Dion Boucicault was born Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot in Dublin in 1820. His nominal father was – as his name indicates – from a Huguenot family, but his biological father was probably Dionysius Lardner, a lodger at the house of his mother, Anne Darley of the distinguished Dublin Darleys. Boucicault was educated in London from the age of 13, and became a professional actor in his late teens and, almost from the beginning of his theatrical career, he tried writing his own plays. Ultimately, Boucicault wrote or adapted over 125 plays during a career which saw him spend extended periods in England, Ireland, and the United States.
In Stewart Parker’s play about Boucicault’s life – Heavenly Bodies (1986) – it is suggested that Boucicault’s breakthrough play, London Assurance (1841) was a consummate work of art, but that the actor/playwright subsequently sold out by pandering to the taste and sensibilities of English and American theatre-goers. One of the characters in Parker’s play even accuses Boucicault of possessing a “colonial soul”, since the playwright’s portraits of the English – even in his supposedly “rebellious” Irish melodramas – are ultimately flattering. (Only middle-class Irish Catholics come in for harsh criticism in Boucicault’s Irish stage world.) While Boucicault could be justly accused of indulging in Stage Irishry in his Irish melodramas, one must still acknowledge that these works were extremely influential. While J.M. Synge, Bernard Shaw, and Seán O’Casey all condemned the more ludicrously “Oirish” aspects of plays like The Colleen Bawn (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), and The Shaughran (1874), they also enjoyed watching these plays and even borrowed from them or alluded to them in their own work.
It should also be acknowledged that London Assurance is, as Parker suggested, an excellent play; this classic comedy, which still gets regularly produced, casts a wry eye on the English, in the same manner as the plays written by Boucicault’s Irish heroes (Farquhar, Goldsmith, and Sheridan).
- London Assurance (1841)
- The Colleen Bawn (1860)
- Arrah-na-Pogue (1864) (edited by Deirdre McFeely)
- The Shaughran (1874)
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For more on this playwright from an Irish Studies perspective, see Deirdre McFeely’s book, Dion Boucicault: Irish Identity on Stage (2012).