John Millington Synge(1871-1909)

The Playboy of the Western World


--- a leading figure in Irish Literary Renassance

--- reflects gullibility, superstition and brutality

--- blends Celtic romanticism with modern realism

--- two elements in his plays: Irish peasantry and Irish speech

I. Background

    1. Audience claimed that the play was a degrading representation of Irish sensibilities (Bowen 71).
    2. Literary historians have explained the townsfolk¡¦s sympathy with the deed as being the empathy of an oppressed people with anyone who rebelled against authority.
    3. The audience of the play saw it as a representation of reality rather than a work of art.

II. Characteristics of the play

  1. The play is not merely a story of young innocence and love but of the mentality and actions of an entire community.
  2. The play is said to be a play about audience response (Smith xx).
  3. By presenting the three father figures in the play, Synge presents a comic but degrading form of Irish institution that shapes the life of most Irishmen.

    1. Old Mahon is an individual with scant regard for the citizens (Bowen 72).
    2. Pegeen Mike¡¦s father, Michael James Flachery, is the epitome of the Irish father stereotype the Dublin audience was so eager to rid themselves of (Harrington 73).
    3. Though never appearing on stage; Father Reilly is the father of authority and repression.
  1. Synge draws on traditional and tragedy and mythology in making patricide the operative center of his plot (Harrington 73).
  2. The play is a mixture of tragedy and comedy.
  3. The irony of the play is, as Pegeen Mike says, the difference between a callous story and a dirty deed (Harrington 75).
  4. The Characters use the same patterns of exaggeration of imagination (Harrington 79).
  5. The play is about the ability of language to create a reality far greater than empirical fact (Harrington 77)
  6. Christian Analogy of the play.
    1. Christy's reception of gifts from three local maids echoes of the gifts of venerating Magi (Harrington 72).
    2. Old Mahon is a Godlike figure with a son appropriately named Christy.
    3. Christy's enticing words, like Christ¡¦s sermons, enhance his stature in the eyes of his disciples.
    4. Like Christ, Christy is wounded in the process and abandoned before achieving final playboyhood and romping off through life in the Western world.

Topics for discussion

  1. In Alison Smith's introduction to Synge's collected plays and poems, she claims that: "Synge didn't want to create a world or people too far from 'the fundamental realities of life' in any of his writing, and the noble peasant of Ireland is noble to him because he or she can deal with those fundamental realities." To what extent do the peasants in the play conform to Synge's own claim?
  2. Is there any satiric element in Synge's Playboy? And who is the play's intended target?
  3. The play is regarded as a mixture of both tragedy and comedy and yet sometimes regarded as more "comic" than "tragic." How do you evaluate the play with its "bitter violence" and "uneasy end"?
  4. In Bowen's essay, he asserts that "in degrading the motives of the Mayo citizenry, the audience saw an extension of itself, ¡K the play degraded the viewers"(71). Do you agree with the idea? And what is the irony here?
  5. Consider why the patricide is a popular topic for townsfolk.
  6. Is there any development in the growth of Christy's personality? Does he reach the final manhood at last?
  7. What is the function of Widow Quin in the play?

Relevant Links

* Critical Notes on The Playboy of the Western World

* J. M. Synge