Using a lilting Irish brogue—one that the bookish John Millington Synge had to learn—the playwright took a two-thousand-year-old Irish literary tradition and wove from it a folk tragedy. The Irish critic Sean O Tuama identifies the characteristics of this tradition as the juxtaposition of lyrical changes of mood from situation to situation, the use of native dramatic monologues, and the employment of images with a sharp dramatic quality.
The play’s first critics, however, saw no such genius; instead, they denounced the play as morbid, influenced by the decadence of Europe, and based upon an ignorance of Irish Catholicism. Most of the attacks came from Irish magazines and newspapers.
One of the earliest critics to praise the drama was the Irish novelist James Joyce. He read the play in manuscript, translated it into Italian, and memorized Maurya’s last speech. The English critic Max Beerbohm pronounced the play a masterpiece.
Over the years, some critics have argued over whether the play qualifies as a tragedy according to Aristotelian concepts. Some, even Joyce, thought that the work was too brief. P.P. Howe criticized it for violating unity of time, contending that so many actions would have been impossible within a twenty-four-hour period. Most critics do agree on one point: Maurya emerges as a noble, tragic figure, the epitome of resigned suffering.
The playwright himself contributed some insight toward an...
(The entire section is 317 words.)
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