Unlike the directors of the Abbey Theatre, Sean O'Casey was slum-born and bred, self-educated, and deeply involved in the political and labor ferment that preceded Irish independence. His famous group of realistic plays produced at the Abbey form, in effect, a commentary on each stage of the independence movement. The melodramatic The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), the first to be staged, deals with the guerrilla war conducted by the IRA until the peace treaty was signed in 1921. Juno and the Paycock (1925), cast in the mold of classic comedy, describes the civil war and failure of hopes that followed the settlement. The last to be produced, The Plough and the Stars (1926), set off howls of resentment by returning to the Easter 1916 uprising itself, and condemning the vanity of the nationalists and the dogmatism of labor, who squabble while Dublin, in the person of its women, suffers martyrdom. It was expected that the Abbey audience would be unsympathetic. However, when even the Abbey management, in the person of W.B. Yeats, turned against the antiwar play, The Silver Tassie (1928), O'Casey (who had already taken up residence in London and married) determined to remain in "exile." It was an ill-chosen moment to throw himself upon the mercy of a commercial theater, because O'Casey was just embarking on a series of dramatic experiments: Within the Gates (1934), in which the stylized polyphony of urban activities recalls the panorama of The Plough and the Stars and anticipates more modern works such as Arnold Wesker's Kitchen (1959); The Star Turns Red (1940), a vision of an anti-fascist revolution; and Purple Dust (1940), a fantasy cleansing of the remnants of imperialism from Ireland. Without an assured theater, these and his later plays were condemned to productions often amateurish and unhelpful to the reviser, sometimes coming years after O'Casey had reluctantly published the text. (An exception was the exemplary New York production of Within the Gates in 1934. But Irish playwrights have often done better in New York than London.) After World War II, O'Casey turned to a third, still more idiosyncratic form of drama, of which his own favorite example was Cock-A-Doodle-Dandy (1949). Broadly satirical depictions of rural Ireland in the grip of church and complacency, these were Aristophanic comedies with a great deal of folk culture and music hall in their constitution. Their reception was appropriately divided: Cock-A-Doodle-Dandy received its first production at the Royal Court in 1959; The Drums of Father Ned was forced out of the Dublin Festival of 1958. In the 1930s, O'Casey served as a drama critic for London's Time and Tide, producing a group of scathing comments on West End conventionality, which have been published as The Flying Wasp (1937). Other essays on theater appear in The Green Crow (1956), Under a Colored Cap (1963), and Blasts and Benedictions (1967).
The son of a well-to-do New York Jewish family, Miller graduated from high school and then went to work in a warehouse. His plays have been called "political," but he considers the areas of literature and politics to be quite separate and has said, "The only sure and valid aim---speaking of art as a weapon---is the humanizing of man." The recurring theme of all his plays is the relationship between a man's identity and the image that society demands of him. After two years, he entered the University of Michigan, where he soon started writing plays. All My Sons (1947), a Broadway success that won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1947, tells the story of a son, home from the war, who learns that his brother's death was due to defective airplane parts turned out by their profiteering father. Death of a Salesman (1949), Miller's experimental yet classical American tragedy, received both the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1949. It is a poignant statement of a man facing himself and his failure. In The Crucible (1953), a play about bigotry in the Salem witchcraft trials of 1692, Miller brings into focus the social tragedy of a society gone mad, as well as the agony of a heroic individual. The play was generally considered to be a comment on the McCarthyism of its time. Miller himself appeared before the Congressional Un-American Activities Committee and steadfastly refused to involve his friends and associates when questioned about them. His screenplay for The Misfits (1961), from his short story, was written for his second wife, actress Marilyn Monroe (see Vol. 3); After the Fall (1964) has clear autobiographical overtones and involves the story of this ill-fated marriage as well as further dealing with Miller's experiences with McCarthyism. In the one-act Incident at Vichy (1964), a group of men are picked off the streets one morning during the Nazi occupation of France. The Price (1968) is a psychological drama concerning two brothers, one a police officer, one a wealthy surgeon, whose long-standing conflict is explored over the disposal of their father's furniture. The Creation of the World and Other Business (1973) is a retelling of the story of Genesis, attempted as a comedy. The American Clock (1980) explores the impact of the Depression on the nation and its individual citizens. Among Miller's most recent works is Danger: Memory! (1987), a study of two elderly friends. During the 1980s, almost all of Miller's plays were given major British revivals, and the playwright's work has been more popular in Britain than in the United States of late.