Oh my! To read these plays, you really need to brush up on your Irish peasant lingo! Some of the trickiest words are listed in the
back, but I would have appreciated a lot more. However, having said that, once you begin to grasp what the stories are about, you are able to fill in the
blanks on phrases that are confusing, as is usually the case. And as far as seeing this one live, at least here in America, subtitles would certainly be
John Millington Synge was born of an affluent Dublin family, but spent time roaming the impoverished Irish countryside. In his preface he says that he wrote phrases he heard the people speak:
When I was writing "The Shadow of the Glen," some years ago, I got more aid than any learning could have given me from a chink in the floor of the old Wicklow house where I was staying, that let me hear what was being said by the servant girls in the kitchen. This matter, I think, is of importance, for in countries where the imagination of the people, and the language they use, is rich and living, it is possible for a writer to be rich and copious in his words, and at the same time to give the reality, which is the root of all poetry, in a comprehensive and natural form.
The Playboy of the Western World (playboy meaning "champion"), was first performed in 1907 in Abbey Theatre in Dublin, founded by Synge and William Butler Yeats. On opening night it caused riots. According to Wikipedia:
Freeman's Journal described it as "an unmitigated protracted libel against Irish peasant men, and worse still upon Irish girlhood." Arthur Griffith, who believed that the Abbey Theatre was insufficiently politically committed, described the play as "a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to in a public platform," and perceived a slight on the virtue on Irish womanhood in the line ". . .a drift of chosen females standing in their shift. . ." [underwear]
By the second night, Yeats returned from Scotland and called the police, effectively putting an end to the riots.
This poignant comedy takes place on the coast of County Mayo, and centers around Michael James Flaherty's daughter, Margaret, called Pegeen Mike. She is alone at their public house at night, frightened. Shawn Keough, whom she is supposedly going to marry, shows up, but he leaves, only to return, scared because someone has followed him. Presently the follower arrives at the public house, a frail and timid man, saying he is running from the police because he killed his father. Rather than being afraid, Pegeen is rather attracted to him because he seems to her exciting and heroic. Christy Mahon is his name, and he is not used to being noticed by females. His timidity begins to fade, and his story of killing his father gets more bold and courageous. Soon he has all the females attracted to him, and Shawn realizes Pegeen is falling for Christy. On the day of the races, Christy proves to be a hero, winning many games. Unfortunately, his "dead" father shows up, unable to believe his "foolish" son is now a hero. The Widow Quin sends him away, telling him that's not his son, that he's mad, but he eventually returns, and puts the proverbial fly in Christy's ointment.
Riders to the Sea is a very short (ten pages) one-act play about a widow who has
lost all but one of her six sons to the sea, and now loses Bartley, her last. It was first performed at Molesworth Hall, Dublin in 1904. The language in this
one is no where near as difficult to understand as in the previous one.
Synge died just short of his 38th birthday from Hodgkin's Disease.
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