The Rising of the Moon

by Isabella Augusta Persse

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The Rising of the Moon Characters

The main characters in The Rising of the Moon are the sergeant, Policeman X, Policeman B, and the ragged man.

  • The sergeant might have joined the Irish revolutionary cause as a young man but instead became a representative of the English law.
  • Policeman X seems to be ambivalent about his position and may represent Irish popular opinion.
  • Policeman B is a largely comic character and the least intelligent of the three police officers.
  • The ragged man is a fugitive disguised as a ballad-singer who manipulates the sergeant into allowing him to escape.

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

The Sergeant

The sergeant is older than the other two officers and initially seems to be more deeply attached to his role in the police force. However, as the play progresses, it becomes clear that he has been stifling his doubts about his role as the oppressive force of law and order in a society where the majority of the people are opposed to his efforts. He attempts to act with the rigid adherence to duty which he believes is appropriate for his position but soon lets his guard down and finds himself sitting on the barrel, smoking companionably with the ragged man and being led into a nostalgic train of thought.

The sergeant soon reveals that his initial hostility to the ballads the ragged man sings comes from the fact that he knows them well, and they have a meaning for him that is at odds with his present position. As a young man, he sang these songs himself and might easily have joined the revolutionary cause, instead of becoming a representative of the English law in Ireland. The sergeant attempts to be practical and finally wonders whether he has been foolish to give up his chance of claiming the reward money for capturing the fugitive. However, the romantic, nostalgic side of his nature ultimately dictates his actions, along with his suggestibility, which makes him an easy target for the ragged man’s eloquence.

Policeman X

Policeman X only has four short lines, making him the most minor of the four characters. The most significant remark he makes is that if they capture the fugitive they will receive “nothing but abuse on our heads for it” from the people and perhaps even from those closest to them. This suggests that he is ambivalent about his duty, and shares the sergeant’s latent sympathies, or at least feels the pressure of being unpopular in the community. The fact that he is called Policeman X, rather than Policeman A, may be an indication that he stands for popular opinion in Ireland (as Mr. X or Citizen X), and that he is ill-matched with the other officer, since they are X and B, rather than X and Y or A and B.

Policeman B

Policeman B is the most comic of the four characters, characterized by thoughtlessness and foolish questions. He is the first to speak, consulting both Policeman X and the sergeant over the trivial matter of whether to paste a notice on the barrel. His clumsiness and ineptitude infuriate the sergeant at the end of the play, when he comes close to discovering the fugitive by accident. He is the least intelligent and reflective of the three police officers, though his final comments about the lantern giving comfort to the sergeant because it is like a fire at home with “the bits of bogwood blazing up now and again” suggest that there is some poetry in his simple soul.

The Ragged Man

The ragged man is eloquent, intelligent, and persuasive, countering the sergeant’s physical strength and legal authority with the power of song and sentiment. He is careful not to argue with the sergeant openly but leads him covertly, by suggestion. When, at the beginning of the play, the sergeant keeps telling him to stay away from the steps, he agrees humbly, then goes toward them anyway.

The ragged man builds up the legend of the fugitive, telling the sergeant that he knows the man well and commiserating with him for having to face such a formidable and ruthless adversary. The audience soon realizes (certainly sooner than the sergeant does) that the ragged man is talking about himself. His character is therefore revealed both directly and indirectly. It is clear that the audience is expected to be skeptical when he describes his own feats of strength and daring, since he also reveals himself as a trickster, mocking the sergeant’s comparatively slow wits as he manipulates him.

The ragged man displays great confidence in his own powers, knowing that the sergeant will not only allow him to depart, but will even give him back his disguise. He is also certain of the justice of his cause and solemnly thanks the sergeant for his help at the end of the play. Though he has used manipulation and deceit to make his escape, he believes that he has done the right thing and that the sergeant is also correct in allowing himself to be influenced.

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