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J. M. Synge The Playboy of the Western World

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Synge is the most highly esteemed playwright of the Irish literary renaissance, the movement in which such literary figures as William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory made their mark at the turn of the twentieth century.

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J. M. Synge The Playboy of the Western World

  1. 1. The Playboy of the Western World John Millington Synge: Synge is the most highly esteemed playwright of the Irish literary renaissance, the movement in which such literary figures as William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory made their mark at the turn of the twentieth century.
  2. 2. Playwright, 1871–1909 • Born near Dublin on April 16, 1871, Synge was the youngest of five children in an upper-class Protestant family. • Synge attended private schools for four years, beginning at the age of ten, but ill health prevented his regular attendance, and his mother hired a private tutor to instruct him at home. • His primary ambition was music, and because of his studies of violin, theory, and composition, he won a scholarship from the Royal Irish Academy of Music for advanced study in counterpoint. At this time Synge had also begun to write poetry.
  3. 3. Playwright • Synge's early religious skepticism and his unorthodox career aspirations made life difficult for him in his mother's home, where he lived until 1893. • In that year he went to Germany to study music, but was dissuaded by his nervousness about performing. In the summer of 1894 he moved to Paris to study language and literature at the Sorbonne. • He was writing poems and literary criticism and supporting himself by giving English lessons. In the autumn of 1895 he began studying Italian in Italy, and in December, 1896, he returned to the Sorbonne. These years of travel and study were punctuated by vacation visits to Ireland, during which he pursued Cherry Matheson, a young woman from a devout Protestant family. The issue of religious skepticism intruded once again, and Cherry refused Synge's marriage proposal in 1896.
  4. 4. Playwright • On December 21, 1896, at the Hotel Corneille in Paris, Synge met poet and dramatistWilliam Yeats. During the meeting, Yeats recommended that Synge leave Paris and move to the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. In Yeats' own words, as set forth in his preface to The Well of the Saints, he said, "'Give up Paris. ... Go to the Aran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has never found expression.'" • He continued to winter in Paris, but the study of Irish life and literature became central to his work. On the rocky, isolated islands, Synge took photographs and notes. He listened to the speech of the islanders, a musical, old-fashioned, Irish-flavored dialect of English. He conversed with them in Irish and English, listened to stories, and learned the impact that the sounds of words could have apart from their meaning.
  5. 5. Other Works • Synge uses the islanders as raw material for the creation of "images and values ... which point towards the importance of reviving, and maintaining, a particular sensibility in order to make sense of the predicament of humanity." • In 1901, Synge wrote his first play, When the Moon Has Set, a full- length drama which he later condensed into one act. It tells the story of a young, landowning atheist who falls in love with a nun. Warned in advance by a paralleled, unhappy experience of a madwoman, the nun gives up her vows and marries the man. This play was unproduceable in Ireland at the time for ideological reasons.
  6. 6. Other Works • In the summer of 1902 Synge achieved a new level of accomplishment. Staying at his mother's rented house in Wicklow, he drafted three plays: Riders to the Sea, In the Shadow of the Glen, and The Tinker's Wedding. In these plays are found the rich spoken language of the Irish peasant characters who dominate Synge's mature works. • The first of the three plays to be produced was In the Shadow of the Glen. An ironic comedy set in Wicklow, its plot is based on a story Synge first heard on the Aran Islands and narrated in his book The Aran Islands. • A tramp seeks shelter in the house of Nora Burke, whom he finds keeping watch over her "dead" husband. When the wife goes out, the husband revives, and reveals to the tramp that he has been faking his death in order to catch Nora at adultery.
  7. 7. The Playboy of the Western World • The play are found the rich spoken language of the Irish peasant characters who dominate Synge's mature works. • In the preface to The Playboy of the Western World, Synge described how he learned the provincial dialect by listening to the conversations of his mother's servant girls "from a chink in the floor." • " Presumably, if they had known Synge was listening, the servants would have spoken a more "correct" English; therefore, eavesdropping enabled him to hear their spontaneous cadences. From this experience, he wrote in the same preface, "I got more aid than any learning could have given me." • Early in 1906, Synge was traveling with the Irish National Theatre Society when he fell in love with one of the actresses, Molly Allgood (stage name Maire O'Neill), who was fifteen years his junior and had only a grade-school education. Allgood played the starring role of Pegeen Mike in Synge's next play, The Playboy of the Western World,which is often called his masterpiece.
  8. 8. The Playboy of the Western World • The premiere of The Playboy of the Western World brought the most violent audience response in the history of Dublin theater. Hisses began during the third act and increased to a high volume by curtain time. • The plot, featuring an idealization of parricide and an unhappy ending, was one source of audience hostility.
  9. 9. Characters within play • The play is the story of Christy Mahon, a hapless but likeable young man who believes he has murdered his tyrannical father and who, for telling the tale, is welcomed as a hero by a group of country people. His romantic yarns make him sought-after by Pegeen Mike, the thirtyish Widow Quin, and other local women. Later, Old Mahon, the father, shows up with a bandaged head, looking for his son. After yet another murder attempt, the two are ultimately reconciled when Christy turns the tables on his bullying father, who approves of Christy's newfound machismo. They wander off together, leaving the country women disappointed.
  10. 10. Themes DARKNESS • All the characters realize that in darkness lies a litany of threats, including: ghosts, drunken farmhands and violent militiamen. The real threat, however, lies just outside in a ditch: Christy Mahon. • Offering shelter to this stranger invites a different and more profound darkness: the darkness of the human capacity for violent, subconscious desire. RELIGION • Religion in The Playboy serves as the reigning moral order of village life. However, Synge's depiction of it is quite nuanced, since characters frequently subvert religious expectation for the sake of self-interest. • Shawn Keogh prefers to leave Pegeen alone in the dead of night with a madman. • Meanwhile, these 'religious' villagers immediately celebrate Christy for his horrific patricide. • Though Synge never makes an explicit attack on religion in the play, it is posed as something antithetical to human freedom and individuality, and this conflict forms the center of the story.
  11. 11. Quotes and Analysis • Oh, it’s a hard case to be an orphan and not to have your father that you’re used to, and you’d easily kill and make yourself a hero in the sight of all. Shawn, Act II, p. 141 The irony is certainly humorous, since Shawn uses his lack of family as excuse for his lack of courage, but it also touches on some main themes. First, the audience remembers that Shawn does have a surrogate father in Father Reilly, whom he refuses to counter. The stifling nature of social and religious expectations is clear in this irony. Secondly, it shows us that even Shawn is noticing the importance of storytelling towards determining an identity. One becomes a "hero" by telling stories as much as by committing action.
  12. 12. Themes FATHER • The theme of fathers is reflected everywhere in [The Playboy]. In general, fathers are presented in terms of authority. They demand obedience, which then poses a challenge to their children: do they obey, or revolt? There are three “fathers” within the play: Michael James (Pegeen’s father), Old Mahon (Christy’s father) and Father Reilly, the village priest. Each of these men is defined by the obedience he demands of his children (whether literal or figurative). SOCIAL EXPECTATION • Christy’s murder of his father incites the action of The Playboy. This murder is both literal and metaphorical - in terms of the former, Christy does actually (try to) kill his father; in terms of the latter, he is celebrated not for striking an old man, but for representing an act of rebellion against social expectation in general.
  13. 13. Quotes and Analysis • ...he after drinking for weeks, rising up in the red dawn, or before it maybe, and going out into the yard as naked as an ash-tree in the moon of May, and shying clods against the visage of the stars till he put the fear of death into the banhbs and the screeching sows. Christy, Act I, p. 127 What this image does is both raise the nature of his story to a mythic struggle, and doubly stress Christy’s power in having vanquished this mythic figure. The figure he describes here possesses terrible power, triggered by weeks of binge drinking.
  14. 14. Quotes and Analysis • Well, it’s a clean bed and soft with it, and it’s great luck and company I’ve won me in the end of time - two fine women fighting for the likes of me - till I’m thinking this night wasn’t I a foolish fellow not to kill my father in years gone by. Christy, Act I, p. 131
  15. 15. Quotes and Analysis • [in a low and intense voice] Shut your yelling, for if you’re after making a mighty man of me this day by the power of a lie, you’re setting me now to think if it’s a poor thing to be lonesome it’s worse, maybe, go mixing with the fools of the earth. Christy, Act III, p. 162 • Christy’s low and intense voice augurs the incarnation of the new man, the new self, that he summons by the end of the play. He recognizes for the first time that the “mighty man” he has become — the athlete, the poet, the lover — is but a reflection of crowd’s lies and stories. Christy wonders here whether he would be better off without his dependance on their stories, as he was at the top of the play. Following this moment, he rejects Pegeen, marking his final step towards self-reliance in a life of heroic strength.
  16. 16. Themes POETRY • In many ways, what distinguishes Christy as a hero is less his actions and more his ability to represent those actions through language. Throughout the play, Pegeen and company are struck by Christy's verbal brilliance. THE PLAYBOY • The Playboy is initially understood as a flirtatious man who attracts women. This aptitude is largely based on his mastery of language. Therefore, a playboy is one who can 'play' with words. And yet Christy drives this concept into a greater place, as his language and storytelling inflate his self-image.
  17. 17. Quotes and Analysis • You should have had great people in your family, I’m thinking, with the little, small feet you have, and you with a kind of quality name, the like of what you’d find on the great powers and potentates of France and Spain...and you a fine, handsome young fellow with a noble brow...it’s the poets are your like—fine, fiery fellows with great rages when their temper’s aroused. Pegeen Mike, Act I, pp. 124-125
  18. 18. Quotes and Analysis • ...but I was lonesome all times, and born lonesome, I’m thinking, as the moon of dawn...my heart’s scalded this day, and I going off stretching out the earth between us, the way I’ll not be waking near you another dawn of the year till the two of us arise to hope or judgment with the saints of God... Christy, Act II, p.139 Christy, preparing to flee the pub from fear of capture by the police, summons a poetic voice to lament his loss of Pegeen. The poetry lies not so much in the imagery as in the scale of his loss, which arcs from birth to death and beyond, to judgment even. This passage marks a step along the way of Christy’s transformation
  19. 19. Quotes and Analysis • [Putting her shawl over her head and breaking out into wild lamentations] Oh, my grief, I’ve lost him surely; I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World. Pegeen Mike, Act III, p. 166 • Pegeen’s grief closes the play. Christy may have fallen from her imagination, but she did not anticipate the effect this would have upon him. In effect, he truly becomes the heroic figure she imagined him to be, precisely and ironically because he repudiates that imagining. The departure of the emancipated Christy marks the departure of her own dream of liberation. She recognizes that she does not have the strength to re- make herself.

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