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Authors: Sean O'Casey

The Plough and the Stars

BOOK: The Plough and the Stars
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SEAN O’CASEY

The Plough and the Stars

with notes for students by
CHRISTOPHER MURRAY

THE PLOUGH AND THE STARS

A TRAGEDY IN FOUR ACTS
To the gay laugh of my mother at the gate of the grave

Act One
– The living-room of the Clitheroe flat in a Dublin tenement.

Act Two
– A public-house, outside of which a meeting is being held.

Act Three
– The street outside the Clitheroe tenement.

Act Four
– The room of Bessie Burgess.

 

Time
– Acts One and Two, November 1915; Acts Three and Four, Easter Week, 1916. A few days elapse between Acts Three and Four.

The home of the Clitheroes. It consists of the front and back drawing-rooms in a fine old Georgian house, struggling for its life against the assaults of time, and the more savage assaults of the tenants. The room shown is the back drawing-room, wide, spacious, and lofty. At back is the entrance to the front drawing-room. The space, originally occupied by folding doors, is now draped with casement cloth of a dark purple, decorated with a design in reddish-purple and cream. One of the curtains is pulled aside, giving a glimpse of front drawing-room, at the end of which can be seen the wide, lofty windows looking out into the street. The room directly in front of the audience is furnished in a way that suggests an attempt towards a finer expression of domestic life. The large fireplace on right is of wood, painted to look like marble (the original has been taken away by the landlord). On the mantelshelf are two candlesticks of dark carved wood. Between them is a small clock. Over the clock is hanging a calendar which displays a picture of
The Sleeping Venus.
In the centre of the breast of the chimney hangs a picture of Robert Emmet. On the right of the entrance to the front drawing-room is a copy of
The Gleaners
, on the opposite side a copy of
The Angelus
. Underneath
The Gleaners
is a chest of drawers on which stands a green bowl filled with scarlet dahlias and white chrysanthemums. Near to the fireplace is a settee which at night forms a double bed for Clitheroe and Nora. Underneath
The Angelus
are a number of shelves containing saucepans and a frying-pan. Under these is a table on which are various
articles of delftware. Near the end of the room, opposite to the fireplace, is a gate-legged table, covered with a cloth. On top of the table a huge cavalry sword is lying. To the right is a door which leads to a lobby from which the staircase leads to the hall. The floor is covered with a dark green linoleum. The room is dim except where it is illuminated from the glow of the fire. Through the window of the room at back can be seen the flaring of the flame of a gasolene lamp giving light to workmen repairing the street. Occasionally can be heard the clang of crowbars striking the setts. Fluther Good is repairing the lock of door, right. A claw-hammer is on a chair beside him, and he has a screwdriver in his hand. He is a man of forty years of age, rarely surrendering to thoughts of anxiety, fond of his ‘oil’ but determined to conquer the habit before he dies. He is square-jawed and harshly featured, under the left eye is a scar, and his nose is bent from a smashing blow received in a fistic battle long ago. He is bald, save for a few peeping tufts of reddish hair around his ears; and his upper lip is hidden by a scrubby red moustache, embroidered here and there with a grey hair. He is dressed in a seedy black suit, cotton shirt with a soft collar, and wears a very respectable little black bow. On his head is a faded jerry hat, which, when he is excited, he has a habit of knocking farther back on his head, in a series of taps. In an argument he usually fills with sound and fury generally signifying a row. He is in his shirt-sleeves at present, and wears a soiled white apron, from a pocket in which sticks a carpenter’s two-foot rule. He has just finished the job of putting on a new lock, and, filled with satisfaction, he is opening and shutting the door, enjoying the completion of a work well done. Sitting at the fire, airing a white shirt, is Peter Flynn. He is a little, thin bit of a man, with a face shaped like a lozenge; on his cheeks and under his chin is a straggling wiry beard
of a dirty-white and lemon hue. His face invariably wears a look of animated anguish, mixed with irritated defiance, as if everybody was at war with him, and he at war with everybody. He is cocking his head in a way that suggests resentment at the presence of Fluther, who pays no attention to him, apparently, but is really furtively watching him. Peter is clad in a singlet, white whipcord knee-breeches, and is in his stocking-feet. A voice is heard speaking outside of door, left (it is that of Mrs Gogan)
.

Mrs Gogan
  
(
outside
) Who are you lookin’ for, sir? Who? Mrs Clitheroe? … Oh, excuse me. Oh ay, up this way. She’s out, I think: I seen her goin’. Oh, you’ve somethin’ for her; oh, excuse me. You’re from Arnott’s … I see … You’ve a parcel for her … Righto … I’ll take it … give it to her the minute she comes in … It’ll be quite safe … Oh, sign that … Excuse me … Where? … Here? … No, there; righto. Am I to put Maggie or Mrs? What is it? You dunno? Oh, excuse me.

Mrs Gogan opens the door and comes in. She is a doleful-looking little woman of forty, insinuating manner and sallow complexion. She is fidgety and nervous, terribly talkative, has a habit of taking up things that may be near her and fiddling with them while she is speaking. Her heart is aflame with curiosity, and a fly could not come into nor go out of the house without her knowing. She has a draper’s parcel in her hand, the knot of the twine tying it is untied. Peter, more resentful of this intrusion than of Fluther’s presence, gets up from the chair, and without looking around, his head carried at an angry cock, marches into the room at back.

(
Removing the paper and opening the cardboard box it contains
) I wondher what’s that now? A hat! (
She takes
out a hat, black, with decorations in red and gold
.) God, she’s goin’ to th’ divil lately for style! That hat, now, cost more than a penny. Such notions of upperosity she’s gettin’. (
Putting the hat on her head
) Oh, swank, what! (
She replaces it in parcel
.)

Fluther
  
She’s a pretty little Judy, all the same.

Mrs Gogan
  
Ah, she is, an’ she isn’t. There’s prettiness an’ prettiness in it. I’m always sayin’ that her skirts are a little too short for a married woman. An’ to see her, sometimes of an evenin’, in her glad-neck gown would make a body’s blood run cold. I do be ashamed of me life before her husband. An’ th’ way she thries to be polite, with her ‘Good mornin’, Mrs Gogan,’ when she’s goin’ down, an’ her ‘Good evenin’, Mrs Gogan,’ when she’s comin’ up. But there’s politeness an’ politeness in it.

Fluther
  
They seem to get on well together, all th’ same.

Mrs Gogan
  
Ah, they do, an’ they don’t. The pair o’ them used to be like two turtle doves always billin’ an’ cooin’. You couldn’t come into th’ room but you’d feel, instinctive like, that they’d just been afther kissin’ an’ cuddlin’ each other … It often made me shiver, for, afther all, there’s kissin’ an’ cuddlin’ in it. But I’m thinkin’ he’s beginnin’ to take things more quietly; the mysthery of havin’ a woman’s a mysthery no longer … She dhresses herself to keep him with her, but it’s no use – afther a month or two, th’ wondher of a woman wears off.

Fluther
  
I dunno, I dunno. Not wishin’ to say anything derogatory, I think it’s all a question of location: when a man finds th’ wondher of one woman beginnin’ to die, it’s usually beginnin’ to live in another.

Mrs Gogan
  
She’s always grumblin’ about havin’ to live in a tenement house. ‘I wouldn’t like to spend me last hour in one, let alone live me life in a tenement,’ says
she. ‘Vaults,’ says she, ‘that are hidin’ th’ dead, instead of homes that are sheltherin’ th’ livin’.’ ‘Many a good one,’ says I, ‘was reared in a tenement house.’ Oh, you know, she’s a well-up little lassie, too; able to make a shillin’ go where another would have to spend a pound. She’s wipin’ th’ eyes of th’ Covey an’ poor oul’ Pether – everybody knows that – screwin’ every penny she can out o’ them, in ordher to turn th’ place into a babby-house. An’ she has th’ life frightened out o’ them; washin’ their face, combin’ their hair, wipin’ their feet, brushin’ their clothes, thrimmin’ their nails, cleanin’ their teeth – God Almighty, you’d think th’ poor men were undhergoin’ penal servitude.

Fluther
  
(
with an exclamation of disgust
) A-a-ah, that’s goin’ beyond th’ beyonds in a tenement house. That’s a little bit too derogatory.

Peter enters from room, back, head elevated and resentful fire in his eyes; he is still in his singlet and trousers, but is now wearing a pair of unlaced boots – possibly to be decent in the presence of Mrs Gogan. He places the white shirt, which he has carried in on his arm, on the back of a chair near the fire, and, going over to the chest of drawers, he opens drawer after drawer, looking for something; as he fails to find it he closes each drawer with a snap; he pulls out pieces of linen neatly folded, and bundles them back again any way.

Peter
  
(
in accents of anguish
) Well, God Almighty, give me patience! (
He returns to room, back, giving the shirt a vicious turn as he passes.
)

Mrs Gogan
  
I wondher what he is foostherin’ for now?

Fluther
  
He’s adornin’ himself for th’ meeting tonight. (
Pulling a handbill from his pocket and reading
) ‘Great
Demonstration an’ torchlight procession around places in th’ city sacred to th’ memory of Irish Patriots, to be concluded be a meetin’, at which will be taken an oath of fealty to th’ Irish Republic. Formation in Parnell Square at eight o’clock.’ Well, they can hold it for Fluther. I’m up th’ pole; no more dhrink for Fluther. It’s three days now since I touched a dhrop, an’ I feel a new man already.

Mrs Gogan
  
Isn’t oul’ Peter a funny-lookin’ little man? … Like somethin’ you’d pick off a Christmas Tree … When he’s dhressed up in his canonicals, you’d wondher where he’d been got. God forgive me, when I see him in them, I always think he must ha’ had a Mormon for a father! He an’ th’ Covey can’t abide each other; th’ pair o’ them is always at it, thryin’ to best each other. There’ll be blood dhrawn one o’ these days.

Fluther
  
How is it that Clitheroe himself, now, doesn’t have anythin’ to do with th’ Citizen Army? A couple o’ months ago, an’ you’d hardly ever see him without his gun, an’ th’ Red Hand o’ Liberty Hall in his hat.

Mrs Gogan
  
Just because he wasn’t made a Captain of. He wasn’t goin’ to be in anything where he couldn’t be conspishuous. He was so cocksure o’ being made one that he bought a Sam Browne belt, an’ was always puttin’ it on an’ standin’ in th’ door showing it off, till th’ man came an’ put out th’ street lamps on him. God, I think he used to bring it to bed with him! But I’m tellin’ you herself was delighted that that cock didn’t crow, for she’s like a clockin’ hen if he leaves her sight for a minute.

While she is talking, she takes up book after book from the table, looks into each of them in a nearsighted way, and then leaves them back. She now lifts up the sword, and proceeds to examine it.

Be th’ look of it, this must ha’ been a general’s sword … All th’ gold lace an’ th’ fine figaries on it … Sure it’s twiced too big for him.

Fluther
  
A-ah; it’s a baby’s rattle he ought to have, an’ he as he is with thoughts tossin’ in his head of what may happen to him on th’ day o’ judgement.

Peter has entered, and seeing Mrs Gogan with the sword, goes over to her, pulls it resentfully out of her hands, and marches into the room, back, without speaking.

Mrs Gogan
  
(
as Peter whips the sword
) Oh, excuse me! … (
To Fluther
) Isn’t he th’ surly oul’ rascal!

Fluther
  
Take no notice of him … You’d think he was dumb, but when you get his goat, or he has a few jars up, he’s vice versa. (
He coughs
.)

Mrs Gogan
  
(
she has now sidled over as far as the shirt hanging on the chair
) Oh, you’ve got a cold on you, Fluther.

Fluther
  
(
carelessly
) Ah, it’s only a little one.

Mrs Gogan
  
You’d want to be careful, all th’ same. I knew a woman, a big lump of a woman, red-faced an’ round-bodied, a little awkward on her feet; you’d think, to look at her, she could put out her two arms an’ lift a two-storeyed house on th’ top of her head; got a ticklin’ in her throat, an’ a little cough, an’ th’ next mornin’ she had a little catchin’ in her chest, an’ they had just time to wet her lips with a little rum, an’ off she went. (
She begins to look at and handle the shirt
.)

Fluther
  
(
a little nervously
) It’s only a little cold I have; there’s nothing derogatory wrong with me.

Mrs Gogan
  
I dunno; there’s many a man this minute lowerin’ a pint, thinkin’ of a woman, or pickin’ out a
winner, or doin’ work as you’re doin’, while th’ hearse dhrawn be th’ horses with the black plumes is dhrivin’ up to his own hall door, an’ a voice that he doesn’t hear is muttherin’ in his ear, ‘Earth to earth, an’ ashes t’ ashes, an’ dust to dust.’

Fluther
  
(
faintly
) A man in th’ pink o’ health should have a holy horror of allowin’ thoughts o’ death to be festherin’ in his mind, for – (
with a frightened cough
) be God, I think I’m afther gettin’ a little catch in me chest that time – it’s a creepy thing to be thinkin’ about.

Mrs Gogan
  
It is, an’ it isn’t; it’s both bad an’ good … It always gives meself a kind o’ thresspassin’ joy to feel meself movin’ along in a mournin’ coach, an me thinkin’ that, maybe, th’ next funeral’ll be me own, an’ glad, in a quiet way, that this is somebody else’s.

Fluther
  
An’ a curious kind of a gaspin’ for breath – I hope there’s nothin’ derogatory wrong with me.

Mrs Gogan
  
(
examining the shirt
) Frills on it, like a woman’s petticoat.

Fluther
  
Suddenly gettin’ hot, an’ then, just as suddenly, gettin’ cold.

Mrs Gogan
  
(
holding out the shirt towards Fluther
) How would you like to be wearin’ this Lord Mayor’s nightdhress, Fluther?

Fluther
  
(
vehemently
) Blast you an’ your nightshirt! Is a man fermentin’ with fear to stick th’ showin’ off to him of a thing that looks like a shinin’ shroud?

Mrs Gogan
  
Oh, excuse me!

Peter has again entered, and he pulls the shirt from the hands of Mrs Gogan, replacing it on the chair. He returns to room.

Peter
  
(
as he goes out
) Well, God Almighty, give me patience!

Mrs Gogan
  
(
to Peter
) Oh, excuse me!

There is heard a cheer from the men working outside on the street, followed by the clang of tools being thrown down, then silence. The glare of the gasolene light diminishes and finally goes out.

(
Running into the back room to look out of the window
) What’s the men repairin’ th’ streets cheerin’ for?

Fluther
  
(
sitting down weakly on a chair
) You can’t sneeze but that oul’ one wants to know th’ why an’ th’ wherefore … I feel as dizzy as bedamned! I hope I didn’t give up th’ beer too suddenly.

The Covey comes in by door, right. He is about twenty-five, tall, thin, with lines on his face that form a perpetual protest against life as he conceives it to be. Heavy seams fall from each side of nose, down around his lips, as if they were suspenders keeping his mouth from falling. He speaks in a slow, wailing drawl; more rapidly when he is excited. He is dressed in dungarees, and is wearing a vividly red tie. He flings his cap with a gesture of disgust on the table, and begins to take off his overalls.

Mrs Gogan
  
(
to the Covey, as she runs back into the room
) What’s after happenin’, Covey?

The Covey
  
(
with contempt
) Th’ job’s stopped. They’ve been mobilized to march in th’ demonstration tonight undher th’ Plough an’ th’ Stars. Didn’t you hear them cheerin’, th’ mugs! They have to renew their political baptismal vows to be faithful
in seculo seculorum
.

Fluther
  
(
forgetting his fear in his indignation
) There’s no reason to bring religion into it. I think we ought to have
as great a regard for religion as we can, so as to keep it out of as many things as possible.

The Covey
  
(
pausing in the taking off of his dungarees
) Oh, you’re one o’ the boys that climb into religion as high as a short Mass on Sunday mornin’s? I suppose you’ll be singin’ songs o’ Sion an’ songs o’ Tara at th’ meetin’, too.

Fluther
  
We’re all Irishmen, anyhow; aren’t we?

The Covey
  
(
with hand outstretched, and in a professional tone
) Look here, comrade, there’s no such thing as an Irishman; or an Englishman, or a German or a Turk; we’re all only human bein’s. Scientifically speakin’, it’s all a question of the accidental gatherin’ together of mollycewels an’ atoms.

Peter comes in with a collar in his hand. He goes over to mirror, left, and proceeds to try to put it on.

Fluther
  
Mollycewels an’ atoms! D’ye think I’m goin’ to listen to you thryin’ to juggle Fluther’s mind with complicated cunundhrums of mollycewels an’ atoms?

The Covey
  
(
rather loudly
) There’s nothin’ complicated in it. There’s no fear o’ th’ Church tellin’ you that mollycewels is a stickin’ together of millions of atoms o’ sodium, carbon, potassium o’ iodide, etcetera, that, accordin’ to th’ way they’re mixed, make a flower, a fish, a star that you see shinin’ in th’ sky, or a man with a big brain like me, or a man with a little brain like you!

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