution to Irish literature.