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Plough and the Stars, The

play life casey burgess

a play by Sean O'Casey, performed and published in 1926. Set in a Dublin tenement during the nationalist uprising of Easter 1916, this tragi-comedy centrally involves Nora Clitheroe, a young wife who loses both her baby and her mind when her husband, Jack, is killed in the fighting. However, the play's tone and meaning are largely determined by such characters as Fluther Good, Ginnie Gogan, Peter Flynn, and Bessie Burgess: braggarts, drunks, and wastrels who share the building, are constantly engaged in arguments and quarrels, and, many of them, use the conflict as an opportunity to loot the local shops. Characteristically, O'Casey contrasts patriotic pretension with the reality of life in the slums. In the second act, set in a pub, a voice akin to that of Padraig Pearse is heard hailing bloodshed as a ‘cleansing and sanctifying thing’ while a prostitute touts for custom. The anti-heroic thrust is obvious, and led to serious disturbances at the Abbey Theatre, where the play was first staged; but O'Casey is also at pains to show, not without irony, the unpretentious heroism of some of his low-life scavengers. Prime among these is Bessie Burgess, a quarrelsome, violent Protestant and loyalist who spends much of the play bawling promises of grisly retribution at her Catholic neighbours, yet puts herself into serious danger and eventually loses her life in her efforts to protect Nora.

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