Justify the representation of violence and cruelty in the plays of Martin McDonagh

In both plays, The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West` through observable action, McDonagh clearly establishes the violent nature of the environment, a violence he then reinforces through the characters’ dialogue, which is loaded with references to brutality. In both plays violence is used to unveil true family relations and hardship faced by the main characters. The play’s violence is more evident than in a scene near the end, when Maureen has the chance to leave the her mother and go to Boston with her beloved Pato. Thus, the tragedy is that Maureen’s plans are ruined when Mag intercepts the letter containing Pato’s proposal, reads it, and then burns it. These events clearly demonstrate that violence is a regular component of the characters’ daily existence, and these examples, although operating in the dramatic present, also serve to foreshadow the violence to come. And it is largely because of the humor of the play in production that the violence at the play’s end is a surprise, for in truth McDonagh has fooled his audience. He has made it think that it was watching a comedy, when actually the piece was considerably darker, more vicious. Using violence in the Lonesome West the author forces viewers to laugh miss the sinister overtones of these conversations and as a consequence never consider them as seriously as they should. However, in the beginning of the second act McDonagh deftly sways the audience to one character’s side.

It is my contention, then, that much of the shock at the scenes of violence is derived not as much from the horrific torture on stage (although it is quite realistic) as from the spectator’s realization that McDonagh has cleverly deceived them both into thinking the play was a comedy and also into sympathizing with a parent-abuser and murderer, while hating the victim. When we are duped, it alerts us to the fact that perhaps we are not quite as savvy as we thought we were. The violent ending, then, becomes not only a physical attack against Mag but also a violent shock to our own theatre-going sensibilities. Through his dramaturgy McDonagh reawakens our appreciation of the power of the well-made play and its ability to succeed on the contemporary stage.

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McDonagh, M. (1999). The Lonesome West. Dramatist’s Play Service.


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