The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Mag Folan wages a relentless and petty war with her forty-year-old daughter, Maureen, a spinster, who lives in lonely isolation with her semi-invalid mother in a small cottage in the remote Irish community of Leenane. The two women have developed a mutually dependent relationship in which each vies for superiority over the other, both bound to an emotionally empty, dead-end life. Mag constantly accuses Maureen of neglecting her, and the daughter accuses her mother of faking illness in an effort to keep her home. Pato Dooley, a handsome Irishman who lives in London and is employed as a construction worker there, is visiting his family in Leenane. Pato’s brother Ray comes by to invite the Folans to his uncle’s going-away party. Mag is too ill, but Maureen goes and meets Pato. She invites him home, and he stays the night. The next morning, Maureen flaunts their night of lovemaking before her mother, who responds by telling Pato of Maureen’s period of madness years earlier. Mag’s attempt to discourage Maureen’s new lover fails, however: When Pato leaves, his and Maureen’s mutual attraction remains strong. The audience senses that he offers Maureen the hope of escape from her miserable life with Mag.

Back in London, Pato plans to emigrate to the United States and writes Maureen, asking her to accompany him there. Fearing that Mag may intercept the letter, he entrusts its delivery to his brother, Ray, with...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

McDonagh’s setting reflects the drab, claustrophobic world of Maureen and her mother. It combines aspects of the typical peasant cottage with modern elements, such as a television set, portraits of Robert and John F. Kennedy, a radio, and a hot plate for heating Mag’s beverages. Despite these modern touches, the cottage is as bare as the lives of Maureen and Mag. The television set, constantly playing Australian soap operas, underscores the unceasing soap-opera quality of their life together; they are boxed in by a monotonous routine, limited in their options, and distant from any creative fulfillment and vigorous health.

In contrast to the sunny life outside their door, the lurid glow of the television set symbolizes the pallor of the women’s emotional lives. Mag’s diet of biscuits and Complan, a nutritional supplement, suggests that the old woman suffers from an unspecified disorder. For Mag, the diet becomes a weapon with which she both punishes and controls Maureen; at the same time, it reflects her physical and spiritual invalidism. The beverage is as bland and monotonous as her life, and her endless carping and whining combine with the droning television set to punish Maureen with a demoralizing harassment.

The bickering between Mag and Maureen sometimes evokes laughter for its relentless pettiness, but the amusement turns to horror as the underlying hatred, viciousness, and spite become evident; taking care of mother takes on...

(The entire section is 427 words.)


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Brustein, Robert. “The Rebirth of Irish Drama.” The New Republic 216 (April 7, 1997): 28-30.

Feeney, Joseph J. “Where Pain and Laughter Meet: The Irish Plays of Martin McDonagh.” America 177, no. 16 (November 22, 1997): 20.

Fricker, Karen. “Ireland Feels Power of ’Beauty.’” Variety 380, no. 1 (August 21-27, 2000): 27, 31.

Kroll, Jack. “The McDonagh Effect: A New Playwright Blends Irish and American, Theater and Movies, Plus a Dash of Punk.” Newsweek 131, no. 11 (March 16, 1998): 73.

Lahr, John. “The Theatre: The Playwright Martin McDonagh.” The New Yorker, January 27, 1997, 84.

Trotter, Mary. “The Beauty Queen of Leenane and A Night in November.” Theatre Journal 51, no. 3 (1999): 336-339.

Wolf, Matt. “Martin McDonagh on a Tear.” American Theatre 15, no. 1 (January, 1998): 48-50.