At a personal level, memories allow a person to compose a narrative about him/herself. The person uses memories as pieces of evidence that he/she thinks will help in their construction of a personal narrative.[1] A person’s narrative is a personal history about his past when he uses his own experiences as pieces of evidence to create a story about himself. In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical, Hamilton: An American Musical, General George Washington laments about his first military blunder to Alexander Hamilton because Washington cannot shake the memory of his fallen soldiers. Despite his first military blunder, General Washington led a successful military career when he defeated the British army for American independence. To Washington, the memory of his fallen soldiers represents a dark part of his personal history because he took full responsibility for the death of his fellow Americans. In the same song, “History Has Its Eyes on You,” George Washington repeats the line throughout the song: “Knowing history has its eyes on me.” The repetition suggests that history can construct a narrative about our lives as much as we can for ourselves. In other words, individuals and history can produce multiple narratives about the same events from memory.


Unlike personal narrative, history is a collective narrative of a group of people. History preserves specific values and experiences of the past because these are the things that are important to a specific group of people.[2] In Sean O’Casey’s play, The Plough and the Stars, the story line presents a history surrounding the Easter Rising of 1916 through the Irish working class perspective. The play centers itself on the collective memories of the working class between the moments before the Easter Rising and the week of the Rising. O’Casey produces a collective history through the shared values and experiences of the working class. The collective history takes the personal narrative of individuals and synthesizes these multiple narratives into a cohesive story.

Imagined Future:

Both memories and history come together to generate an imagined future through the theatrical performances of plays, musicals, and dramas.[3] The theater serves as a vehicle that provides an open space–where playwrights incorporate memories into intricate weave of history. Playwrights, like W.B. Yeats and Peter Stone, preserve the memories and personal histories of their respective nations to construct an image destined for greatness. In Yeats’s play, Cathleen Ni Houlihan, Yeats calls on the Gaelic past of Ireland to excite Irishmen to fight for national freedom. The reference to a Gaelic, free state of Ireland creates a national history for a return to an independent Ireland. In like manner, Stone’s musical, 1776, produces a collective narrative for American independence when the thirteen colonies debate over its justification for national independence. Like Yeats’s play, Stone’s musical incorporates the shared values and experiences of a colonized people to excite a revolution against British imperialism. The theater allows playwrights as well as their audience to generate a collective purpose for remembering the importance of national independence. In theater, the audience experiences a feeling of collision when individual memories of the past start to conflict with the collective memory performed on stage. Moreover, the audience, also, feels a sense of incorporation when their individual memories adds to the grand narrative of these plays, musicals, and/or dramas. The theater is a cultural experience that unites the past with the present for the sake of an imagined future purpose.


Martyrdom is a common and important theme that is present throughout theater about revolution.  The Irish plays, Cathleen Ni Houlihan and, The Plough and the Stars, and the American musicals Hamilton and 1776 all show how martyrdom was admired and helps create an interest in fighting for independence from England.  In Ireland during the time of the rising, people who were killed were considered not only “national heroes, but the martyrs whose blood was the seed of the present Irish Free State.”[4]  People in Ireland loved their country so much that they were willing to “sacrifice themselves for the common good.”[5]  They valued their country and how it would be for the future citizens of Ireland over their current life.  This idea of an ideal country was worth becoming a martyr for, and while this was common in Ireland and Irish theater around the time of the rising, it was also present in the theater about the American Revolution as well.


Memory and Political Melodramas

Memory and Literary Revival

Memory and Musicals

Hamilton and Cathleen Ni Houlihan?: Irish and American Dramatic Representations of Colonial Rebellion

[1] Caulfield, Mary & Collins, Christopher. Ireland, Memory and Performing the Historical Imagination (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014), 1.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Caulfield et. al., 2.

[4] George Bernard Shaw in P. C. Hogan, The sacrificial employment of national identity:  Pádraic Pearse and the 1916 Easter Uprising, Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology 5, no. 1 (Summer, 2014): 25-43.

[5] Maurice Joy, The Irish Rebellion of 1916 And Its Martyrs: Erin’s Tragic Easter (New York: The Devin-Adair company, 1916), viii.