O'CASEY, Sean. Eighteen autograph letters signed and six typed letters signed to Anthony Harvey; virtually all written from O'Casey's home in Torquay, Devon, 12 March 1954-11 June 1964. Together 36 pages, mostly 4to, four signed "Sean O'Casey," the rest just "Sean," twelve of the autograph letters on blue Air Mail stationery, the typed letters single-spaced, usual fold creases, with ten of the original envelopes and a few related ephemeral items.
"GOD...CREATED SHAKESPEARE, BUT SHAKESPEARE CREATED FALSTAFF"
Anthony Harvey first wrote to Sean O'Casey in March 1954 while a student at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He was doing his Senior Project on the playwright and requested information in regard to the blending of the tragic and comic in his work. O'Casey answered (see his first letter of 12 March 1954) and a very friendly correspondence developed, ending at the dramatist's death in 1964 (at age 80). After graduating from college in 1954 Harvey attended Yale Divinity School (the majority of O'Casey's letters date from that period); but Harvey continued with his interest in the theatre and eventually took up a post at the University of North Carolina. In this excellent series of letters, O'Casey talks of himself and his family and gives fatherly advice to the young man, but the focus is primarily on literature, playwriting, the theatre, and his own works. In a few letters O'Casey discourses at length on religion, the Catholic Church, and "religious drama." Among writers he comments on are Shakespeare, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, T.S. Eliot, Thornton Wilder, G.B. Shaw, and Jean Giraudoux and Jean Anouilh. The first seven letters were published in an article Harvey wrote for the Randolph-Macon Bulletin, September 1954; the remainder is presumably unpublished.
12 March 1954 (O'Casey's first letter): "...As for blending 'Comedy with Tragedy,' [Harvey had asked for information on this topic] it's no new practice -- hundreds have done it, including Shakespeare up to Dion Boucicault...And, indeed, Life is always doing it, doing it, doing it. Even when one lies dead, laughter is often heard in the next room. There's no tragedy that isn't tinged with humour; no comedy that hasn't its share of tragedy...Sorrow & Joy are sisters, though Joy isn't always Joy or Sorrow Sorrow; they change appearances often and rapidly..." 26 March 1954: "...Your questions are terrific! Would Amer. aud[iences] react same as Irish? I hope not, in a lot of ways. You can read how many re-acted to The Plough [and the Stars] and The [Silver] Tassie, just as Boston did to Within the Gates...American audiences differ -- I'd say they enter into the humour and sorrow if the audiences have a liking for drama, & weren't afraid to realise that Drama (as well as life) shouldn't be all cakes & ale...By the way, I never labour to mix grief with laughter: they just grow into the play, without any striving, just as I see them arm-in-arm in life. Which of the plays is the best example, I can't say. I think myself that, technically, (the form) Cock-A-Doodle Dandy is the best example of workmanship; &, in humour & pathos, no less than any of the others. My favourite play is always the one I happen to be working at. A weakness of mine is that I lose interest in what has been done, &, if the chance comes, I have to force myself to take an interest in rehearsals..." 14 April 1954: "...The play [Cock-A-Doodle Dandy], first of all is a play, irrespective of the theme; & if it fails as a play, it fails altogether. Broadly, it stands against anything interfering with, or hindering, the natural joys of life, applicable to all men, but cast in a gay, Irish mold. It shows, or tries to show -- regarded this way -- that Ireland is the world; just as Ibsen made Norway a world, & Strindberg made a world of Sweden. Of course, I'm familiar with [Eugene] O'Neill's work; but couldn't say for certain what all the various symbols in the play [The Great God Brown] were meant to convey. I think it one of the finest works; one that tries to show by symbol & psychology the passage of a soul through life as O'Neill saw it go..."
29 January 1955 (a two-page discussion of religion to Harvey at Yale Divinity School): "...To me, there is more in a picture by Greco, Titian, John, in a symphony by Beethoven, a concerto by Mozart, a play by Shakespeare; more glory to God, more epiphanic insight, than a life's roaring from B[illy] Graham. Graham Greene's a good Catholic; though the Bishops don't like his plays; he has been banned in Dublin. No, the R.C. Church don't allow suicide for any reason whatsoever. The girl in G[raham] Greene's play [The Living Room] would not be considered a martyr. In my play, The B[ishop's] Bonfire, I give a picture of a differently-minded priest, tho' the question isn't one of a girl seeking union with a married man. Many believe that, like [Franois] Mauriac, there is a deep tinge of Jansenism of G. Greene..." 20 March 1955: "...Have been very busy with The Bishop's Bonfire, which caused a tremendous stir in Dublin; and a raging controversy; raging still. Irish critics condemned it almost to a man; but the audiences didn't agree with them, and, so far, it has been playing to crowded houses...I haven't read Tennessee Williams' Camino Real, but Mr. [Brooks] Atkinson spoke a lot about it when I was with him in London...I shouldn't say Arthur Miller's plays are 'full of despair.' Life doesn't halt when one or more of us dies sadly. What we have to do today is to see that no other war breaks out, & so save millions & millions from dying sadly and badly..." 20 November 1955: "...I don't agree about the idea of my being out of Ireland weakens the characters I draw; but, of course, I'd hardly believe anything else, and I'm not infallible. But I've some reasons for believing this: [W.B.]Yeats began it when he said at the rejection of The Silver Tassie [in the 1920s] that O'Casey's absence from Ireland had done him harm -- though I was then but a year from Ireland. Yeats conveniently forgot that he himself was educated in his youth in Hammersmith, London; that he lived as a young man there for twenty-five years...and that if one adds the later times he spent out of Ireland...well, we'll find that he was far oftener out of Ireland than he was in it. Why am I alone in this matter? Why not say the same thing of P.V. Carroll and of Denis Johnston?...Every character comes from the playwright's mind; none of them -- bar the dull ones -- are as God made them, but as the playwright conceived them. Falstaff isn't made up from one person; he is too great to be but one. God, if you like, created Shakespeare, but Shakespeare created Falstaff..." 6 October 1956: "...remember Dr. Yeats and The Silver Tassie; and his curious idea that I should, must, write as he saw fit. I refused; & it did me a lot of harm for years; but I went my own way...But Yeats meant well; and was shocked at me when he saw my fists up; he was a dominant man, and suffered from so many agreeing with everything he uttered..."
9 February 1957: "...It would take me a long time to comment on T.S. Eliot's 'religious beliefs'... He declared himself to be an Anglican, and therefore presumably accepts the Anglican Creed and the Church's 39 Articles. There's more in his poetry than merely religious belief. I have no religious beliefs myself, bar a love of life and a belief that all the young should have time to enjoy it; and that life lived is the most important thing in our universe; and to get our fill of it till we grow old, to secure peace, to devote all thought to the things that belong to peace, and to give first thought to the health and vigor of the community..." This letter concludes with a poignant account of the death of his 21-year-old son Niall. 5 October 1957: "...[G.B. Shaw and I] had a lot of other things to talk about: Socialism, the Theatre, Ireland, and G.B.S.'s own work. I wonder is [Tennessee] Williams a 'Universal Writer?' It doesn't follow that because a play is played everywhere (a la [R.C. Sherriff's] Journey's End), it is a Universal work. The Universe goes deeper than transient popularity; and Time is her servant, only time can tell...I have [O'Neill's] A Touch of the Poet beside me. I wait for an eye improvement to read it is comfort..." (25)