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.


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