The Fame of Sean O'Casey:A Reconsideration of the Dublin Plays

Ann Blake


Sean O'Casey's reputation as a dramatist seems to derive from his life almost as much as from his plays. Writers on O'Casey transfer to the plays their admiration for what he did and what he believed in. O'Casey's compassion for the sufferings ofthe poor and lifelong devotion to their cause is certainly admirable. In his plays and other writings he upholds the values of youth, beauty, joy and freedom, and attacks war, hypocrisy, and sexual repression. He extols human love and the family in the face of fanatical, violent nationalism. His support for these noble causes goes along with his belief in the value of art and his commitment to the ideal of the independence of the artist. The O'Casey we come to know from his own writings and from biographical and critical studies is a heart-warming, humane and energetic figure, and it is not surprising that he earns tributes such as this:

His profound and urgent belief in the sacredness and beauty of human life is the motivating force behind all his work; it is a belief he has defended more valiantly than any other writer of his time. It is upon the validity of his personal beliefs and his fierce integrity in expressing them that O'Casey's claim to greatness rests.

What is striking here is the assumption that a man of passionate concerns, whose heart is so firmly in the right place, will inevitably be a good writer. On top of this, it seems at times that a measure of pity for his suffering, especially his terrible poverty, contributes to O'Casey's reputation as a dramatist. And we have to take into account too the broad effect of the guilt feelings of O'Casey's readers, particularly his English readers, about the long sufferings ofIreland. It is no easy matter to arrive at a fair judgment of an Irish writer who has heroic ideals.

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