Can Minorities Speak in Brendan Behan’s The Hostage (1958)?

Wei H. Kao, National Taiwan University


This paper examines Brendan Behan’s controversial play The Hostage (1958), which portrays the ambiguous responses of socially and politically marginalized characters to militant Irish republicanism and hardline unionism. Their voices, untimely in political terms yet potentially challenging, from both sides of the divide, suggest an alternative approach to reshaping the nationalist and unionist historiographies of Ireland. More significantly, through the Brechtian distancing effects on stage and dramatic ironies employed in the play, it might be regarded as counteracting the assumption that Gayatri C. Spivak expressed in her “Can the Subaltern Speak?” This paper will therefore examine how Behan, from a working-class background, intended to rebuild fragmented Irish experiences in a theatrical context, and whether this problem play contains a “history from below”—without imperialist structures but effectively reversing the nationalistic power relation in which minority groups are still subordinated and oppressed.


postcolonialism; subaltern; Brendan Behan; Irish; IRA

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