Study Guide

Sean O'Casey

Sean O'Casey Essay - O'Casey, Sean (Vol. 1)

O'Casey, Sean (Vol. 1)

O'Casey, Sean 1884–1964

An Irish playwright, O'Casey was associated with the Irish renaissance; he is best known for Juno and the Paycock and a six-volume autobiography.

Ireland, the Irish character, and Irish civilization are basic themes in Sean O'Casey's finest plays, so the man and his work are best understood if they are re-related to the period in which he lived, the most momentous in the history of his nation…. Few Irishmen played a more active part than did Sean O'Casey in the cultural and political movements [of the Ireland of his time]. (pp. 5-6)

His style is sometimes pedestrian, sometimes rhetorical. At its best, it has an unusual trenchancy, as when he declares that the Gael 'is stronger to suffer than hell can harm', or a ringing eloquence enriched with Biblical rhythms and idioms, such as one finds in his tribute to Francis Sheehy-Skeffington as the finest person to die in the Eastern Rising. (p. 10)

Like [J. M.] Synge's, O'Casey's imagination functioned best when it was dealing with a time and a place of which he had had firsthand experience. The topical and the local elements in O'Casey's early plays are so strong that some critics belittled him as nothing more than a photographic realist who merely shuffled together for the stage familiar details of life in the Dublin slums during the time of the Troubles. This criticism is invalid, for O'Casey, again like Synge, has the myth-maker's great gift of discerning archetypal characters and situations, of distilling from everyday elements a quintessence of life far superior to the products of any documentary form of realism. (p. 11)

Living intensely in an age of cataclysmic destruction, O'Casey sought a principle of hope and joy, and his quest succeeded most when it was directed by intuitions of Ireland's needs and Ireland's better self. (p. 34)

William A. Armstrong, in his Sean O'Casey, Longman Group Ltd., for the British Council, 1967.