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Plot summaryGenre | Cultural ContextGeneral vision or viewpointTheme or IssueAspects of storyHero/Heroine / Villain

Sive - John B. Keane

Plot Summary

The story is centered on a young  eighteen year old girl called Sive who is illegitimate. She lives with her uncle Mike, his wife Mena and Nanna who is Mike’s mother. A local matchmaker Thomasheen Sean Rua decides that Sive should marry an old man called Sean Dota. Sean is rich but old and haggard. Thamasheen convinces Mike and Mena to organize the marriage of Sive to Sean Dota. They will receive a sum of two hundred pounds as soon as she marries him.

Sive however is in love with a young man by the name of Liam Scuab. Liam however is not suitable as he is related to the man who abandoned Sive’s mother when he realized that she was pregnant. Mike refuses permission for Liam to marry Sive on this account.

Sive is distraught but is forced to do the will of her uncle and his wife. Nanna does not approve and would prefer her to marry Liam. Two local tinkers by the name of Pats and his son Carthalawn connive together and decide to help her escape from Sean Dota and marry Liam. The plot fails however as Thomasheen discovers the letter and destroys it. On the night before her marriage Sive disappears and shortly afterwards her body is discovered in a bog hole. Liam finds the body and carries it in to the house announcing to Mena and her husband that they are responsible for her death. As Liam cries over the dead body Sean Dota and Thomasheen both leave the room. The play concludes with Pats and his son singing about a maiden who was drowned as she would not be a bride.


There are two different versions of 'Sive'  -a two Act and a three Act play. The time span is roughly about three weeks in total. The dialogue in the play is filled with conflict and realism.

Cultural Context/Social Setting

The background of this play is Ireland in the fifties. It is a time of harsh poverty and people are measured in terms of the land and the crops they possess. There are many references to the fear of the poorhouse and the rough reality of poverty. Marriage and love are both seen in pragmatic terms in relation to the amount of possessions a person has. It is a time when matchmakers were popular and local trades flourished. The land is an important feature of the play.

General Vision or Viewpoint

The general vision or viewpoint of this play is somber and tragic. It seems inevitable from the outset that Sive will be forced to marry a man she does not love and who is years older than her. The overall impression of people reflected in the play is negative. Most of the main characters seem to spend their time exploiting others and simply using them to serve their own self-interest.

Theme or Issue

Love /Marriage
In this play love and marriage are treated very negatively. Thomasheen who is supposed to be the local matchmaker and bring together people who love one another in marriage queries cynically to Mena ‘what business have the likes of us with love? The whole notion of love and marriage becomes synonymous with selfishness and self-interest. Mena and Thoasheen are seen as two despicable characters who have no interest in anything else but serving their own interests and pockets. Both are governed by selfishness and see Sive’s marriage to Sean Dota in terms of monetary interests and particularly monetary interest which will benefit themselves.

Women are shown to be strong characters but they are also shown in a negative light throughout the story. Both Mena and Nanna fight and insult one another in an abusive manner and both are seen to be embittered people in different ways. Nanna despises the fact that Mena has no children, while Mena sees the presence of Nanna in the house as  a continuous source of irritation. Sive on the other hand is seen as a victim of the selfishness and self-interest of the people who should be helping her in life. At the conclusion in her tragic death we see the destruction of a beautiful young woman through the greed of other people.

The question of money dominates almost every line of this play. Set against a backdrop of rural Ireland governed by poverty, this play depicts the tragic consequences on people of the need for money. The whole notion of marriage is seen in terms of money and as the character of Mena develops we see that she despises poverty. Sean Dota and Thomasheen the matchmaker turn out to be two despicable people who use money to wield power over people.

Aspects of Story

Tension builds up in this play gradually. When Sive disappears on the night before her wedding the tension is at its peak.

The climax of this play occurs when Liam discovers the dead body of Sive in the bog hole.

The resolution of the conflict in the play occurs in the death of the main character Sive because she wished to escape from a marriage which was forced on her. It is only Liam Scuab who really grieves over her at the conclusion.

Hero / Heroine / Villain

The hero of this play is Liam who is faithful to Sive right to the end.

The heroine is undoubtedly Sive who is a passive victim of the self-interest and selfishness of others.

The villain is Thomasheen and Mena who both conspire at every turn to use their power over Sive and force her to do their will.


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