Men Should Weep

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Men Should Weep (originally called Quancos Should Dance) is a play by Ena Lamont Stewart, written in 1947.[1] It is set in Glasgow during the 1930s depression, with all the action taking place in the household of the Morrison family. It is a typical example of Scottish contemporary theatre and some Scottish school students learn the play for their Higher (Scottish) drama and English literature course.


Men Should Weep was written for the Glasgow Unity Theatre in 1947[2] but only received great acclaim when it was revived by 7:84 Company Scotland. An initial draft of the play was much darker in nature but was rewritten to the relatively lighthearted version one can see today.

Key concerns[edit]

The play deals with many issues, each stemming from a central theme of poverty: male and female roles in society are tackled through the characters of Maggie, a housewife and John Morrison, who is unemployed (also the overpowering Isa and sexist Lily); the resilience of youth is displayed in the younger children, Edie and Ernest, who cope very well with the conditions; corruption is explored through Alec; the importance of community is apparent through the neighbours, Mrs Wilson, Mrs Bone and Mrs Harris, and through overall interactions in the play, and Jenny Morrison shows growth and the gain of independence. All of these are catalysed somewhat by the overwhelming poverty of the depression.

Plot summary[edit]

Act 1[edit]

Scene 1[edit]

The play is set in the 1930s and it's a winter evening in the kitchen of the Morrisons home in the east end of Glasgow. The play opens on a disordered tenement household where six of the seven children, two parents and Granny of the Morrison family live. The chaos of family life, held together by Maggie, is clearly depicted but the overall tone is lighthearted and the audience can see that the family is a happy one. At one point Edie runs to the toilet and doesn't return until Act Three as she has blocked the toilet and lost the key. The tone begins to darken with the mention of the troublesome son Alec and his wife Isa whose home has collapsed.

Scene 2[edit]

Alec and Isa arrive drunk at the Morrison household with conflicts immediately escalating between John and his son. As the drunken pair go to bed, John and Maggie discuss children. John realises Jenny isn't home and gets quite angry. Soon he hears her in the close mouth with a man and an argument ensues as he drags her in. Jenny is becoming more independent but John is uncomfortable with this and her growing sexuality. Jenny, who is fed up with the conditions the family has to live in, speaks of plans to leave

Act 2[edit]

Scene 1[edit]

The scene opens a week later with Granny being sent away to live with John's sister-in-law Lizzie, who is portrayed as a hard-hearted character, and greedy for Granny's pension. After Granny's bed is taken by the removal men, Maggie arrives, grief-stricken as Bertie has been kept in hospital because of Tuberculosis. Everybody sympathizes, even Lizzie. In the midst of this, Jenny packs her bags and leaves, as John arrives. The scene ends with John starting to crack as he talks about life in poverty

Scene 2[edit]

The scene opens a month later with Alec and Isa (still living in the Morrison household) arguing. Isa threatens to leave Alec for another man named Peter Robb. At this point Alec strangles her but quickly releases his hold in a panic. The argument concludes with Isa storming into the bedroom. A tired Maggie then arrives on the scene complaining that no one does anything around the house, but also does her best to comfort Alec, who does his best to abuse this care. John arrives in the middle of a conflict between Isa and Maggie and crucially, takes Isa's side rather than his wife's. Maggie leaves in a rage and Isa flirts with John. The children enter and Maggie returns with some chips. At the sight of Ernest's scuffed boots, Maggie cracks, flying into a rage at the rest of the family. The scene calms down and concludes with a speech from Maggie.

Act 3[edit]

The scene opens in a contrastingly cheery Morrison household prepared for Christmas. There is a wireless and the children have presents. Granny is back. John arrives with a red hat, reminiscent of courting days, for Maggie, who is delighted. However others criticise the gift, including the arriving neighbours. Lily arrives, shortly followed by Alec who is looking for Isa. The mood darkens as he disrupts the atmosphere. There are mentions of Jenny who seems not to be doing too well. Soon after the neighbours leave there is a time lapse. Isa is now packing her bags to leave (without telling anyone). As she reaches the door however, she meets Alec who is hysterical, and realising her plans tries to kill her. Isa however manipulates Alec and manages to escape with Alec hot on her heels. Maggie and Lily discover the evidence of the struggle but Lily hides the knife to keep Maggie calm. Jenny returns looking like she's met with success but tells of how she nearly committed suicide. She has returned to try to get the family out of their dreadful living conditions so that Bertie can come home again (with money from a man she is living with). She demands that Maggie sees the council for a house. However John arrives and wants nothing to do with her "whore's winnins". Maggie counters this by bringing up their own early relationship to show John's hypocrisy. The scene, and play, ends on an emotional climax but with a note of hope for the future.

Theatrical adaptation[edit]

The Play was first adapted for the theatre in 1956 and was met with critical acclaim. In the recent 2009 adaption the character previously known as John had a renaming and was changed to Jason Cummings, this was likely done in an attempt to reinvigorate the play for current audiences. The 2009 adaption also had a controversial change with the setting of the play being changed from a Glaswegian slum to a crowded flat in the Edinburgh suburb of Easter road, this change was probably taken because the play was performed in the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe.


  1. ^ "Case study: Ena Lamont Stewart's Men Should Weep, 1947". Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  2. ^ Nadine Holsworth 2004 10 - Case study: Ena Lamont Stewart’s Men Should Weep, 1947 The Cambridge History of British Theatre Volume 3: Since 1985 ed Baz Kershaw (CUP:Cambridge) pp. 228-241