Sean O'Casey



  • (John Casey; 1880 - 1964) Irish dramatist, whose greatestplays depict life in the slums of Dublin during the 'Troubles' of1915 to 1922. Recurring preoccupations of his work include the wasteof war, man's willingness to sacrifice life for a cause, and the contrastbetween blustering parasitic Irishmen and their long-suffering womenfolk.

    Born to a poor Protestant family in Dublin, O'Casey lackedformal education and taught himself to read at the age of 14. Formany years he worked as a labourer, also becoming involved with labourmovements, including the paramilitary Irish Citizens Army. By late1914, however, he was sufficiently disillusioned to have withdrawnfrom active politics.

    O'Casey's first work to be produced was the Shadow ofa Gunman (originally titled On the Run), which wasstaged in 1923 at the Abbey Theatre. The play, which centreson the brutal conflict between Irish nationalists and the Britisharmy in Dublin in 1920, was followed by two more tragicomedies atthe Abbey. The success of Juno and the Paycock (1924), allowedO'Casey to give up his manual work; he later recalled: "I decidedthen that one job is enough for any man." The Plough andthe Stars (1926), which gave an unromantic view of the 1916 Easterrising, provoked a riot among the fiercely patriotic audience. Thesetwo plays, both of which move dexterously from tragedy to farce, havebeen frequently revived in London, New York, and elsewhere.

    O'Casey's next play, the anti-war The Silver Tassie(1928), was rejected by W. B. Yeats, the manager of the Abbey,who disliked both the move towards expressionism and thedidactic tone. O'Casey quarrelled violently with Yeats and decidedto settle in England; thereafter he rarely returned to his nativeland.

    His later, more symbolic, works are generally considered weakerthan the plays he wrote for the Abbey. These include the expressionistWithin the Gates (1933), the anti-fascist The star TurnsRed (1940), Red Roses for Me (1942), about the 1913 DublinGeneral strike, and Cock-a-Doodle Dandy (1949), which beratedthe puritanism he believed to be destroying Ireland. He also wrotesix volumes of autobiography (1939 - 51) and two volumes of dramaticcriticism (1937 and 1957).