The Irish literary renaissance.
At the end of the XIX, a new Irish theatre was arising, as part of a movement known as the Irish literary renaissance. This movement was closely related to a strong political nationalism and a revival of Irish “the Gaelic Revival”. Important names of this movement are William Butler Yeats, the greatest poet Ireland has produced. In drama we find Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge. Later the theatre turned towards realism, rural with Lennox Robinson (“the lost leader”) and T.C. Murray with (“spring horizon”) and urban, Sean o´Casey with his dramas of the Dublin slums.
1880-1964 He was born in Dublin, in a protestant family. He lived in the slums of the city, he knew hunger, poverty, and ill health and saw fear, disease, and drunkness all about him. With only 3 years of formal schholing, he educated himself by reading. He worked as a non qualified worker during his youth. He had great love and respect for his widowed mother, a constant source of encouragement.
He participated actively in the Irish worker movement, joining the Irish Citizen Army, a paramilitary group that fought the British goverment. He changed his name from John to the Irish Sean, and he learned Irish Gaelic. He wrote for the Irish Worker. He used drama as a vehicle of political and social protest. His plays, based in episodes of his own life, are characterized by the lirism of his prose, the abundance of dramatic situations and a great sense of humour and irony. At the same time, they show a deep sympathy for the tragedy of daily life and an enormous hatred for the political and religious oppression.
His tragicomedies reflect in part his mixed feelings about his fellow slumdwellers, seeing them as incapaable of giving a socialist direction to the Irish cause but at the same time, admirable for their unconqueable spirit, particcularly the women who work, suffer, and sacrifice to try to keep their homes together, in contrast to the men, who tend to be mock heroic, likeable parasites. This non maniqueic approach wasn´t well received by Irish activists. His play The plough and the stars, with the Easter Rising as its background, caused riots at the Abbey theatre by patriots who thought the play denigrated Irish heroes.
In this plays, and also in Juno and the paycock, he creats superbly articulate characters, and though portraying the tragic worlds of war and want, he wrote some of the funniest scenes of modern drama.
With the anti-war The silver Tassie he tried the expressionist drama. The Abbey rejected the play, and he had to produce it in England.
He defended his change of style from realism to expressionism in an article: “Tender tears for poor O´Casey”: consistency of mood and of manner isn´t always, indeed, not even often found in life, and why should it be demanded in a play?
There he met the Irish actress Ellen Carey Reynolds, married her, and they settled in England. Living in post-war London, he becomes interested in the expressionistic drama of Toller, Kayser and the Capek brothers, whose work influenced the plays of Eugene O´Neill. One example is the semi autobiographical Red Roses for me. It is set in Dublin at the time of the Irish railways strike of 1911. It is about a young railway worker (O´Casey was it) who leads a strike for better wages. Expressionistic resources are used (dance, mass movement, chant and song are used to show what changes the spirit of self sacrifice may cause). This theme is counterpointed by stylised Orange and Catholic bigots, comic but with the sinister overtones of people who fail in human sympathy.
This was combined with a didactic intention (anti war, anti capitalists). Other of his expressionistic plays was Within the Gates.
The star turns red is an anti-fascist play. It was completed on the edge of the second World War, and it is the product of an idea which O¨Casey had been thinking of during the previous 20 years: a communist following in the steps of Christ.
His later plays were directed against the life denying puritanism he thought had beset Ireland, include Cock-a-doodle Dandy, the bishop´s bonfire, and The drums of father Ned. They are largely satirical pfantasies. All of them are set in Ireland and are satirical expositions of the backward conservative forces in Irish society set against human kindliness, decency and humour.
Many of his plays were performed in the famous Abbey Theatre of Dublin. Although he was recognized from the first times in his career as one of the main irish playwrights, O´Casey moved to England in 1926, desillusioned by the rejection of his plays in Dubling. During a representation of The plough and the stars, the public provoked great disturbs, outraged by his reliable description of the Irish character. Other plays: the shadow of a gunman. And Juno and the paycock.
Besides the realist style used in this plays full with strength and expressivity, he developed successfully the expresionistic and simbolistic theories in hojas de roble y espliego, rosas rojas pa mi, canta gallo perseguido.
His autobiography uses the technique of the interior monologue to narrate his personal life and experience in the theatre.