Paul Vincent Carroll Robert Hogan - Essay

Robert Hogan

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The great strength of Shadow and Substance lay primarily in the juxtaposition of two beautifully drawn and brilliantly contrasted characters…. Based vaguely on Carroll's interpretation of the character of Jonathan Swift, [the character Cannon Skerritt] actually reflects those facets of Swift with which Carroll himself most identified—the intellectual pride, the arrogance, the austerity, the savage contempt for folly. But if Canon Skerritt represents a stern and cold facet of Paul Vincent Carroll himself, these qualities were superbly balanced in the play by the Canon's young serving-girl Brigid. In Brigid's mysticism, simplicity, warm humanity and spiritual humility, another and probably more significant side of Carroll's own character was evident. These opposed contrarities combined to create one of the most solidly built, bitingly caustic and deeply moving plays to emerge from the remarkable dramatic movement of modern Ireland.

There are, I think, two reasons for Carroll's inability to create other plays as thoroughly memorable as Shadow and Substance. Although The White Steed was nearly as fine, and although his jeu d'esprit The Devil Came from Dublin really only needs a final polishing and tightening, in most of his other plays he was unable to achieve quite the same excellent balance of his own clashing character traits. In most of his other work, he seemed either totally Swiftian or totally Brigid-like. When he swung toward the Swiftian pole, as in Things That Are Caesar's, or The Wise Have Not Spoken, or Farewell to Greatness!, he was not always able to keep his savagery, his ferocity, his satire and his contempt for folly within reasonable bounds. To an appreciable extent, each of these plays is strident, harsh and a bit unbelievable. In The Wise Have Not Spoken, for instance, he describes the modern world as "a tower of Babel where fools, puritans, and scoundrels shout each other down…. a warping, killing, crookening rat-trap where the human mind and spirit are driven mad." In Farewell to Greatness!, his saeva indignatio takes a sexual bent, and Swift's detestation of Vanessa becomes so ferocious that it is simply inhuman and psychopathic.

When, however, Carroll veered, as he most often did, around to the Brigid point of view, he usually became too simple and too saccharine. In plays like The Wayward Saint, The Old...

(The entire section is 1004 words.)