Sean O'Casey

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Along with his drama, Sean O’Casey wrote verse, political tracts, historical sketches, essays, dramatic criticism, short stories, and an extensive six-volume autobiography: I Knock at the Door (1939), Pictures in the Hallway (1942), Drums Under the Windows (1945), Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well (1949), Rose and Crown (1952), and Sunset and Evening Star (1954). The autobiography is also available in a two-volume edition, Mirror in My House (1956). Early in his career, O’Casey published two volumes of poetry: Songs of the Wren (1918) and More Wren Songs (1918). His political pamphlets include The Story of Thomas Ashe (1918), The Sacrifice of Thomas Ashe (1918), and The Story of the Irish Citizen Army (1919). O’Casey’s two essay collections are The Flying Wasp (1937) and The Green Crow (1956). His essays, criticism, short stories, and verse have been collected in several anthologies, including Windfalls (1934), Feathers from the Green Crow: Sean O’Casey, 1905-1925 (1962), Under a Colored Cap (1963), and Blasts and Benedictions (1967).


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Poet, playwright, essayist, and short-story writer Sean O’Casey stands as one of the major figures of the Irish Literary Renaissance . Though he began his career as a playwright late in life, he still managed to complete more than twenty plays, a six-volume autobiography, and numerous short stories and essays before his death in 1964. Along with the works of John Millington Synge, Lady Augusta Gregory, and William Butler Yeats, his plays sustained the Abbey Theatre during its early years, accounting for its greatest commercial successes, and they are still among the most popular works in the Abbey Theatre’s repertory.

During his career, O’Casey moved beyond the confines of dramatic realism to create a new style of expressionism in Anglo-Irish theater. In this regard, he is among the most original and innovative of modern European playwrights. Perhaps only the epic realism of Bertolt Brecht’s works rivals the sheer spectacle and vitality of O’Casey’s stage. Though his early plays have continued in repertory, these later plays, especially, deserve to be performed more often, despite the demands of their Irish dialect and their variety of song-and-dance material. That they are not reflects the impoverishment of the modern stage, for O’Casey was a master of theatrical entertainment.

Discussion Topics

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Discuss the following: Few writers have had a more difficult early life and have made more of it in their writing than Sean O’Casey.

Are O’Casey’s ill-educated characters ever eloquent?

Are O’Casey’s female characters heroic or merely long-suffering?

Assess O’Casey’s relationship with the Abbey Theater.

Examine the way comedy and tragedy intermingle in O’Casey’s plays.

Near the end of his autobiography O’Casey writes, “Though man may be foolish, men are not fools.” What does he mean? Is the shift from singular to plural significant?


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Ayling, Ronald, and Michael J. Durkan. Sean O’Casey: A Bibliography. London: Macmillan, 1978. A valuable bibliographic source on O’Casey’s work and the critical reaction to it.

Kearney, Colbert. The Glamour of Grammar: Orality and Politics and the Emergence of Sean O’Casey. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2000. A study of the Irishness of the literary language of O’Casey, especially his early works.

Krause, David. Sean O’Casey: The Man and His Work. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Krause examines O’Casey’s life, drama, and experiences in the theatrical world.

Mikhail, E. H. Sean O’Casey and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1985. Mikhail’s bibliography is a fine survey of available sources on O’Casey to the mid-1980’s.

Mitchell, Jack. The Essential O’Casey: A Study of the Twelve Major Plays of Sean O’Casey. New York: International Publishers, 1980. This volume provides a handy summary of O’Casey’s most popular works.

O’Connor, Garry. Sean O’Casey: A Life. New York: Atheneum, 1988. A highly readable biography, especially useful on the playwright’s rise, through self-education and life as a Dublin laborer, to his Abbey Theatre productions.

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Critical Essays