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The Plough and the Stars, Essential Revision Notes

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Table of Contents

Context 4

Summary 8

Characters 15

Themes 17

Language 20

Context

The Plough and the Stars is a play by the Irish writer Seán O’Casey first performed on February 8, 1926 by the Abbey Theatre in the writer’s native Dublin. The first two acts take place in November 1915, looking forward to the liberation of Ireland. The last two acts are set during the Easter Rising, in April 1916.

The play's title references the Starry Plough flag. It is the third of his well-known ‘Dublin Trilogy’ – the other two being The Shadow of a Gunman (1923) and Juno and the Paycock (1924).

The Flag

The Plough and the Stars was the banner of the Irish Citizens Army. James Connolly, co-founder of the Irish Citizen Army, said the significance of the banner was that a free Ireland would control its own destiny from the plough to the stars. The flag depicts the constellation of Ursa Major, known as The Plough and the Stars in Ireland and Britain. Ursa Major is one of the most prominent features of the night sky over Ireland throughout the year.

Seán O'Casey

‘The artist’s life is to be where life is, active life, found in neither ivory tower nor concrete shelter; he must be out listening to everything, looking at everything, and thinking it all out afterward.’

Sean O’Casey was born March 30 1880 into a lower middle-class family in Dublin. Baptised John Casey, he grew up in a Protestant household on Dublin’s north side. His father died when he was just six years old, followed shortly by his brother and sister, and in the following years the family suffered much the same poverty as his characters in The Plough and the Stars. He had problems with his eyesight which continued to affect him throughout his life. Yet he showed a great passion for learning. He received only three years of formal education, leaving school at 14 to work as a labourer, but taught himself to read and write in both English and Irish...

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