The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The Silver Tassie unfolds in four relatively long acts. Act 1 opens in the home of the Heegans; as Mrs. Heegan gets Harry’s clothes ready for his return to his army unit, Mr. Heegan and his friend exchange stories about Harry’s strength and athletic prowess. Meanwhile, Susie Monican, a friend of the family and a young woman with a crush on Harry, attempts to get attention by uttering constant dour predictions and prophecies of doom prompted by her narrow fundamentalist piety. This domestic scene is disturbed by noise from the flat upstairs, where the Forans are having another row. Mrs. Foran comes in hastily to hide from her drunken husband, Teddy, who follows shortly, clearly inebriated and looking for his wife and Mr. Heegan—both of whom have hidden under the bed. General disapproval and Mrs. Foran’s scolding force Teddy to leave, but he can be heard smashing furniture and dishes above.

The mood changes when cheers and concertina music can be heard, and Harry enters with his arms around his favorite girlfriend, Jessica Taite. They bring the silver trophy cup, or silver tassie, that the Avondale Football Club has won by Harry’s decisive goal, the “odd goal in five.” While Harry exults in his victory and the strength of his youth, Jessie, a beautiful girl of twenty-two who is attracted to winners, and Barney, a young man who admires Harry’s superior strength and skill, join Harry in drinking wine from the silver cup, which Harry calls a “sign of youth, sign of strength, sign of victory.” Even Susie abandons her preaching and quoting of scripture to put her arm around Harry and flirt with him, though she has just bitterly repulsed an advance from Barney. Under Mrs. Heegan’s constant urging, Harry gathers up his belongings, and he, Barney, and Teddy Foran depart to catch the boat that will take them back to their army unit. At their departure, Mrs. Heegan breathes a sigh of relief.

Act 2 shifts to a frontline combat zone in France, where a ravaged monastery has been converted into a makeshift Red Cross station. Barney is the only main character to appear, although one of the anonymous soldiers seems to be Teddy. Inside the station, unnamed soldiers await an uncertain fate while recuperating from trauma, wounds, and exhaustion. They are led in various laments and litanies by a wounded soldier called simply The Croucher, who begins the scene with a lamentation in biblical cadences about the surrealist landscape. In a series of poetic complaints, the soldiers voice their disillusionment with the war and express their sense of the futility of fighting. A visiting civilian dignitary arrives and utters absurd clichés about the significance of war. Finding Barney under restraint for the crime of stealing a chicken, the civilian voices his approval of such discipline. The civilian dignitary disappears for a while into a dugout, and a “staff-wallah”...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sean O’Casey’s major break with the realistic tradition, and his chief innovation, is his experimental and poetic portrayal of the battlefront in act 2. This act is largely impressionistic and symbolic in its theatrical design, with a chorus of soldiers uttering their lamentations about the war, a symbolic civilian voicing platitudes about honor, and a stylized backdrop. In its conception and its poetic refrains, the act foreshadows much of the later O’Casey works, especially the visionary transformation of Dublin in act 3 of Red Roses for Me (pb. 1942, pr. 1943). The staging of act 2 is not especially difficult, although it does make demands of a theatrical company with limited personnel and resources. The act is not particularly difficult for an audience to understand or accept. It is curious that Yeats, in rejecting The Silver Tassie for the Abbey Theatre, accused the play of a lack of unity. In large part, it may be suspected that the reason was the diversion of this act from the story of Harry Heegan, yet most sophisticated modern audiences, especially those familiar with the conventions of American musical comedy, would find the act quite easy to accept.

The action of the rest of the play is fairly close to conventional realism, although the action is rather episodic, covering an indefinite period—roughly a year. The use of the festival dance at the Avondale Football Club in the final act adds a particular irony and poignancy to Harry’s tragedy. A man in a wheelchair cannot join in the victory dance, or, symbolically, in the dance of life. Barney’s sexual aggressiveness at the dance may seem to be somewhat unrealistic. Certainly a more experienced seducer would wait until Jessie was in a more private situation before breaking the second strap of her gown, but Barney is not necessarily experienced, and he is, perhaps, as excited by his betrayal of Harry as he is by Jessie’s charms. Barney’s assault on Jessie’s gown is a bold theatrical stroke for the dramatist, and it helps create a sympathetic context for Harry’s savage denunciation of the pair.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Hogan, Robert T., and Richard Burnham. The Years of O’Casey, 1921-1926: A Documentary History. Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1992.

Krause, David. Sean O’Casey: The Man and His Work. New York: Macmillan, 1960.

Malone, Maureen. The Plays of Sean O’Casey. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969.

Mikhail, E. H. O’Casey and His Critics: An Annotated Bibliography. Landham, Md.: Scarecrow, 1985.

Mitchell, Jack. The Essential O’Casey: A Study of the Twelve Major Plays of Sean O’Casey. New York: International, 1980.

O’Riordan, John. A Guide to O’Casey’s Plays. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.

Rollins, Ronald Gene. Sean O’Casey’s Drama: Verisimilitude and Vision. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1981.

Schrank, Bernice W. Sean O’Casey: A Research and Production Handbook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.