J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World
(Edmund) John Millington Synge (1871–1909) was born near Dublin to
middle-class parents and educated at Trinity College, Dublin. He met Yeats in
Paris in 1896 and followed the poet's suggestion that he spend time in the Aran
Islands in order to experience real Irish peasant life. He was later to use his
knowledge of the islanders' speech patterns (possibly much romanticized and
made lyrical) in his plays. His first two plays, In the Shadow of the
Glen and Riders to the Sea, were published together in 1904, and
The Well of the Saints followed in 1905. In 1906, Synge became a
director of the Abbey Theatre and the following year his best-known work,
The Playboy of the Western World, opened there to riots. These were
supposedly incited by Synge's use of the word "shift" (Christy says of the
heroine Pegeen that he would choose her even if he were "brought a drift of
chosen females, standing in their shifts . . . from this place to the eastern world").
Summoned from Scotland by Lady Gregory, Yeats attempted to quell the riots
by addressing the audience from the stage. All of Synge's plays except The
Tinker's Wedding were performed at the Abbey. His last play, Deidre of
the Sorrows, was produced posthumously in 1910, following Synge's early
death from Hodgkin's disease. Poems and Translations, for which Yeats
wrote a foreword, was published in 1909. Yeats wrote, "He was but the more
hated because he gave his country what it needed, an unmoved mind."
The Playboy of the Western World.