Sean O'Casey is best remembered for his engagement, artistic and otherwise, with Irish history during a crucial period of turmoil and revolutionary change. His most famous and enduring drama – the Dublin Trilogy of The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926), and The Silver Tassie (1928) which followed it – concerns politically derived suffering: the War of Independence, the Civil War, the Easter Rising and World War One. Formed by these events O'Casey's vision is also manifest in his dramatic representation of them. From the bitter parodies of the Dublin Trilogy to his blistering depiction of the sanctimonious, priest-ridden new state in The Bishop's Bonfire (1955) and The Drums of Father Ned (1959), O'Casey indulges in a drama of socio-political protest. In some of the later, utopian plays of socialist liberation such as The Star Turns Red (1940) and Red Roses for Me (1942), the dramatic action often coarsens into agitprop.
Outside the drama the briefest glance at the Autobiographies reinforces O’Casey’s self-created image as a fierce battler. Throughout his life he was a notoriously pugnacious opponent and proponent in an endless series of professional and personal scraps. It is in one sense an appropriate tribute to O’Casey that the spirit of dispute lives on among his critics. His status as a dramatist is the site of considerable disagreement, particularly as regards his treatment of politics. However, in outlining this debate one can discern elements of O’Casey’s achievement which complicate the premises of both his admirers and his detractors.
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