Sean O’Casey, noted Irish playwright, was born to a Protestant family in Dublin in 1880. He was plagued with poor eyesight and bad health as a child, which interfered with his education. He left school at 14 to work, and spent a long time as a railwayman. He did some amateur acting as a young adult, became quite involved in the Gaelic League, and spoke out in favor of workers’ rights. In the early 1920s, O’Casey had three plays produced at the Abbey Theatre—The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924), and The Plough and the Stars (1925). Each play portrayed a realistic view of Dublin slums and provoked public criticism. O’Casey refused to glorify the violence of the nationalist movement. O’Casey followed these plays of realism with The Silver Tassie, which was submitted to the Abbey Theatre in 1927. The play was a symbolic expression of the cruel horrors of WWI. It was rejected by the Abbey Theatre and, specifically, by W.B. Yeats. It was the last play he offered to the Abbey Theatre. Most of his plays which followed were filled with symbolism and fantasy. With the exception of Within the Gates (1934), which was a favorite of Eugene O’Neill’s, none of the later plays had the critical acclaim or success that were given his earlier work. O’Casey received the Hawthornden Prize for Juno and the Paycock, and the Newspaper Guild of New York’s “Page One Award” for various works. He declined many honors in his later life, including the Order of the British Empire and various Honorary Degrees. O’Casey passed away in 1964 at the age of 84.
[Biography by Erin Sullivan]