O'Casey, Sean

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

O'Casey, Sean

Sean O'Casey (shôn), 1884–1964, Irish dramatist, one of the great figures of the Irish literary renaissance. A Protestant, he grew up in the slum district of Dublin and was active in various socialist movements and in the rebellions for Irish independence. His first plays, The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1926), were performed by the Abbey Players with great success. These grim, satiric, and often violent tragicomedies are usually considered O'Casey's most brilliant works. They all treat aspects of the Irish movement for independence, and they are not always kind to the Irish people. The Plough and the Stars, with its unsympathic treatment of the participants in the Easter Rebellion, touched off a riot in the theater, and after this event O'Casey left Ireland for England, never to return. His later plays, more experimental and expressionistic, include The Silver Tassie (rejected by the Abbey Theatre in 1928, but successfully produced in London and New York in 1929), Within the Gates (1934), Purple Dust (1940), Red Roses for Me (1942), and The Bishop's Bonfire (1955). All of O'Casey's plays exhibit a mastery of language and an unsentimental sympathy for the poor. His six autobiographical volumes—I Knock at the Door (1939), Pictures in the Hallway (1942), Drums under the Windows (1945), Inishfallen, Fare Thee Well (1949), Rose and Crown (1952), and Sunset and Evening Star (1954)—were collectively published as Mirror in My House (2 vol., 1956). He also wrote a book of drama criticism, The Green Crow (1956). His collected plays appeared in four volumes in 1949–51.

See biographies by M. B. Marguiles (1970) and by his wife, Eileen O'Casey (1972); studies by R. Hogan (1960) and J. Simmons (1984).

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