The Quare Fellow

by Brendan Behan

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The Quare Fellow

The Quare Fellow, a man scheduled for execution because he murdered his brother. He never appears on stage but is the focal point of all discussion and represents all quare fellows (prisoners scheduled for execution) everywhere.


Dunlavin, an old man who has spent most of his life in Irish prisons without becoming dulled by the experience. Often, he seems to speak for the playwright, doling out astute pieces of social criticism. His comparison of upper-and lower-class murder styles, for example, and his insistence that he prefers murderers to perpetrators of sexual crimes are comic, set pieces that focus on social pretensions and hypocrisies, which the playwright has attacked elsewhere. Dunlavin is a crafty old-timer who knows the prison system and can con authorities, cadge cigarette butts, and find access to alcohol. He is sympathetic to other prisoners, providing a practical example of how to survive an inhumane situation by using humor, but he is also hardened to the realities of his life and does not expect softness, compassion, or even justice from his world.

Warder Regan

Warder Regan, an unusual prison guard whose humor is a match for Dunlavin’s. Like Dunlavin, he uses his humor as a means of coping with a prison situation and a world that he would otherwise find unbearable. He is too familiar with the prisoners to suit prison authorities, and his clear parallels with Dunlavin prevent any implication that all virtue lies on the prisoners’ side of the bars.


Neighbour, a contemporary of Dunlavin, also a prison old-timer. He is less sardonic than Dunlavin, but his presence allows the two old men to reminisce about the harshness of poverty outside the prison and to analyze prison life itself, thus voicing many of the play’s social concerns. Neighbour’s recognition that execution might be a kinder fate than putting a prisoner back on the streets with no real means of survival sums up major concerns of the play.


Lifer, a forty-three-year-old murderer who has just been granted a reprieve from execution and been reassigned to this ward. A member of the privileged class outside the prison, he beat his wife to death with the silver-topped cane presented to him by the Combined Staffs, Excess and Refunds branch of the late Great Southern Railways. Reprieve has brought a change from the relative comforts of the condemned cell (where he had all the cigarettes he wanted and special food) to the considerably more austere main ward. The other prisoners are more generous with him than he had been with them, and he is a direct contrast with the Quare Fellow, who suffers a very different fate for committing a very similar crime. Thus, life inside the prison reflects the social realities of life outside the walls.

The Other Fellow

The Other Fellow, the second prisoner just reassigned to this ward. He has been convicted of an unspecified sexual crime and is timid and anxious. He is appalled by murderers, kowtows to authorities, and mouths conventional pieties.

Prisoner A

Prisoner A, called Hard Case,

Prisoner B

Prisoner B, The Man of Thirty,

Prisoner C

Prisoner C, The Boy from the Island,

Prisoner D

Prisoner D, The Embezzler, and

Prisoner E

Prisoner E, The Bookie, a chorus of barely distinguishable prisoners whose general commentary climaxes in wordless howling as the Quare Fellow is executed.


Scholara and


Shaybo, referred to together as Young Prisoners, both seventeen years old. They are due to be released soon, and their major concern is catching a glimpse of the female prisoners. They are what the other prisoners must...

(This entire section contains 780 words.)

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once have been; they are destined to become what the other prisoners are. The fact that they study Gaelic while incarcerated indicates their membership in a new generation of Irish prisoners, for whom Irish nationalism and criminal behavior frequently are linked.

Holy Healey

Holy Healey, a representative of the Department of Justice who comes to inspect the prison. He is a stereotypical administrator and do-gooder whose membership in charitable societies and pompous piety do not conceal a general lack of compassion for everyone but himself.


Hangman, the executioner. He knows how to compute weight, height, and length of fall to plan an efficient execution and treats his job as a mere technical problem, but he is unable to perform that job without getting roaring drunk the night before.


Governor (or Warden) and

Chief Warder

Chief Warder, typical prison administrators, not hostile to their prisoners but indifferent to them, seeking only to improve their own positions.

Warder Donelly

Warder Donelly and

Warder 2

Warder 2, older and younger versions of a typical prison guard, interested only in promotion.




Critical Essays