Term Paper: Brendan Behan Contributed

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[. . .] This play is largely known for its anti-capital punishment stance and opposition to overcrowding in prisons (Demastes & Schrank, 1997). Most of the literary reviews in reference to this play were complimentary, considering the play "lively, artistic, and good propaganda" providing humor and use of comic relief to develop and release tension (Demastes & Schrank, 1997).

Behan's two most well-known plays are the Quare Fellow and The Hostage, which according to Demastes & Schrank (1997) "inaugurate the contemporary movement in Irish and British drama" (p. 23).

Critical Analysis Behan

Some critics have focused more on Behan's life than on his works, criticizing him as having a larger than life 'public persona' and suggesting that his works were but 'overdramatisations of his personality" (Demastes & Schrank, 1997). There have actually been relatively few true criticisms of his work and evaluations of his plays because of the emphasis on his personal behaviors (Demastes & Schrank, 1997). As the introduction of this paper suggests, the attempts to focus on Behan's social life and lifestyle detract from his true contribution and the literary genius of his work.

Some criticisms have suggested that his work may not actually be his own; Simpson asserted that Behan was "as careless as a writer with such a deficient sense of dramatic structure" that his wife had to re-write parts of The Quare Fellow (Demastes & Schrank, 1997; p. 29). Others have suggested that these are overstatements and that all the works with minor tweaks and changes are largely Behan's original work.

Behan's works were influenced by reading and politics; in much of his work he talked of his working class origins, and his love of theater when combined with his appetite for "the written word" combined to produce a unique communication form with his audience (Gonzales, 1997).

The basis for his work Borstal Boy in 1958 was autobiographical; in fact much of his work was influenced by his personal run ins with the law (Gonzales, 1997). Behan was often referred to by the public as the "wild young Irishman" often appearing in public drunk and disorderly. Behan wrote the Hostage after The Quare Fellow.

The work was done in English, produced for the British stage by Joan Littlewood who is "often given an undue amount of credit for Behan's two most ambitious theatrical presentations" (Gonzales, 1997). The Hostage and Quare Fellow are often considered the climax of Behans career, and throughout his life had difficult transcending "his reputation as carouser whose exploits were given extensive coverage by the press" (Gonzales, 1997).

Credit is also sometimes denied Behan because a belief exists that Littlewood rather than Behan is the author of such noted pieces as The Hostage, which is valued as largely "un-Irish" (Demastes & Schrank, 1997) as supported by Gonzales (1997). However in fairness many of these criticisms aren't adequately supported and un-detailed and fail to recognize the similarities of experience in Behan's own life with the opinions and circumstances portrayed in his literary works.

Further, any claim that the use of "music hall performance elements" including song and dance and "meta-theatrical self-reflexivity" which are evident in plays like The Hostage, Richard's Cork Leg and The Quare Fellow are actually a phenomena that can only be described as reminiscent of Behan, whose techniques are clearly unique and uniform in his plays (Demastes & Schrank, 1997).


Behan contributed much to the world of literature. His work conveys a close understanding of human nature and attempts to remove the invisible barriers that exist between men in an attempt to share with man the idea that all humans share some commonality. In addition his literary works effectively delivery political sentiment and share with the audience Behan's beliefs regarding nationalism and the current state in Ireland during the time of his writing.


Behan, B. (1958). "Borstal Boy" London: Hutchinson, 241

Brannigan, J. (2002). "Belated Behan: Brendan Behan and the cultural politics of memory." Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies, p. 39.

Demastes, W.W. & Schrank, B. (1997). "Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995: A… [END OF PREVIEW]

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