By The Bog of Cats
'By the Bog of Cats' by Marina Carr
This is a modern, Irish play, set in rural Ireland, that deals with loss, despair and destructive revenge. I think it fits each of the comparative study modes very well.
Set in the mysterious landscape of the bogs of rural Ireland, Carr’s lyrical and timeless play tells the story of Hester Swane, an irish traveller with a deep and unearthly connection to her land. Tormented by the memory of a mother who deserted her, Hester is once again betrayed, this time by the father of her child, the man she loves. On the brink of despair, she embarks on a terrible journey of vengeance as the secrets of her tangled history are revealed.
- The play is powerful and emotional, focusing on Hester Swane, a character tormented by the loss of her mother, and the father of her child.
- The play is very atmospheric, set on the bleak bogs of the midlands. There is a supernatural element that is very intriguing – the play opens with the prophetic promise of Hester’s demise, and characters such as the Catwoman and ghosts add to the appealing otherworldly nature of the play.
- There is great room for discussion regarding Hester’s actions and motivations. She is loosely based on Euripides’ tragic Medea, and her destructive side could make for lively classroom discussion.
General Vision and Viewpoint
The play opens with the Ghost Fancier mistakenly arriving ahead of time for Hester. From the outset, we know that tragedy will strike, which it certainly does, culminating in Hester taking her daughter’s life, rather than leaving her motherless after her own death. This is a dark play, full of loss, regret and sadness.
Cultural Context/Social Setting
Set in rural Ireland, in the bogs of the midlands, the community are a mixed bunch, ranging from the visionary Catwoman, to the ridiculous Mrs Kilbride and the ruthless farmer, Xavier Cassidy. Hester, an isolated outsider, is keenly aware of how she is viewed and judged by this smalltown community.
The echoing of Medea, and the use of prophecy and superstition adds a richly atmospheric backdrop to the play, while also adding layers of meaning to the action on the stage.
The play is conflict and confrontation rich, as Hester attempts to dissuade Carthage from marrying Caroline Cassidy, and is scorned for doing so. This adds a lot of tension to the story, as do Hester’s dramatic and destructive actions.
Characters in this play are memorable and clearly defined. They add a richness and depth to the play as it unfolds.
Theme/Issue - Relationships
I always choose Relationships as the theme/issue for consideration at Higher Level for the comparative study. Relationships in this play are fraught, as Hester begs Carthage not to leave her as her mother has done. Finding herself thrown over, she proceeds to destroy all around her. Relationships in this play are full of conflict and tension, and the issue of abandonment adds to the exploration of this theme.
Hero, Heroine, Villain
Hester Swane is a compelling character. She is tormented by the loss of her mother and cannot suffer being cast aside by Carthage in favour of his young bride. She is able to talk with ghosts and has a dark secret in her past, making her an intriguing protagonist. Her final actions, the killing of her seven year old daughter, are shocking and startling, making her a very interesting character to study.
Conflict or loss would work well as themes for study here. The play is full of conflict and confrontation as characters clash repeatedly.
Hester’s loss of her mother and the father of her child, and the sense of loss that permeates the play, are also worth considering.
I really enjoyed this play. It is very atmospheric and otherworldly, and characters are intensely vivid. Hester is a compelling character, and her destructive actions would make for excellent classroom discussion.