The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In The Workhouse Ward, Mike McInerney and Michael Miskell, former neighbors, are confined to neighboring beds in an Irish poorhouse. The old men are alone during most of this twenty-minute comedy, the other inmates having gone to Mass, and the action is limited almost entirely to talk. As the play opens, they trade extravagant physical complaints in a rich Kiltartan dialect, moving quickly to invective and a rehearsal of all the quarrels they have had with each other during nearly seventy years of living side by side. Each blames the other for his present poverty, having spent his money building barriers and protecting his property to no avail; Michael’s pigs still ate Mike’s gooseberries, and Mike’s dogs still attacked Michael. Each impugns the other’s ancestry and boasts of his own, as measured by the number of generations buried at the Seven Churches or the screeching of the banshee at the death of a family member. They reveal a history of lawsuits and petty grievances, they bemoan the fact that they are doomed to spend the rest of their lives “chained” together in this place, and they wish each other dead. Mike McInerney’s exclamation is typical of both men:And I say, and I would kiss the book on it, I to have one request only to be granted, and I leaving it in my will, it is what I would request, nine furrows of the field, nine ridges of the hills, nine waves of the ocean to be put between your grave and my own grave the time we will be...

(The entire section is 531 words.)