Paul Vincent Carroll Sister Ann Gertrude Coleman - Essay

Sister Ann Gertrude Coleman

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It was Paul Vincent Carroll who gave to the stage several portrayals of the Catholic priest in plays which not only dramatize the position of the priest in Catholic Ireland's national life, but also question the relation of religion to the daily life of the people. Carroll, up to the present time, at least, has neither peer nor imitator in this kind of Irish play. The figure of the Catholic priest has appeared frequently in modern Irish prose fiction, but only occasionally and incidentally in plays. (p. 87)

Irish-born Paul Vincent Carroll … wrote several plays, as distinctive as those of any of his great predecessors in the Abbey Theater, in which he frequently dramatized the conflict between the liberal and the illiberal wings of Catholicism in Ireland, often showing a sensitive concern for the plight of the rebel against oppressive convention imposed from within or from without. In two of his best-known plays, Shadow and Substance and The White Steed, he sets a type of obtuse Irish priest in opposition to a type of intransigent liberal, and at the stupidities of everyone involved, whether cleric or layman, he hits very hard indeed.

In a youthful tragedy entitled Things That Are Caesar's, presented at the Abbey Theater in August, 1932, Carroll broods over the spiritual decay in the family life of an Irish Catholic home. The play is unrelieved by even a little hope; nor does any character in it reveal the brighter side of the Irish nature, such as one finds in his more mature plays. Apparently Carroll later moved toward a more profound insight and a broader, deeper sympathy, for in The Strings, My Lord, Are False, produced just ten years later, the priest becomes a symbol of Christian heroism and many characters exemplify some of the finest traits in the Irish disposition.

One of Carroll's most significant plays is Shadow and Substance…. It is a deeply felt play about life, religion and education in one of the hill towns of County Louth, where Carroll was born. (pp. 88-9)

The penetrating analysis of Irish Catholic life in Shadow and Substance is more complex than that in any other Carroll play. The structure of the plot rests on two main personalities, each utterly unlike the other, yet closer in love and understanding and spiritual affinity than are any other characters to either of these or to each other….

In Carroll's next play, The White Steed,… he again brings into focus the ugly differences between the shadow and the substance of true Catholicism by bringing together some remarkable character contrasts in both clerical and lay life. The play attacks pride, cruelty, stupidity, and the type of mind that identifies the Church with certain modern corruptions in art and piety.

Confined to his wheel chair, Canon Matt Lavelle, wise,...

(The entire section is 1189 words.)