The Play

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1797

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Cock-a-Doodle Dandy unfolds in three long scenes. As scene 1 opens, Michael Marthraun and Sailor Mahan are sitting in Marthraun’s front yard, talking in low tones about mysterious events that have disturbed peace and order in the parish of Nyadnanave. Marthraun regards the occurrences—strange sounds, levitations of objects, and other phenomena of the poltergeist variety—as the result of spells or bewitchments, whereas the less-superstitious Mahan takes a more rational tone. Marthraun insists that the trouble began when his daughter Loreleen returned from London wearing short skirts, nylon stockings, and cosmetics. Marthraun also wonders whether his second wife, Lorna, is partly to blame, and he avers that “there’s evil in that woman.” Against Mahan’s remonstrances, Marthraun insists that Lorna married him only because of his farm and his bank account; moreover, she did not consent until he agreed to give her paralytic sister, Julia, fifty pounds to defray the expenses of a trip to Lourdes.

Mahan and Marthraun begin to haggle over the price Marthraun is to pay for having Mahan’s trucks transport his peat to market when a mysterious Cock crows in the background and Loreleen enters. Her presence is disturbing to the two men, who have trouble keeping their eyes off her legs, but they continue to wrangle. The argument is finally interrupted by two of Mahan’s burly drivers, who threaten a strike unless he raises their wages. As they leave, they have the impression that Loreleen is being metamorphosed into a mysterious Cock.

Marthraun now insists that this event proves that Loreleen is not his actual daughter but a woman possessed by a demon. Mahan and Marthraun resume the argument over the contract, although Marthraun adds to the supernatural atmosphere by telling a story of a widow who allegedly possessed the “evil eye.” In the rest of the scene, the two are joined by a succession of visitors. The first is Shanaar, an alleged sage and holy man, who arrives with many dire forebodings. Marion the maid, a pretty girl of twenty, then comes dashing onstage with the news that a strange bird is causing a disturbance inside the house. She identifies the bird as possibly a hen or a wild goose; despite her calm demeanor, the story produces fear and confusion. When a loud noise is heard, Marion flees through the gate and into the arms of Robin Adair, the messenger, whose jaunty air suggests an improbable combination of Hermes and Robin Goodfellow. Adair, Marion’s sweetheart, reassures her and identifies the bird as the Cock; after disappearing into the house, he emerges, leading the man-sized rooster with a rope. He explains the bird’s sudden docility by saying that the Cock is “a bit unruly at times, but conthrollable be th’ right persons.” After Adair takes the Cock away, Marion amuses herself at the expense of Marthraun, Mahan, and Shanaar by commenting on their fright.

Indignant, Marthraun and Mahan respond by making suggestive remarks to Marion when she returns. Mahan pinches her bottom, to which Marion reacts angrily. As she leaves, however, they are shocked to see an apparition of pagan horns sprouting from her forehead. Worried that Marion is connected with these supernatural events, they are reassured by the arrival of the priest, Father Domineer. He is accompanying the litter bearing Lorna’s paralytic sister on the beginning of a pilgrimage to Lourdes, where she hopes to be miraculously cured.

Scene 2 opens with Lorna expressing doubts whether Julia will be healed by her pilgrimage. In the actions that follow, a comic paganism erupts. As Marthraun and Mahan are debating reasons for the strange happenings, the messenger enters. Robin announces that he is looking for the Cock, which has escaped and is being pursued around the parish. When Marthraun prepares to pour a bottle of whiskey into a glass, he finds the liquid will not emerge. A porter enters, bringing a package which contains a large hat. The porter also brings news of the pursuit of the Cock, in which shots have been fired. When the porter presents the hat to Marthraun, it appears to have been struck by a bullet.

As the porter departs, a police sergeant enters, telling of the wild chase of the Cock; the Cock, however, has allegedly turned himself into a hat. Marthraun and Mahan back away from the hat left by the porter, fearing that it is a “cocked hat.” When the sergeant notices the hat next to him, he recoils in fright. With a show of bravado, he fires a shot, whereupon the stage darkens; lightning flashes and the Cock crows.

When light returns, both the Cock and the hat have disappeared, and the sergeant, Mahan, and Marthraun are discovered in attitudes of fright. As they debate their next move, the bellman arrives and announces that the Cock is returning. In what follows, the sergeant, Mahan, and Marthraun gradually fall under the enchantment of the Cock’s paganism. Mahan leads them in singing a sea chanty and at the end, Loreleen, Marthraun’s beautiful daughter, comes into the garden. Seeing that they are in a mood to celebrate, she calls Lorna and Marion to join them.

The three young women are dressed in party costumes, and each becomes the focus of a golden light, transforming her into a siren. Gradually their charm works on the men, who regain confidence as the ladies serve them whiskey. The sergeant salutes Lorna’s beauty, Loreleen beguiles Mahan, and Lorna thaws Marthraun.

With a sudden clap of thunder, Father Domineer arrives, and the scene modulates to gloom. The priest blames this outbreak of paganism on the Cock and on Loreleen, whom he orders to kneel and beg for forgiveness. When she refuses defiantly, he turns on the men and reprimands them. When Mahan disputes the issue, Father Domineer orders him to fire a truck driver who dares to live openly with a woman he has not married. At this point, the truck driver himself enters, bringing a message that Mahan’s men are about to go on strike. Father Domineer, in a rage, demands that the driver end his adulterous relationship. When the driver refuses, the priest strikes the man on the head, knocking him to the ground. After inspecting the driver, Mahan announces that the man is dying. Frightened, Father Domineer insists that he was only offering the driver an act of contrition.

Scene 3 begins with Lorna, Marion, and Mahan in the yard discussing Father Domineer’s repressive and brutal actions. Mahan gloomily blames everything on the appearance of the demon Cock. Father Domineer appears, followed by Marthraun and a village lad, One-Eyed Larry. The priest vows to exorcise the “evil spirits” from Marthraun’s house, and the three go inside. Suddenly Loreleen enters and describes being pelted with stones because the people have begun to blame her for the misfortunes of the parish. When Marion tells Loreleen that she would be wise to leave the country because her devil-may-care air has aroused antagonism, Loreleen agrees. Then she insists she cannot go because Marthraun will not let her have forty pounds in savings which he has put in the bank for her.

In desperation, Loreleen appeals to Mahan for help. He promises to provide money for a return to England if she will meet him during the evening, while everyone is at a costume dance. As Loreleen agrees, One-Eyed Larry appears, describing an epic struggle inside the house between Father Domineer and the Cock. The house is seen to shake, and screeches of birds are heard. Father Domineer emerges, disheveled but proclaiming victory. A confrontation between Loreleen and Father Domineer ensues, in which Father Domineer rebukes her modern ideas and carefree behavior and condemns all modern literature and thought. When Larry begins to carry off two of Loreleen’s books, she snatches them and runs out through the gate. The priest and Larry are prevented from pursuit by the sudden appearance of the Cock, followed by the police sergeant. Frantically pointing his gun, the sergeant prepares to shoot the Cock, but the scene goes dark. Two shots are heard, followed by a clap of thunder. When light returns, both the Cock and Father Domineer have vanished. Soon after the sergeant and Larry leave, Larry returns with a wild tale that Father Domineer was carried home on the back of a white duck.

Larry is followed by the bellman, his clothes awry, screaming that the Cock is creating a great wind. The sergeant comes rushing in without his pants, and after Marthraun sends him upstairs to get trousers, a strong wind threatens to blow away the pants of Marthraun, the Bellman, and Larry. When the sergeant reappears wearing Marthraun’s best trousers, Marthraun gives a cry of dismay. His companions are depressed from their ordeal, and again Father Domineer enters and rallies them. Marching music is heard, and then, with clothes torn and hair disheveled, Loreleen enters, unwillingly, dragged by two “rough fellows” and Shanaar.

They take her before Father Domineer, who denounces her as a “painted paramour.” One of the men boasts of catching her in a car with Mahan, “a married man.” Loreleen appeals to Father Domineer’s mercy, insisting that she only wanted money to leave the parish, and that her captors have stolen the money Mahan gave her. When the priest shows no pity, the messenger comes to her defense and forces the ruffians to release her. Loreleen accuses the priest of hating women and beauty; Father Domineer replies by placing a curse on her and ordering her to leave the parish immediately. She begins to walk out through the gate in stocking feet, but Lorna rushes out of the house with her possessions in a rucksack and drapes a green cloak over Loreleen. Lorna announces that she is joining Loreleen in her journey.

Marthraun is shocked by Lorna’s departure, and Marion adds to his woes by announcing her intention to follow Lorna and Loreleen. In response to the messenger’s entreaties to stay, she advises him to leave also and exits.

Julia enters on her stretcher, still paralyzed despite her journey to Lourdes, but only Robin remains to talk to her. Julia’s despair is deepened upon learning that Lorna and Loreleen have left the parish; in response to her request for a blessing, Robin will only say, “Evermore be brave.” Preparing to leave, Robin announces that he will go to “a place where life resembles life more than it does here.” When Marthraun asks for a last word of advice, the messenger replies bleakly, “Die. There is little else useful for the likes of you to do.” Robin begins to play the accordion softly as he walks away, singing a haunting tune about the beauty of Marion.

Dramatic Devices

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O’Casey’s invention of the Cock as a symbol of sexuality and the joy of life is his most imaginative conception in the play, although in theatrical terms it is also his riskiest gamble. The Cock must be impressive and engender respect, even when being led by the messenger. Unfortunately, such a dramatic embodiment of myth runs the risk of being comic in an unintended way. One of the major challenges of any director is to make the figure of the Cock impressive rather than reminiscent of the comic Big Bird of television’s children’s program Sesame Street—or even worse perhaps, of a mascot found at a baseball stadium or basketball arena.

The play abounds in opportunities and challenges for special effects, from the relatively simple levitating objects heard in Marthraun’s house (and sometimes seen emerging from it) to more spectacular occurrences: moments of sudden change from light to darkness, and the sound and appearance of lightning and thunder. The most difficult challenge, perhaps, is the overwhelming wind of scene 3 that threatens to blow the trousers off several of the male characters. All these devices, however, are within the capabilities of a competent professional theater.

Much of Cock-a-Doodle Dandy is farcical in tone, but unlike most lighthearted farces, the play quickly becomes somber and grim after Father Domineer kills the truck driver. This mood is reinforced by the bleakness of the ending, which suggests that no happy, comic world can exist in an Ireland dominated by the spirit of Father Domineer and Marthraun. This compound of comedy and tragedy is characteristic of O’Casey’s work from its beginnings, or at least from the time of Juno and the Paycock (pr. 1924). Several of O’Casey’s plays, including his much-praised early realistic works, are best described as tragicomedies, and the term is an apt description of Cock-a-Doodle Dandy.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 95

Sources for Further Study

Hunt, Hugh. Sean O’Casey. 2d ed. Minneapolis, Minn.: Irish Books Media, 1998.

Krause, David. Sean O’Casey: The Man and His Work. New York: Macmillan, 1960.

Krause, David, and Robert Lowery, eds. Sean O’Casey: Centenary Essays. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire: C. Smith, 1980.

Mitchell, Jack. “Cock-a-Doodle Dandy.” In The Essential O’Casey: A Study of the Twelve Major Plays of Sean O’Casey, edited by Jack Mitchell. New York: International, 1980.

Scrimgeour, James R. Sean O’Casey. Boston: Twayne, 1978.

Shrank, Bernice W. Sean O’Casey: A Research and Production Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

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