Sean O’Casey, The Plough and the Stars, from Act 2

Irish playwright Sean O’Casey (1880-1964) had been involved with the Irish Republican Brotherhood before becoming disillusioned with it. During the first run of his play The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theatre in 1926, members of the audience rioted in protest of O’Casey’s critical representation of participants in the Easter Rising of 1916 and of a prostitute seeking business. In the play’s second act, set in a pub months before the Rising, a magnetic orator is overheard offstage; the “voice” uses phrases drawn from the speeches of the leader of the Easter Rising, Padraic Pearse. Pearse’s stirring nationalist language is juxtaposed with the Dublin vernacular of nationalist followers, antinationalist skeptics, and a prostitute. In the course of the play, which continues during the Rising itself, O’Casey questions the meaning of the Easter Rising, which disrupts and renders tragic the lives of the play’s ordinary characters, some of whom are killed despite their being innocent bystanders.

 

ACT II

A commodious public house at the corner of the street in which the meeting is being addressed from Platform no. 1. It is the south corner of the public house that is visible to the audience. The counter, beginning at back about one-fourth of the width of the space shown, comes across two-thirds of the length of the stage, and, taking a circular sweep, passes out of sight to left. On the counter are beer-pulls, glasses, and a carafe. The other three-fourths of the back is occupied by a tall, wide, two-paned window. Beside this window at the right is a small, box-like, panelled snug. Next to the snug is a double swing door, the entrance to that particular end of the house. Farther on is a shelf on which customers may rest their drinks. Underneath the windows is a cushioned seat. Behind the counter at back can be seen the shelves running the whole length of the counter. On these shelves can be seen the end (or the beginning) of rows of bottles. The barman is seen wiping the part of the counter which is in view. rosie is standing at the counter toying with what remains of a half of whisky* in a wine-glass. She is a sturdy, well-shaped girl of twenty; pretty, and pert in manner. She is wearing a cream blouse, with an obviously suggestive glad-neck; >> note 1 a grey tweed dress, brown stockings and shoes. The blouse and most of the dress are hidden by a black shawl. She has no hat, and in her hair is jauntily set a cheap, glittering, jewelled ornament. It is an hour later.

barman [wiping counter]. Nothin’ much doin’ in your line tonight, Rosie?

rosie. Curse o’ God on th’ haporth, >> note 2 hardly, Tom. There isn’t much notice taken of a pretty petticoat of a night like this. . . . They’re all in a holy mood. Th’ solemn-lookin’ dials >> note 3 on th’ whole o’ them an’ they marchin’ to th’ meetin’. You’d think they were th’ glorious company of th’ saints, an’ th’ noble army of martyrs thrampin’ through th’ sthreets of paradise. They’re all thinkin’ of higher things than a girl’s garthers. . . . It’s a tremendous meetin’; four platforms they have — there’s one o’ them just outside opposite th’ window.

barman. Oh, ay; sure when th’ speaker comes [motioning with his hand] to th’ near end, here, you can see him plain, an’ hear nearly everythin’ he’s spoutin’ out of him.*

rosie. It’s no joke thryin’ to make up fifty-five shillin’s a week for your keep an’ laundhry, an’ then taxin’ you a quid for your own room if you bring home a friend for th’ night. . . . If I could only put by a couple of quid for a swankier outfit, everythin’ in th’ garden ud look lovely –

barman. Whisht, till we hear what he’s sayin’.

Through the window is silhouetted the figure of a tall man who is speaking to the crowd. The barman and rosie look out of the window and listen.

the voice of the man. It is a glorious thing to see arms in the hands of Irishmen. We must accustom ourselves to the thought of arms, we must accustom ourselves to the sight of arms, we must accustom ourselves to the use of arms. . . . Bloodshed is a cleansing and sanctifying thing, and the nation that regards it as the final horror has lost its manhood. . . . There are many things more horrible than bloodshed, and slavery is one of them!*

The figure moves away towards the right, and is lost to sight and hearing.

rosie. It’s th’ sacred thruth, mind you, what that man’s afther sayin’.

barman. If I was only a little younger, I’d be plungin’ mad into th’ middle of it!

rosie [who is still looking out of the window]. Oh, here’s the two gems runnin’ over again for their oil!

peter and fluther enter tumultuously. They are hot, and full and hasty with the things they have seen and heard. Emotion is bubbling up in them, so that when they drink, and when they speak, they drink and speak with the fullness of emotional passion. peter leads the way to the counter.

peter [splutteringly to barman]. Two halves . . . [To fluther] A meetin’ like this always makes me feel as if I could dhrink Loch >> note 4 Erinn dhry!

fluther. You couldn’t feel any way else at a time like this when th’ spirit of a man is pulsin’ to be out fightin’ for th’ thruth with his feet thremblin’ on th’ way, maybe to th’ gallows, an’ his ears tinglin’ with th’ faint, far-away sound of burstin’ rifle-shots that’ll maybe whip th’ last little shock o’ life out of him that’s left lingerin’ in his body!

peter. I felt a burnin’ lump in me throat when I heard th’ band playin’ ‘The Soldiers’ Song’ >> note 5 rememberin’ last hearin’ it marchin’ in military formation with th’ people starin’ on both sides at us, carryin’ with us th’ pride an’ resolution o’ Dublin to th’ grave of Wolfe Tone. >> note 6

fluther. Get th’ Dublin men goin’ an’ they’ll go on full force for anything that’s thryin’ to bar them away from what they’re wantin’, where th’ slim thinkin’ counthry boyo ud limp away from th’ first faintest touch of compromisation!

peter [hurriedly to the barman]. Two more, Tom! . . . [To fluther] Th’ memory of all th’ things that was done, an’ all th’ things that was suffered be th’ people, was boomin’ in me brain. . . . Every nerve in me body was quiverin’ to do somethin’ desperate!

fluther. Jammed as I was in th’ crowd, I listened to th’ speeches pattherin’ on th’ people’s head, like rain fallin’ on th’ corn; every derogatory thought went out o’ me mind, an’ I said to meself, ‘You can die now, Fluther, for you’ve seen th’ shadow-dhreams of th’ past leppin’ to life in th’ bodies of livin’ men that show, if we were without a titther o’ courage for centuries, we’re vice versa now!’ Looka here. [He stretches out his arm under peter’s face and rolls up his sleeve.] The blood was BOILIN’ in me veins!

The silhouette of the tall figure again moves into the frame of the window speaking to the people.

peter [unaware, in his enthusiasm, of the speaker’s appearance, to fluther]. I was burnin’ to dhraw me sword, an’ wave an’ wave it over me —

fluther [overwhelming peter]. Will you stop your blatherin’ for a minute, man, an’ let us hear what he’s sayin’!

voice of the man. Comrade soldiers of the Irish Volunteers and of the Citizen Army, we rejoice in this terrible war. The old heart of the earth needed to be warmed with the red wine of the battlefields. . . . Such august homage was never offered to God as this: the homage of millions of lives given gladly for love of country. And we must be ready to pour out the same red wine in the same glorious sacrifice, for without shedding of blood there is no redemption!*

The figure moves out of sight and hearing.

fluther [gulping down the drink that remains in his glass, and rushing out]. Come on, man; this is too good to be missed!

peter finishes his drink less rapidly, and as he is going out wiping his mouth with the back of his hand he runs into the covey coming in. He immediately erects his body like a young cock, and with his chin thrust forward, and a look of venomous dignity on his face, he marches out.

the covey [at counter]. Give us a glass o’ malt,* for God’s sake, till I stimulate meself from the shock o’ seein’ th’ sight that’s afther goin’ out!

rosie [all business, coming over to the counter, and standing near the covey]. Another one for me, Tommy; [to the barman] th’ young gentleman’s ordherin’ it in th’ corner of his eye.

The barman brings the drink for the covey, and leaves it on the counter. rosie whips it up.

barman. Ay, houl’ on there, houl’ on there, Rosie!

rosie [to the barman]. What are you houldin’ on out o’ you for? Didn’t you hear th’ young gentleman say that he couldn’t refuse anything to a nice little bird? [To the covey] Isn’t that right, Jiggs? >> note 7 [the covey says nothing.] Didn’t I know, Tommy, it would be all right? It takes Rosie to size a young man up, an’ tell th’ thoughts that are thremblin’ in his mind. Isn’t that right, Jiggs?

the covey stirs uneasily, moves a little farther away, and pulls his cap over his eyes.

rosie [moving after him]. Great meetin’ that’s gettin’ held outside. Well, it’s up to us all, anyway, to fight for our freedom.

the covey [to barman]. Two more, please. [To rosie] Freedom! What’s th’ use o’ freedom, if it’s not economic freedom?

rosie [emphasising with extended arm and moving finger]. I used them very words just before you come in. ‘A lot o’ thricksters,’ says I, ‘that wouldn’t know what freedom was if they got it from their mother.’ . . . [To barman] Didn’t I, Tommy?

barman. I disremember.

rosie. No, you don’t disremember. Remember you said, yourself, it was all ‘only a flash in th’ pan’. Well, ‘flash in th’ pan, or no flash in th’ pan,’ says I, ‘they’re not goin’ to get Rosie Redmond,’ says I, ‘to fight for freedom that wouldn’t be worth winnin’ in a raffle!’

the covey. There’s only one freedom for th’ workin’ man: conthrol o’ th’ means o’ production, rates of exchange, an’ th’ means of disthribution. [Tapping rosie on the shoulder] Look here, comrade, I’ll leave here tomorrow night for you a copy of Jenersky’s Thesis on the Origin, Development, an’ Consolidation of the Evolutionary Idea of the Proletariat. >> note 8

rosie [throwing off her shawl on to the counter, and showing an exemplified glad neck, which reveals a good deal of a white bosom]. If y’ass Rosie, it’s heartbreakin’ to see a young fella thinkin’ of anything, or admirin’ anything, but silk thransparent stockin’s showin’ off the shape of a little lassie’s legs!

the covey, frightened, moves a little away.

rosie [following on]. Out in th’ park in th’ shade of a warm summery evenin’, with your little darlin’ bridie to be, kissin’ an’ cuddlin’ [she tries to put her arm around his neck], kissin’ an’ cuddlin’, ay?

the covey [frightened]. Ay, what are you doin’? None o’ that, now; none o’ that. I’ve something else to do besides shinannickin’ >> note 9 afther Judies! [He turns away, but rosie follows, keeping face to face with him.]

rosie. Oh, little duckey, oh, shy little duckey! Never held a mot’s >> note 10 hand, an’ wouldn’t know how to tittle >> note 11 a little Judy! [She clips him under the chin.] Tittle him undher th’ chin, tittle him undher th’ chin!

the covey [breaking away and running out]. Ay, go on, now; I don’t want to have any meddlin’ with a lassie like you!

rosie [enraged]. Jasus, it’s in a monasthery some of us ought to be, spendin’ our holidays kneelin’ on our adorers, >> note 12 tellin’ our beads, an’ knockin’ hell out of our buzzums!

 


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