The structure of this play is almost invisible, beginning as the continuation of a conversation which has probably been going on all night on the road from Daire-caol to Galway; proceeding seamlessly as a two-sided, then a three-sided conversation; and culminating in a monologue by Mary Cahel. That is not to say that there is no structure, for the organization is very tight and purposeful: first, the exposition of what the two women know, hope, and fear; then, their exploration of possibilities for the future, built on the assumption that the rumors at home are true and Denis has traded his companions for his own life and freedom; and finally, the revelation of the truth and Mary Cahel’s triumphant, vengeful determination to have the truth of the matter told far and wide.
Lady Gregory’s artistry is proven by the invisibility of the structure, for one is drawn into the very inner lives of Mary Cahel and Mary Cushin by overhearing a conversation between two apparently very ordinary women. The “Kiltartan dialect,” which Lady Gregory had already perfected and popularized in Cuchulain of Muirthemne (1902) and Gods and Fighting Men (1904), is the sound of the peasants and simple folk she knew and loved, and from whom she collected much of her folklore. There are no great dramatic flourishes or technical effects—only the simple and heartbreaking dialogue of two women who are not sure whether they should fear their son’s and husband’s death or the disgrace of the family name.
While suspense is created by the guesses and hopes of the two women until they learn the truth, tension is provided by the submerged clash of personalities between Mary Cushin and Mary Cahel and the more open clash between the feelings of Mary Cushin and the attitude of the gatekeeper toward criminals.
From the start, Mary Cahel appears...
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