The Silver Tassie is a pivotal work in Sean O’Casey’s career; it provoked the bitter quarrel with Yeats which led to O’Casey’s decisive break with the Abbey Theatre. The play also clearly marks the direction that O’Casey’s subsequent work was to take, with its attempt to go beyond realism by venturing into the stylized poetic expressionism of the second act. Although there are those who continue to insist that some of Yeats’s criticisms were accurate, and that O’Casey’s stubborn championing of the play was a mistake, which led to an unwise exile in England, the majority opinion of O’Casey scholars seems to be that The Silver Tassie is a solid and powerful work. Indeed, the play is only one of many antiwar novels and plays that emerged in print in the late 1920’s, and it should be viewed in the context of the decade’s disillusionment with war and patriotism. The bitter and ironic tone of the work is comparable to that found in Robert Graves’s Goodbye to All That (1929), Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1928), and much of the modernist poetry of the time, especially that by Graves, W. H. Auden, T. S. Eliot, and E. E. Cummings.
As for the negative views of O’Casey’s later career, which often begin with disparagement of The Silver Tassie, O’Casey’s sympathetic critics reply that his dramatic ambitions and vision were moving beyond the realism of his early masterpieces. In his...
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