The Plough and the Stars Plot Summary

ACT I: NOVEMBER 1915

At the Clitheroes’ flat in a Dublin tenement, Fluther Good, a carpenter, repairs the door while gossiping with Mrs. Gogan, a neighbor and mother to the consumptive Mollser. A meeting of nationalist groups including the Irish Citizen Army, the Irish Volunteers, and the Irish National Foresters is to be held that night: Mrs. Gogan reveals to Fluther that Jack Clitheroe will not go to the meeting. While he was a member of the ICA, Jack has withdrawn after being passed over for the rank of captain.

Nora Clitheroe’s uncle, Peter Flynn, is dressing up for the meeting while enduring taunts from the Young Covey, who is Jack Clitheroe’s cousin and an ardent Socialist. Nora enters and tries to calm them: it is her birthday, and she wants to spend a peaceful evening alone with her husband. Bessie Burgess, a bitter upstairs neighbor whose son is away fighting with the British Army in the First World War, comes downstairs and begins to taunt Nora about her clothes.

Jack arrives home and sends Bessie away. At tea, Jack complains that he gave up the ICA for Nora’s sake, and feels left out of the meeting. The Covey and Peter leave, and Nora persuades Jack to stay home with her. Soon thereafter, however, Captain Brennan comes to the door and delivers orders for “Commandant Clitheroe” to report to the meeting. Jack asks why the general calls him “Commandant,” and Brennan replies that Jack was appointed recently: the news was delivered to Nora. Nora admits that she burnt the letter so that Jack would separate from the ICA. Furious with Nora, Jack departs with the Captain for the meeting.

ACT II: LATER THE SAME EVENING

Inside a pub, Rosie Redmond, a prostitute, complains to the bartender that the meeting is bad for business. Peter Flynn and Fluther arrive, stirred into exuberance by the rally’s ardent rhetoric. They drink and leave, running into the Covey on the way out. The Covey is less excited by the rally, insisting that the only worthwhile revolution is a Socialist one. Looking for business and a drink, Rosie echoes his sentiments before he breaks away.

Soon, Fluther and Peter return, joined by Mrs. Gogan and Bessie Burgess. Bessie disparages the meeting, insisting that the rebels are hypocritical by not supporting the war efforts in Belgium. Soon a fight erupts between Bessie and Mrs. Gogan: the bartender breaks it up and sends the women outside. Fluther and the Covey squabble about the merits of the rebellion, with Rosie taking Fluther’s side. When the bartender kicks the Covey out, too,, Rosie takes Fluther elsewhere in the pub.

Jack arrives with Captain Brennan and a Lieutenant from the Irish Volunteers. They proudly display both the Plough and the Stars (the banner of the ICA) and the Irish tricolor. They drink together, vowing to die for Ireland. They storm back out to the rally, and Fluther stumbles homeward with Rosie.

(INTERMISSION)

ACT III: APRIL 1916

In the street outside the Clitheroes’ tenement, Mrs. Gogan has brought Mollser outside in hopes that sunshine will help her health—her consumption is getting worse. Breathless and excited, the Covey and Peter run in, reporting that the revolution is underway, with soldiers everywhere and much of the city on fire. Nora and Fluther are both missing; Patrick Pearse, a General among the rebels, has read his “Declaration of the Irish Republic.”

Fluther arrives supporting the now-pregnant Nora, who is exhausted from searching for Jack all night—she hasn’t been able to find him. From her window above, Bessie Burgess gloats that the rebellion is being brutally suppressed. Mrs. Gogan takes Nora inside, while Fluther, the Covey, and Peter begin to gamble when the booming of artillery is suddenly heard nearby—suggesting an escalation of British response. Excitedly, Bessie announces that citizens have begun to loot the shops—the characters rush offstage. They soon return, rushing into the house laden with stolen goods.

Jack and Captain Brennan enter, supporting Lieutenant Langon, who has been badly wounded. Hearing their voices, Nora rushes outside and begs Jack to abandon the fight and come indoors with her. Captain Brennan derides Jack, who pushes Nora away and exits with the other soldiers. Bessie sees Nora lying in the street and helps her inside. Fluther returns with a great quantity of stolen beer and whiskey; Bessie and Mrs. Gogan re-enter. They desperately need a doctor: Mollser continues to worsen, and Nora has gone into labor. Fluther is too drunk to fetch one; Bessie leaves instead.

ACT IV: A FEW DAYS LATER

Later in the Rising, the characters are sheltering in Bessie’s apartment. Untended by a doctor, Mollser has died, and Nora has had a stillbirth. Nora is delirious, alternatively asking for her baby and hallucinating that she is walking through the country with Jack. Captain Brennan arrives and announces that Jack has been killed and that the British have begun to close in; he then removes his uniform and asks to shelter with the group.

Soon afterwards, two British soldiers arrive to take Mollser’s coffin out of the house. When they return, they announce that they are searching for a sniper in the area, who continues to kill their men despite an impending surrender. They announce that all the Irish men are to be detained elsewhere in the city, and escort them out.

Nora enters, hallucinating and singing. As the shooting outside intensifies, Bessie tries to take her away from the windows. In the ensuing struggle, a bullet enters the window and hits Bessie in the back. Failing to return to reality, Nora makes tea while Bessie dies on the floor. Mrs. Gogan takes Nora away just as Nora begins to realize what has happened.

Two British soldiers return, convinced that they have shot the sniper until they see that they have accidentally killed Bessie. As the shelling outside intensifies, signaling a final British assault on the rebels’ stronghold in the GPO, the soldiers sing an army tune.

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