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George Shiels Biography

(1886–1949), Bedmates, Insurance Money, Paul Twyning, Professor Tim, Cartney and Kervney, The Passing Day

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Seven Against Thebes (Hepta epi ThΔ“bas; Septem contra Thebas) to Sir Walter Scott and Scotland

Northern Irish playwright, born in Ballymoney, Co. Antrim. After being educated locally, he emigrated to Canada where he was permanently crippled in a railway accident. He returned to Ireland and began to write, initially using George Morshiel as a pseudonym. His first plays, Bedmates and Insurance Money, were produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1921, but it was with Paul Twyning in 1922 that Shiels had his first real success. Subsequently, the Abbey staged one of his plays annually until 1948. His instinct appears to have been for popular and entertaining plays, typical examples of which are Paul Twyning and Professor Tim (1925), in which roaming, picaresque characters manage to evade problems through their wit and guile. His comedies are deceptively relativistic. As Yeats remarked of Cartney and Kervney (1927), Shiels's plays present immoral actions while suspending any trace of moral comment. In The Passing Day (1936) the entire cast quarrels over the contents of a will, cynically appealing to every ideal of behaviour, while Shiels remains sublimely indifferent. His more serious plays, The Rugged Path (1940) and The Summit (1941), reflect upon the conflict between the deep-rooted suspicions of Irish rural communities and the ‘progressive’ values of the modern world.

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