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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Sean O'Casey's last plays : a celebration of life Poggemiller, Marion


This thesis, "Sean O'Casey's Last Plays: A Celebration of Life, " is a study of O'Casey's five last full-length plays: Cock-A-Doodle Dandy, The Bishop's Bonfire, The Drums of Father Ned, Behind the Green Curtains, and Figuro in the Night. The focus of the thesis is on O'Casey's dramatization of man's spiritual environment and conflicts. My point of view is that O'Casey is presenting a very humanized religion of love. The plays are, in fact, morality plays depicting the struggle of the forces of good and evil for the soul of man. The first chapter of the thesis will analyse the religious nature of the themes in O'Casey's morality plays. Chapter two will discuss the relationship between the structure of the plays and the themes. Chapter three will attempt to show that O'Casey uses theatrical effects as persuasive techniques to convince an audience of the validity of his themes. Each of the five plays dramatizes the struggle between the true religion of life-worship and the false faith of the organized Church. The struggle is made concrete through the presentation of various conflicts. There is the conflict between youth and age, between sexual expression and repression, between love of life and love of money, between celebration and gloom, between freedom and restraint. At the centre of the conflict are two opposing priest figures. In Cock-A-Doodle Dandy, it is Father Domineer who fights against the joy and beauty offered by the Cock. Father Domineer wins when the Cock and his followers flee in search of a better land. In The Bishop's Bonfire, there is no escape to another life. Father Canon prevails over Father Boheroe, The Codger is banished, Keelin and Manus must live a loveless existence, and Foorawn is shot. In The Drums of Father Ned, on the other hand, it is the forces of good that are completely victorious. The mythical Father Ned and his followers completely defeat Father Fillifogue. In Behind the Green Curtains, we are once again in the real world in which the love, kindness, and joy that Beoraan struggles for are defeated by the cruelty and repression that Komavaun, the Church's lieutenant, advocates. O'Casey's conviction, however, that man can find salvation is presented in Figuro in the Night where the Figuro is triumphant over all the repressive elements of traditional beliefs. To explain his religion of life and love, O'Casey developed a structure of interlocking levels of farce, satire, fantasy, and symbolism to replace the traditional plot structure of the drama. O'Casey’s last plays have only the most tenuous of plot lines. Instead, the conflict is heightened by playing off one level of development against another in a dramatic counterpoint. Each mode of development uses its own techniques, develops its particular type of character, and clarifies its individual aspect of the theme. Although the levels are largely independent of one a other, each, adds contrasts and parallels to the comment made by the other levels to give density to the thematic statement of the plays. The second chapter of this thesis will attempt to show how each of the structural levels of farce, satire, fantasy, and symbolism work independently and how they are brought together into a thematic and theatrical climax. Finally, the thesis will examine the theatrical effects of the last plays. In these plays, O'Casey uses all the possible visual and sound effects of the theatre to make his themes convincing. Essentially, the visual effects of lighting, costumes, and sets distance the audience from the events of the plays. Whereas, the sound effects tend to involve the audience in an emotional response to the ideas of the plays, not the events. Thus the theatrical effects cause the audience to make an objective assessment of the theme of the plays and, at the same time, to take part in the celebration of life that is presented in the plays.

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