Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy



First Adviser

Fifer, Elizabeth

Other advisers/committee members

Lotto, Ed; Singh, Amardeep; Pepper, Pam


In my dissertation, I examine the multi-leveled metaphor of interrogation, imprisonment, and sanction in the 1950s Irish prison dramas of Seamus Byrne's Design For A Headstone and Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow and The Hostage. In these plays, I explore the development of that metaphor and how it relates directly to the prison situation in the Republic of Ireland in the 1950s. During that revolutionary, socially, and politically stagnant decade in Ireland, these two playwrights examine the way that the Irish government adopted similar tactics in its treatment of prisoners as had England when it had ruled the island. Not only does a post-colonial subaltern circumstance exist in the legal and carceral realm, but also these plays show a connection of the Church and state and the implications of such a society on its penal system. In Chapter One, I examine Seamus Byrne's Design For A Headstone. I argue that it is in the naturalistic, representational tradition of Ibsen and that through this direct portrayal of prison life, Byrne captures the irony of life and death struggles within a penal system. I argue that this play is important in the Irish canon of drama, even though Byrne is essentially a forgotten playwright. In Chapters Two and Three, I examine Brendan Behan's The Quare Fellow and The Hostage. I explicate Behan's movement away from representationalism to a form more closely resembling theater of the absurd. In The Quare Fellow he makes subtle movement away from realism, and in The Hostage plunges into a fluid and abstract form. In these plays, Behan satirizes the Irish government as well as that I.R.A.