Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 740
The Hostage takes place in 1960 in an old house in Dublin. It is owned by Pat, an old Irish nationalist and IRA soldier, and Meg, his spouse. They run it as a lodging house and brothel. Meg believes that ‘‘the old cause [of Irish freedom] is never dead.’’ Pat has an entirely different attitude. He states that ‘‘the days of the heroes are over.’’ However, by play’s end, Pat is shown to be more nostalgic about the War of Independence (1919) and the Civil War (1921-23), and more nationalistic, than he at first appears.
Monsewer enters. Pat and Monsewer were comrades during the Irish Civil War. Monsewer is the real owner of the house, but because he is mentally ‘‘distracted’’ and believes that he is still fighting in the Civil War, Pat runs the house for him. Monsewer was an ‘‘Anglo-Irishman’’ who ‘‘converted’’ to the Irish cause during the First World War. He learned Irish Gaelic and fought for the IRA during the Easter Uprising ‘‘like a true Irish hero.’’ Pat, who is a ‘‘real’’ Irish man, does not understand Irish Gaelic and complains that he would need ‘‘an Oxford University education’’ to do so.
Pat and Meg continue to fight about the meaning of Irish nationalism. Colette, Mr. Mulleady, and a Russian sailor enter. Colette is a prostitute. She complains that she will not accept the sailor as a customer because he is ‘‘a communist’’ and ‘‘it’s against my religion to have anything to do with the likes of him.’’ But Pat solves the matter by asking if the sailor has money. When he pulls out a ‘‘big wad of notes,’’ they all dive greedily for it. Meg comments that money ‘‘is the best religion in the world,’’ to which Pat responds, equally sardonically, ‘‘And the best politics, too.’’
Meg and Pat continue to argue about Monsewer and the Republican fondness for cultural nationalism, for ‘‘talking Irish and only calling themselves by their Irish names.’’ They crack jokes about Anglo-Irish identity and discuss the partition of Ireland in 1922 by Lloyd George and Michael Collins. Suddenly, the cast burst into song. The whole scene is a wordy, witty lesson in recent Irish history, particularly about the split within the Republican movement that resulted from the partitioning of Ireland.
Meanwhile, the hypocritical Miss Gilchrist is carrying on with the lecherous, drunken Mulleady. The two of them piously pray for divine forgiveness for their ‘‘fall from grace’’ while continuing to fondle each other. Meg accuses Miss Gilchrist of being a ‘‘half-time whore.’’ After Miss Gilchrist exits, Pat asks people for rent, and ‘‘the room clears as if by magic.’’
Teresa, the shy, innocent maid servant, enters and informs Pat and Meg that there is ‘‘a man outside.’’ The IRA Officer and the Volunteer enter and sternly assess the house’s security. The other characters exit, and Pat alone remains to talk business with them. The IRA Officer is a cold, arrogant, bureaucratic man, and soon he and Pat are arguing about their different understandings of the IRA. Pat is furious about events that happened in the past— the prioritizing of military victory over socialist reform, and his own punishment for disobeying orders—while the IRA Officer is contemptuous of the IRA’s former communist membership.
After the two men settle some petty arrangements, they are interrupted by a radio announcement, to which everyone in the house rushes to listen. It is about the young IRA prisoner imprisoned in Belfast Jail, who is due to be executed the next day. The British have refused him a reprieve.
After some rambling comments about the prisoner, the room clears and Meg and Teresa start making the bed. Pat re-enters, and Meg seizes the opportunity to say that although she is sad about the prisoner’s imminent execution, she is glad ‘‘that there are still young men willing and ready to go out and die for Ireland.’’ For once they agree: the prisoner, Pat says, will certainly ‘‘be in the presence of the Irish martyrs of eight hundred years ago’’ when he dies. Meg then laments that the Belfast boy will never have known any real love other than his love for Ireland.
Meg proposes some dancing to cheer everyone up, and as the cast members dance to a reel, Leslie, the British soldier, accompanied by the two IRA guards, enters. The act ends with the solider and the cast members singing an absurdist song.
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