Themes and Meanings

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The theme of The Hostage is unmistakable. It is the rejection of nationalism. Brendan Behan himself was a member of the IRA and was sentenced to three years’ custody in an English reform school for possession of explosives in 1940, when he was only seventeen. He was released early and deported to Ireland, where, in 1942, he fired three shots at an Irish detective during the annual Easter Sunday commemoration of the 1916 Rising against the British government. It was an Irish court that sentenced him to fourteen years’ imprisonment for this offense (he served less than five). Behan maintained his connections with the IRA and received further jail sentences in England and Ireland as a result. However, he was well placed to observe and to write about the internal contradictions of the Irish nationalist movement.

One of these is, simply, the close connection between England and Ireland, which nationalism attempts to deny. The Irish Republic refused, in the 1920’s, to join the British Commonwealth under the Crown. However, many of the inhabitants of Pat’s lodging house are devoted to the British royal family, which they regard as their own. When Teresa tries to make a nationalist point by asking Leslie what the English are doing in Northern Ireland, he replies with simple reversal by asking what the Irish are doing in London. The two nations, separate in theory, are irretrievably mixed in practice, by sentiment and often by blood.


(The entire section is 518 words.)


(Drama for Students)

A Stage Production of Behan's Play Published by Gale Cengage

Irish Identity
The most important theme in The Hostage is Irish identity. Behan demonstrates that Irish...

(The entire section is 1471 words.)