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Synge Prelude

Saturday, 24 March, 2018

On this day in 1909, the playwright, poet and collector of folklore John Millington Synge died. He was just 37 years old. Synge was a key figure in the Irish Literary Revival and one of the co-founders of the Abbey Theatre, and it was in thanks to the Abbey Theatre that he entered history. The occasion was the 1907 Abbey premiere of his wonderful play, The Playboy of the Western World, and the surrounding events exposed the sordid absurdity that has powered so much of Irish nationalism.

One source of audience hostility to the play was that the plot combined an idealization of parricide with an unhappy ending, but what triggered the violence was Christy Mahon’s comment about “a drift of chosen females, standing in their shifts itself.” The very mention of an undergarment led The Freeman’s Journal of Monday, 28 January 1907 to condemn the play as an “unmitigated, protracted libel upon Irish peasant men and worse still upon peasant girlhood.” Rioting ensued and the police had to enforce security during each performance, making nightly arrests of outraged nationalists filled with hatred of an artistic expression that did not reflect their chosen insanity.

The Playboy of the Western World has survived time and terror and Synge’s poetry remains true to the landscape that gave him so much happiness during his short life.

Prelude

Still south I went and west and south again,
Through Wicklow from the morning till the night,
And far from cities, and the sights of men,
Lived with the sunshine, and the moon’s delight.

I knew the stars, the flowers, and the birds,
The grey and wintry sides of many glens,
And did but half remember human words,
In converse with the mountains, moors, and fens.

John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909)

Wicklow


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