The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In act 1, Mrs. Breydon worries that her son is doing too much, with his “sketchin’, readin’, makin’ songs, an’ learnin’ Shakespeare.” She is worried about “this sorryful sthrike” threatened by railroad workers and about Ayamonn’s “runnin’ afther” Sheila Morneen. Ayamonn replies that the owners will accept the workers’ demands and there will be no strike; he believes that Sheila’s Roman Catholic faith and policeman father are not reasons enough to give her up. Eeada, Dympna, and Finoola interrupt, bringing a statue of the Blessed Virgin, their “Lady of Eblana,” to ask for soap to clean it. Sheila arrives to urge the romantic Ayamonn to earn money for their marriage. Brennan brings a young carpenter, Sammy, to sing lyrics written by Ayamonn and set to music by Brennan. Roory O’Balacaun objects to the “foreign Minsthrel Show,” as Sammy sings of Kaithleen ni Houlihan, who “carries a rich bunch of red roses for me.” Roory calls the song indecent, and Mullcanny scoffs at Roory’s bigoted prudery. Sheila leaves, swearing that she will not see Ayamonn again; he says, “Aw, to hell with her!” The statue then disappears, and Ayamonn tries to console his neighbors. Alone with Roory, Ayamonn slowly dons his work clothes. They sing a Fenian song of rebellion as they go to work.

In act 2, the next evening, Brennan explains that he took the statue to be repainted. Ayamonn defends Mullcanny’s atheistic ways to Roory and Brennan: “I’ll stand by any honest man seekin’ th’ truth, though his way isn’t my way.” Mullcanny calls Brennan and Roory a “pair of damned fools.” Their quarreling is interrupted by Sheila, who says that Ayamonn can have a foreman’s job, but only if he abandons the workers’ cause. Ayamonn is furious. Mullcanny escapes a mob in the streets, with help from Mrs. Breydon. Breaking glass sends Brennan and Roory running, but Ayamonn takes a hurling stick into the street. Brennan, Roory, and Sheila accuse Mullcanny of causing trouble with his beliefs, but he retorts that people are merely “time’s promoted reptiles.” Ayamonn and his mother return, followed by Eeada, Dympna, and Finoola, who sing thanksgiving for the...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Red Roses for Me uses set design, props, costumes, makeup, lighting, songs, music, and dancing to create its expressionistic effects. The closed door to the Breydon flat in the first act is balanced by a church door in the last act; the opening of the Breydons’ door to their neighbors is balanced by the opening of the church door for Brennan’s farewell to dead Ayamonn. The bench of flowers in front of the Breydon window is echoed by the altar in the last act, where the Celtic cross of daffodils takes the place of the railroad signal, with its transverse arms, seen through the window in the first two acts. When Dowzard and Foster trample the cross of flowers near the play’s end, gunshots are heard; their action expresses the “crucifixion” of the martyred hero, Ayamonn (whose name means “everyman”).

The Shakespearean play that Ayamonn is rehearsing is set in the English Wars of the Roses, and the chair that Ayamonn plans to design as a prop for his production will be a throne with the Lancastrian red rose on it. Ayamonn says that Sheila is his rose, and she places red roses on his corpse at the end. Dublin itself becomes a rose in the third act, through the lighting around the city’s skyline. This act blends the rhetoric of Ayamonn with choral song, solos, and dancing in a transfiguration of the characters as prophecies of what they can become.

Lighting creates a symmetry of silver lines identifying the church steeple...

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Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

The Great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913
In his stage directions, O’Casey is vague about when the play is supposed to take place. But...

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Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

As a regional Irish story, the play’s setting is crucial to the plot. The play takes place in Ireland, which has a...

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Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

1910s: Around 100,000 of Dublin’s workers stage a large strike in response to the Great Dublin Lock-Out of 1913. The strike ends...

(The entire section is 264 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Imagine that you are a teenager living during the 1913 Dublin Lock-Out. Write a journal entry that describes a typical day in your life...

(The entire section is 157 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

O’Casey’s play was written in the early 1940s and examines life in the early 1910s. By contrast, John Ardagh’s Ireland and the...

(The entire section is 435 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

Ayling, Ronald, ‘‘Sean O’Casey,’’ in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 10, Modern British...

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(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Esslinger, Pat M. “Sean O’Casey and the Lockout of 1913: Materia Poetica of the Two Red Plays.” Modern Drama 6 (May, 1972): 53-63.

Goldstone, Herbert. In Search of Community: The Achievement of Sean O’Casey. Cork, Ireland: Mercier Press, 1972.

Hogan, Robert. The Experiments of Sean O’Casey. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1960.

Hogan, Robert, and Richard Burnham. The Years of O’Casey, 1921-1926: A Documentary History. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Hunt, Hugh....

(The entire section is 191 words.)