The Rising of the Moon

by Isabella Augusta Persse

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The Rising of the Moon Summary

The Rising of the Moon is a play about Irish police officers trying to capture an escaped prisoner.

  • Three men, a sergeant and two junior assistants, are distributing flyers to try to capture an escaped prisoner.
  • The sergeant, who is tired, decides to sit and wait on a quay to see if the prisoner can be captured. While he rests, he thinks about the wealth he would have if he received the hundred pounds offered as a reward for the prisoner’s capture.
  • A man comes up to him and acts as an entertaining ballad singer. In reality, he is the fugitive prisoner. He offers to help the sergeant, who agrees because the man says he wants no part in the reward.
  • As they are sitting and the fugitive is singing, a passing ship responds to one of the songs, revealing that they are the fugitive’s escape plan. The sergeant learns that he has been tricked but decides in the end to allow the prisoner to leave.

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The action begins by moonlight on the quayside of a seaport town in Ireland. Three policemen enter, one of whom is a sergeant. He looks down the steps to the sea while the others unroll a bundle of notices and produce a pot of glue. They put up a notice, which describes a wanted man: five feet, five inches in height, with dark hair and dark eyes. The man has recently broken out of jail, and a reward of £100 is offered for his capture.

Policeman X observes that, if they catch the man, they will receive nothing but abuse from the people of Ireland, including their own families. The sergeant replies that they have their duty to do as police officers and sends the others away to put up more notices. When they have gone, a ragged man enters and tries to slip past the sergeant. When the sergeant stops him, he identifies himself as Jimmy Walsh, a ballad singer. He tries to go down the steps, but the sergeant tells him that no one is allowed on the quay that night.

The ragged man finally agrees to go back into town, but as he leaves, he tells the sergeant that he knows why he is there and for whom he is waiting. The sergeant calls him back and questions him, asking him what he knows about the escaped prisoner and where he has seen him. The ragged man has seen him in County Clare, where he comes from, and says that the sergeant should be afraid to face such a strong, cunning adversary, who is particularly well-known for his attacks on police officers.

The sergeant says that the police should have sent a whole troop of officers after such a criminal, and the ragged man offers to wait and watch with him, since he would know the man “a mile off.” The ragged man and the sergeant sit together on a barrel, smoking. The sergeant complains of the hard, thankless, dangerous life of a police officer while the ragged man sings a ballad. The sergeant initially objects to the man’s singing but then says he can sing if it gives him courage, and he even shows that he knows the ballad by correcting the words. The ragged man remarks that the sergeant and the man he is seeking might well have sat in the same places and sung the same songs in their youth.

The sergeant admits this is true, and the ragged man continues to speculate that if the other boys with whom he used to sing these songs had told him “some plan they had, some plan to free the country,” he might have joined them, in which case he would be the wanted man now. The sergeant agrees and elaborates on the thought, imagining himself in the role of fugitive. He is shaken out of his reverie when he thinks he hears the sound of oars in the water, and when the ragged man suggests that as a young man, he used to favor the people rather than the law, he replies that he was foolish then.

The ragged man sings another ballad, and the sergeant angrily orders him to stop or he will arrest him. Then he hears a whistle, which he realizes is a signal. He asks the ragged man who he really is, and the man points to the placard, indicating that he is the fugitive the sergeant is seeking. He takes off the hat and the wig with which he has been disguised, and the sergeant seizes them. The sergeant says that it is a pity things have turned out this way, but he will not let the man pass.

The other two policemen return, having put up all the notices, and the ragged man hides behind the barrel. Policeman B asks the sergeant if anyone came this way, and the sergeant, after some hesitation, says that no one did. Policeman B offers to stay and watch with him, but the sergeant sends him and the other officer away.

When they have gone, the man emerges from behind the barrel, and the sergeant asks him what he is waiting for. The man replies that he is waiting for his hat and his wig, and the sergeant gives them to him. The man thanks the sergeant, addressing him as “comrade,” and says that perhaps he will do him a similar good turn “when we all change places at the Rising . . . of the Moon.” The sergeant turns to the audience, exclaiming, “A hundred pounds reward!” and wonders if he is as great a fool as he thinks he is.

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