The Play

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...

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Dramatic Devices

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

(Great Characters in Literature)

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.