Critical Context

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

After Sean O’Casey had helped to save the Abbey Theatre from financial ruin with the success of his plays Juno and the Paycock (pr. 1924, pb. 1925) and The Plough and the Stars (pr., pb. 1926), his expressionist antiwar play The Silver Tassie (pb. 1928, pr. 1929) was rejected by the directors (including Lady Augusta Gregory and William Butler Yeats) of the theater. O’Casey refused to compromise and never again had one of his plays produced by the Abbey Theatre. He published plays from London and there had his next plays produced, including the anti-fascist propaganda plays The Star Turns Red (pr., pb. 1940) and Oak Leaves and Lavender: Or, A World on Wallpaper (pb. 1946, pr. 1947). These plays make blatant statements of sympathy for communism, and they lose dramatic force by their stridency.

The earlier, controversial Within the Gates (pb. 1933, pr. 1934), a political allegory, had been set in London’s Hyde Park as a protest against the economic conditions of people living through the Great Depression. O’Casey set his political farce Purple Dust (pb. 1940, pr. 1944) back in Ireland; in this play, English exploitation of Irish resources is analyzed effectively through satire. O’Casey returned to his familiar settings, the workers’ neighborhoods of Dublin where he was reared, for Red Roses for Me. The play was produced by an Irish theater, though not the Abbey, and it is generally held to be one of the most successful plays from the middle period of his career. In Red Roses for Me, O’Casey avoided blatant propaganda, employed the Irish speech rhythms of his great early plays, and drew upon his own experiences to produce a tribute to the human spirit wherever it rises above conditions of degradation.