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Last Updated on July 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 318

Isabella Augusta Persse, better known as Lady Gregory, wrote the play The Rising of the Moon in the early 1900s. It is a comedic tale of police officers and an escaped prisoner they are trying to find, and it explores some of the dynamics between English and Irish people as...

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Isabella Augusta Persse, better known as Lady Gregory, wrote the play The Rising of the Moon in the early 1900s. It is a comedic tale of police officers and an escaped prisoner they are trying to find, and it explores some of the dynamics between English and Irish people as well as prisoners and their captors.

In the story, a prisoner has escaped from jail and is on the loose. Three men, a sergeant and two junior assistants, are distributing flyers trying to aid in his capture, offering a sum of one hundred pounds, which, at the time was an incredible amount. After passing out flyers, the men separate and the sergeant decides to sit and wait out on a quay to see if the prisoner can be captured. While he rests there, he thinks about the wealth one would have if they received the hundred pounds, and a man comes up to him.

The man acts as an entertaining ballad singer, but in reality, he is the fugitive prisoner. He claims to know the convict and offers to help the sergeant, who agrees, because the man says he wants no part in the reward and would let the sergeant take all of it. While the two man wait, they discuss their lives and muse on why the sergeant took the path in life he did instead of turning to nationalism and becoming a patriot, making him question his life choices and ingratiating the fugitive to him somewhat.

As they are sitting and the fugitive is singing, a passing ship responds to one of his songs, revealing that they are his escape plan. The sergeant learns that he has been tricked and is furious but given pause because of their conversation. He decides in the end to allow the prisoner to leave and get to the ship, because of their connection and the conversations they have been having.

Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 995

On a moonlit night on an Irish wharf, three Irish police officers in the service of the occupying English government paste up wanted posters for a clever escaped political criminal. Convinced that the escaped rebel might creep to the water’s edge to be rescued by sea, they all hope to capture him for the hundred-pound reward and perhaps even a promotion. The Sergeant sends his two younger assistants with their only lantern to post more flyers around town while, uneasily, he keeps watch at the water’s edge.

A man in rags tries to slip past the Sergeant, explaining that he merely wants to sell some songs to incoming sailors. The Ragged Man identifies himself as Jimmy Walsh, a ballad singer. When the man heads toward the steps to the water, the Sergeant stops him, insisting that Jimmy leave by way of town. Trying to interest the officer in his songs, the man sings a few ballads to the protesting Sergeant, who wants only to keep the area clear so he can catch the fleeing prisoner if he appears. The Sergeant orders the man to leave the area immediately.

The Ragged Man pretends to start toward town but stops to comment on the face on the poster, saying that he knows the man well. Interested, the Sergeant changes his mind about sending the Ragged Man away and insists that the stranger stay to furnish more information about the fugitive. The Ragged Man describes a dark, dangerous, muscular man who is an expert with many weapons, then he hints at previous murders of police officers on moonlit nights exactly like the present one.

Frightened, the Sergeant gladly accepts the Ragged Man’s offer to stay with him on the wharf to help look for the escaped murderer. Sitting back-to-back on a barrel in order to have full view of the dock area, the two men smoke pipes together to calm the Sergeant’s nerves. The Sergeant confesses that police work is difficult, especially for family men, because the officers spend long hours on dangerous missions. Accompanying the Sergeant’s lament, the Ragged Man starts to sing a traditional sentimental song about lovers and the beautiful Irish countryside. Then he begins a nationalistic ballad about a legendary oppressed old Irishwoman named Granuaile. The Sergeant stops him, protesting that it is inappropriate to sing about Irish oppression when political tempers are flaring between Ireland and England. His ragged companion replies that he is only singing the song to keep his spirits up during their dangerous and lonely watch; he then grabs his chest as if the forbidden singing is necessary to calm his frightened heart. When the pitying Sergeant allows him to continue his ballad, the man again sings about the fabled Irish martyr Granuaile, but this time he inserts the wrong lyrics. The Sergeant immediately corrects him and sings the proper line, revealing his knowledge of a rebel song even though he is supposed to be loyal to the English rulers.

The Ragged Man slyly begins to probe the Sergeant’s memories of former days when, as a young man, the Sergeant lovingly sang several traditional Irish ballads, including “Granuaile.” Confidentially, the Sergeant admits that he has sung every patriotic ballad the Ragged Man names. The man suggests that the Sergeant and the fugitive perhaps share the same youthful memories; in fact, the escaped prisoner might even have been among the Sergeant’s close friends in their younger days. When the Sergeant admits the possibility, the man describes a hypothetical scene in which the Sergeant joins in with those former singing friends to free Ireland. Therefore, the Ragged Man concludes, it might have been fated that the Sergeant would be the pursued instead of the pursuer.

Caught up in the hypothetical scenario, the Sergeant muses that if he had made different choices—not going into the police force, not marrying and having children—he and the fugitive could well have exchanged roles. The possibility becomes so real for him that he begins to confuse his own identity with that of the escapee and imagines himself stealthily trying to escape, violently shooting or assaulting police officers. He is startled out of his reverie by a sound from the water; he suspects that the rescuers have at last arrived to carry away the fugitive.

The Ragged Man contends that the Sergeant in the past sympathized with the Irish nationalists and not with the law he currently represents. In fact, he suggests that the Sergeant still doubts the choice he made for the English law and against “the people.” Boldly singing the rebel tune “The Rising of the Moon” as a signal to the rescuers on the water and ripping off his hat and wig, Jimmy, the ballad singer, reveals that he is in fact the fugitive himself, the man with a hundred-pound reward on his head.

Startled and struggling with his previously suppressed sympathies for the rebels, the Sergeant threatens to arrest the escapee and collect the reward when his younger police companions approach. He protests that his own rebel sentiments are buried in the past. Hiding from the nearing officers behind the barrel seat the two men so recently shared, the fugitive calls on the Sergeant’s love for Ireland to keep his presence secret. Quickly hiding the fugitive’s wig and hat behind him, the Sergeant denies to his subordinates that he has seen anyone. When the officers insist that they stay to aid their superior on his dangerous watch, the Sergeant gruffly rejects their noisy offers and sends them away with their lantern.

The escaped rebel gratefully retrieves his disguise and promises to return the favor when, “at the Rising of the Moon,” the roles of oppressor and oppressed are inevitably reversed. Quickly, he slips into the rescue boat and is gone. Left musing alone on the moonlit wharf, the Sergeant thinks of the lost reward and wonders if he has been a great fool.

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