The Plays of Sean O'Casey 1919-1964: Innovation, History and Form

Paull, Michelle C.. 2006. The Plays of Sean O'Casey 1919-1964: Innovation, History and Form. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

Text (The plays of Sean O'Casey 1919-1959 : innovation, history and form)
GOL_thesis_PaullM_2006.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (11MB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

This thesis provides a radical re-reading of O'Casey's early work, which sheds new light upon the later plays. The orthodox reading of the so called 'Dublin Plays' - The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926) - as a triumph in theatrical naturalism that is never matched in the later plays, is here strongly countered. The thesis seeks to demonstrate that far from being dramatic failures, the later plays are fresh and dynamic, a logical and natural progression from the formal and thematic experiments within the early plays. The thesis argues that it is the critical labelling of O'Casey's first plays as 'comedies' or 'realist dramas', which has led to the prevailing view of the last plays as theatrically flawed. This distorting critical prism has resulted in an underplaying of O'Casey's significant contribution to theatrical innovation in the first half of the twentieth century.

O'Casey's work has received comparatively little recent critical attention, particularly from British academics. This is clearly no academic accident: O'Casey's marginalisation by scholars is directly linked to the way theatre critics misinterpreted his plays from 1924 onwards, when they received their first performances at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. This study considers the complex dynamics of national and theatre politics that underpin these critical misunderstandings and explores why O'Casey has often been dismissed as a dramatist of character. Discussing plays from The Harvest Festival to The Moon Shines on Kylenamoe, I explore why each play becomes more experimental in form and analyse why O'Casey's critics and public alike gradually become alienated from what they perceive as the new experimental style of his later work. Chapter 1 considers O'Casey's early plays with special reference to the use of space in The Shadow of Gunman. In chapter 2 I examine the use of repetition as a controlling dramatic technique in Juno and the Paycock, chapter 3 explores the re-writing of history as drama through O'Casey's re-dramatisation the Easter Rising in The Plough and the Stars, chapter 4 focuses on O'Casey's engagement with European, especially German, Expressionism in The Silver Tassie; and his experimentation with what we now label 'Absurdist' techniques, as well as dance and song in Within the Gates which provides the subject for chapter 5. The later plays are discussed in chapter 6, where their formal and thematic innovations are considered in relation to the contemporary developments in the cinema and Absurdist drama.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Sean O'Casey, History and Form, Easter rising, experimental style, Expressionism, thematic Innovations, Absurdist drama



Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Jun 2020 11:46

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:36


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)