(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The economic subtext of The Rising of the Moon provides an approach to its depiction of class realities within the Irish nationalist community and is a means of focusing on the play’s unmistakable if unsophisticated ideological content. There is a price on the Man’s head. That is the fact upon which the action of the play, such as it is, pivots. The amount named in the opening conversation between the policemen is a description of the value placed on the escapee by those with the power to set the market in such matters. It is also an expression of the economic status of those who are carrying out the will of such empowerment.

The police make themselves known not only by means of this financial signature but also by the fact that they are to be differentiated from the escapee’s jailers, without whose help, it is suggested, the Man would not have broken free. The way in which their sympathies are engaged is putatively at odds with those of their colleagues in the security forces. Moreover, their implied opposition to the Man’s freedom places them in a singular position regarding the local community as a whole. This is suggested by the Man’s disguise as a ballad-singer. To disguise himself as the anonymous purveyor of works that reflect and stimulate popular sentiment is to present himself as the voice of the people, a role whose undisguised nature is revealed as the play unfolds. The implication is that the police are opposed not merely to the Man’s freedom in the narrow, practical, legalistic sense of the word: Their allegiance makes them the enemies of the larger freedom for which the Man is such a powerful spokesperson.

The Sergeant is the dramatic point at which such concerns converge. He is at once the policeman with the greatest degree of visibility and responsibility in the play and the one who finds himself radically susceptible to the appeal of the Man’s rhetoric. This vulnerability is partly a matter of the moment, of the heightened sense of duty that the escape has created, and of the weight of official responsibility that the Sergeant has been asked to bear. The Man’s words and songs...

(The entire section is 875 words.)