Synge: Four Plays

Pdf Synge, John Millington, Four Plays, Dublin: Maunsel And Company Ltd, 1911

Four Plays by Anglo-Irish playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) is a collection of his short plays published in 1911, two years after the playwright died at the age of 38. The four plays in the collection are The Shadow Of The Glen, Riders To The Sea, The Well Of The Saints and The Tinkers Wedding. All four works are typical of Synge, based on stories he collected during his five summers on the Aran Islands, Co. Galway in the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. Synge who lived primarily in Paris at the time, disagreed with the prevalent nationalist romanticism in contemporary Irish literature and sought to portray the fishing community and peasant life of the Aran Islands in a realistic light. Synge closely studied the local Hiberno-English dialect and faithfully reproduced it in the plays.

Synge’s characters are common peasants, fishermen, tramps, travellers and rogues and their morality is left deliberately ambiguous, a feature of Synge’s work that immensely irritated Nationalist Irish Catholic sensibilities. Synge’s later work, Playboy Of The Western World, provoked violence when it was first staged at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin in 1907 due to a perception that Synge was lampooning the Catholic Irish.

The Shadow Of The Glen is a one act play with a simple plot. A tramp seeks shelter in the Burke household only to find Dan Burke is feigning death to outwit his wife Nora who is romantically involved with Michael Dara, a young herd who proposes to her. Dan reveals he is very much alive and banishes his wife from his house. She leaves with the tramp who promises her a new life. The play attracted accusation that Synge portrayed Irish women unjustly.

Riders To The Sea deals with the routine tragedies suffered by fishing families on the Aran Islands who regularly lost sons at sea. Maurya, the main character has lost her husband, father-in-law, and five sons drowned. News arrives that the remains of one of her sons were washed up in Donegal. Her final son Bartley leaves to sail for Connemara to sell a horse only to fall from his horse into the sea and also perish. The play faithfully portrays the grim fatalism of the Irish peasantry struggling to survive in a harsh environment.

The Well Of The Saints concerns Martin and Mary, two blind beggars who have been falsely led to believe they are beautiful until a visiting saint heals them and they discover themselves to be ugly. Martin attempt to seduce Molly, the wife of a smith but is rejected. Both beggars lose their sight but refuse the saint's renewed offer to restore their sight before they are banished by the townsfolk.

Finally The Tinker’s Wedding, is a comedy about a young traveler couple who convince a priest to agree to marry them in return for money and a tin cup. The groom’s mother intimidates the priest and steals the cup to buy alcohol. The priest refuses to marry the couple when the cup vanishes. After a row he is sown into a sack. He is released when he agrees not to involve the police after he curses them both.

All of Synge’s plays were criticized by nationalist Ireland but they were a major influence on 20th century Irish playwrights such as Sean O’Casey who also wanted to portray the Irish urban working class realistically and Samuel Beckett who portrayed tramps and peasants in many of his own works.

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