Sive, written by Irish playwright, novelist, and essayist John B. Keane, is known as one of the best Irish plays of the 20th century. First performed in Listowel, County Kerry in 1959, it has recently been given new production by award winning director Conall Morrison at the national theater of Ireland, The Abbey Theater. Beautiful, young Sive lives with her Aunt and Uncle in rural Kerry. Her situation seems less than ideal due to her illegitimacy, and the lack of affection and knowledge of her true parentage she gets from her harsh aunt. Things go from bad to worse when Thomasheen Seán Rua arrives, offering the aunt a large sum of money from a rich, old, local farmer Seán Dóta, in exchange for Sive’s hand in marriage. There are many cultural aspects depicted in the play, including education, religion, poverty, and prejudice. This dark play depicts all of these and others through brilliant acting and language.
Sive attends school, as does her true love, Liam. This is a new improvement, but goes unappreciated by Sive’s Aunt Mina. Mina says the girl should be working, breaking her back as she does, to support the family. Sive is educated at the convent, and there is no mention of religion other than the accusations that the match between Sive and Seán Dóta would be against God. There are many instances of superstition. When Mike, the uncle, goes to find the priest after Sive’s death, he takes Liam with him as it is unlucky for one man to see a priest. Mina, before Sive’s death, places her new shoes on the table, which is another unlucky act. There is a religious attitude towards Sive’s suicide, as that could result in an improper burial.
The family lives in Poverty, and there is still prejudice shown by them towards the traveling beggar-poets. Sive is the victim of prejudice by her Aunt and Uncle because she is illegitimate. Mina calls Sive a “bye-child” and a “bastard”. The family’s poverty is part of the reason Mina is so willing to essentially sell her adoptive daughter into marriage to a man old enough to be her grandfather. The temptation of money is so great, all other common sense goes out the window.