The Silver Tassie

The first of Sean O’Casey’s plays written in England and it is an obvious progression from The Plough and the Stars. Rejected by the Abbey Theatre in 1928 but premiered in London in 1929.

…As O’Casey gained more confidence and control of his craft with each play, he dared to set himself greater aims in his next work. Each succeeding play he wrote posed different problems in dramatic technique, and his next experiment in The Silver Tassie was not so much a departure from his past work as a continuation of his search for new methods of handling old and new material.

…in The Silver Tassie he did not become a doctrinaire Expressionist. He did not construct a theory of drama to explain his experiment. He had found a new form not the ultimate form of drama, and he reshaped and modified it according to its function in his symbolic second act. Further more, unlike Strindberg and O’Neill who used a minimum of straight realism in their symbolic plays, O’Casey extended his experiment by mixing realistic and non-realistic techniques in his plays – a mingled form which he was to use in all his later plays, and which has subsequently been used by most modern dramatists, to mention some representative examples, Obey’s Noah (1931), Wilder’s Our Town (1938), Giraudoux’s Madwoman of Chaillot (1945), Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1944), Miller’s Death of a Salesman (1949).

David Krause, Sean O’Casey, the man and his work

The Silver Tassie takes place over a year in four acts and four different sets.

  • Act One: Room in Heegan’s home
  • Act Two: Somewhere in France
  • Act Three: Ward in a hospital (a little later on)
  • Act Four: Room in the premises of Avondale Football Club (a year later)

The first name thought of for Juno was The Tragedy of Johnnie Boyle, The Silver Tassie could be called ‘the tragedy of Harry Heegan’. Harry, a local footballing hero wins the cup for his club while on leave from the trenches in France. After his return to the battle he is injured in his spine and paralysed from the waist down, the hero is now impotent and sees his life shatter before him as his girlfriend turns her affections to barney, his friend who carried him out to safety.

In this play the first act gives way to a completely abstract second act depicting the horrors of war through poetry, religious Gregorian chant and folk ballads. The scene is a general war behind the trenches looked over by a character called The Croucher, who signifies Death. It is this scene that baffles a lot of people seeing it as completely different from the scene before and the two scenes afterwards. It is meant to be starkly different to emphasise the difference of a killing field to ordinary life. But all the other scenes are also abstracted to a degree; that is realism mixed with abstraction.

…Symbolically Harry is the universal soldier destroyed in a world war, but he is also a particular Irishman; except for the second act, which takes place in the war zone in France, the other three acts are set in Dublin. Thus, although the play is in a sense a morality play – a conflict between good life that Harry represents and the evil of war – O’Casey avoids the allegorical abstractions of the old morality plays by allowing his universal theme to develop out of individual characters in a particular time and place. With this particularized locale he is also able to reveal in the last half of the play how the people who stay at home are spiritually wounded by the war.

David Krause, Sean O’Casey , the man and his work

5 replies on “The Silver Tassie”

You could definitely see your expertise within the work you write. The sector hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart. “He never is alone that is accompanied with noble thoughts.” by Fletcher.

I’m impressed, I must say. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and interesting, and
let me tell you, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
The problem is something not enough men and women are speaking
intelligently about. I’m very happy I came across this in my hunt for something concerning this.

I am teaching in Vienna and London at the moment and this term we are studying The Silver Tassie. Did you know it was produced and staged in Vienna in 1954? I have posted a blog about this on my own website (see below).

I teach on the MA Irish Studies at St Mary’s and (with Michelle Paull) we teach ‘Staging and Screening Exile’.

I wonder what others think of O’Casey’s exile status and the extent to which that this was decisive in this direction post-1928?

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