The language used by OCasey in the play is an important feature in creating the sense of Dublin as it was in the time of the Rising. As the majority of characters in the play represent inner city dwellers, it is the language of this class that forms the backbone of much of the dialogue in the play. However, one of the major criticisms directed at the play at the time of the first production was that the language was unrealistic and was too crude and earthy to represent the citizens of Dublin. Indeed some of the actors refused to speak some of the lines which resulted in cast changes before the opening performances.
Much of the crudity of language is contained in the lines spoken by Rosie Redmond and in the various passages of verbal abuse involving characters such as The Covey, Bessie Burgess, Fluther and Jack. The passages of verbal abuse in which The Covey calls Peter "A little malignant oul bastard" and "a lemon whiskered oul swine"; in which Jack refers to Bessie as "That old bitch"; in which Fluther refers to The Covey as "a lowser"; where Bessie refers to Nora as "a little overdressed throllop" - reflect what OCasey considered to be the authentic speech and idioms of the tenement dwellers.
However, as with most dramas, an element of poetic licence is afforded to the playwright and here O'Casey condenses the language of the tenements in order to highlight the peculiarities of individual characters and both the dramatic and comic elements of the play.
Apart from O'Casey's obvious use of swear words and general verbal abuse, the play is also noticeable for the sentimentality of the language. The language of the love scenes between Jack and Nora is in stark contrast to their verbal abuse that pervades the tenement. Phrases such as "little red lipped Nora" have their origin in a much different notion in human experience than phrases such as "malignant 'oul bastard". Another source of sentimentality in the play's language is the romantic allusions of Peter in which he demonstrates his Nationalist feelings "I felt a burnin' lump in me throat when I heard the bard playing the soldier's song". Brennan's speech after the death of Jack Clitheroe is a further example of sentimentality and reflects the disparity between the idealist and the realist. It represents the glorification of those who died in the Rising and in the language used by Brennan, O'Casey clearly shows the difference between the reality of the Rising for those who took part and for the tenement dwellers and the reflected glory in which it was later held.
While much of the language used in the play is derived from the authentic speech patterns of Dublin tenement dwellers, in the play it is often highly stylised. In much the same way as the language of the "Playboy of the Western World" was a highly stylised version of the Hiberno-English spoken along the western seaboard. By using alliteration, assonance and poetic techniques, the language of the "Plough and the Stars" transpires as more dramatic and stylised than the colloquial language it was based on. At times the language of the play reflects poetic drama in much the same as did the language of Shakespeare's plays.
All of the characters who inhabit O'Casey's tenement reflect this form of language, however when looking at the skill of O'Casey in formulating the language of the play it is noticeable that characters such as Bessie Burgess and Fluther Goode are presented with a wide diversity of speech. Bessie Burgess at times represents the most crude and earthly speech of any character in the play but she also possesses the ability to be extremely poetic and even biblical in her speech "But you'll not escape from the arrow that flieth be night or the sickness that wasteth be dry". She continued "They'll be scattered abroad like th' dust in th' darkness".
When speaking of the plight of the British soldiers at the front, Bessie again adopts an exalted apocalyptic tone "They'll be layin' down their white bodies shredded into torn and bloody pieces on the altar that God himself has built for the sacrifice heroes". At the other end of the spectrum, Bessie demonstrates her crudeness and coarseness "You bowsey, come in ower that" and "the life's pourin' out o' me. I've got this through you, through you, you bitch you."
Another character in the play who's use of language is distinctive, is Fluther Goode. A feature of Fluther's language is his constant use of misappropriasms such as the word "derogatory" used out of context. This adds to the comical aspect of Fluther's character. He is also noticeable for exaggeration and his highly descriptive style "I hit a man last week and he's fallin' yet". Fluther Goode encompasses much of the ribaldry of the play's language. In his conversations and arguments with The Covey and Peter, we can deduce O'Casey's clever sense of Dublin wit. (Refer to Act 1).
Although Mollser has little to say in the play, the lines that she speaks are notable for their combination of sentimentality and common sense "Is there anyone goin' with a titther o' sense".
The language in the play is an important element in creating comedy and tragedy. Language used by the speaker in Act 2 contrasts with the language used by the characters who, at that moment, were inside the pub. This helps us to delineate, not just the chasm that exists between political ideologies, but also the vast gulf in terms of social class and education between O'Casey's tenement dwellers and those urging them to revolution. Statements made by Clitheroe and Brennan "Ireland is greater than a wife" and "Ireland is greater than a mother" are simplistic attempts to bridge that gap and depict clearly the effect of the speakers words on gullible young men.
Another example of a tenement dweller speaking in a language different to his compatriots, is The Covey's use of Socialist terminology, memorised from textbooks. His constant quoting of Jenersky's Thesis is the best example in the play.
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