J(ohn) M(illington) Synge's The Playboy of the Western World caused riots during its opening week in Dublin in 1907. Inspired by his close observations of the inhabitants of the Aran Islands off the western coast of Ireland, Synge based the play on a historical incident. His realistic yet poetic depiction of that incident and the manners and mores of Irish life angered many who thought the play indecent and guilty of promoting negative stereotypes. Critical acclaim, however, has grown over the years to the point where it is now regarded as the masterwork of one of the most highly regarded Irish playwrights in the modern age.
The play focuses on the reception given to Christy Mahon as he wanders into a small Irish village, declaring that he has just murdered his father. The villagers initially embrace Christy, determining that his courageous act has made him "the playboy of the western world.'' Their vision of him, however, soon changes as the plot develops. In his depiction of the interaction between Christy and the villagers, and especially of the relationship between Christy and Pegeen Flaherty, an attractive, strong-willed, young local woman, Synge explores the effects of social conventions and celebrates the power of the imagination.