The Plough and the Stars

by Sean O'Casey

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

The Plough and the Stars is a four-act play. It was written by Seán O'Casey (Gaelic: Seán Ó Cathasaigh), an Irish playwright who was born on March 30, 1880, and died on September 18, 1964. He was a committed socialist and Irish Nationalist who was a political activist as well as a writer and whose work reflects his political ideas and interest in the lives of the Irish working classes.

The Plough and the Stars opened on February 8, 1926, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. The Abbey Theatre was founded by William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory in 1904 and was the leading Irish theater of the period.

The title The Plough and the Stars refers to the Starry Plough banner, a flag and symbol used by the Irish Citizen Army, of which O'Casey was a general secretary. The play was set during the 1916 Easter Rising, an important episode in the Irish struggle for independence from England.

The play portrays the lives of Jack and Nora Clitheroe and their associates and neighbors and how their lives are affected by the "Troubles" (the Irish conflict with England). Jack is a bricklayer and member of the Irish Citizen Army, while Nora is as much concerned with domesticity and striving for respectability as politics. As the momentum of the armed conflict escalates, one sees how it disrupts the lives of ordinary individuals.

In the first act, the audience encounters the ordinary life of the community, including Fluther Good installing a new lock on the Clitheroes' door and Mrs. Gogan delivering a a hatbox for Nora. Covey and Captain Brennan bring news marking the build-up of tension and calls to direct action that immediately precede the violence of the Easter Rising.

The second act takes place in a public house (tavern) where people are giving speeches and encouraging an armed uprising against the English. While many are enthusiastic, some are concerned about how this will disrupt ordinary life.

The third act takes place on Easter Monday and reflects the violence of the Rising and how the violence is not restricted to direct action against the British but involves widespread looting and danger to bystanders. In the fourth act, later in the Rising, Nora's baby is stillborn, Jack has been killed, and Bessie has been shot by accident. Although the play supports the cause of Irish independence, it also shows how the struggle devastates the lives of ordinary working Irish people.

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