In the Shadow of the Glen Essay - Critical Essays

J. M. Synge

Critical Context

Riders to the Sea (pr. 1903, pb. 1904) and this play were Synge’s first dramatic renderings of the folklore he had observed and recorded on the Aran Islands. While the former is widely considered to be one of the world’s great masterpieces and the latter is usually called a minor work, In the Shadow of the Glen is actually more indicative of Synge’s artistic temperament and more of a piece with the later works he would create out of the same Aran Island material. While Riders to the Sea has a constantly somber atmosphere and dwells in a concentrated way on the single theme of human mortality, In the Shadow of the Glen features both the archly ironic tone and the freedom-versus-security theme that are so closely associated with this playwright’s work in general. It is the prototype of Synge’s later “hymns to vagrancy”—a description applied by a reviewer to The Playboy of the Western World.

The play also presents the first of Synge’s great, dynamic female characters. Nora’s energy, vitality, and self-confidence presage later Synge heroines, from Mary Doud to Deirdre of the Sorrows. Thus, In the Shadow of the Glen is the first of Synge’s works to stake out his distinctive dramatic and philosophical territory. However, it is not merely of scholarly interest; it is in itself an effective piece of theater and inevitably succeeds when staged.

Finally, the Dublin audience’s reaction to the play’s premiere ahould be noted. While it did not cause the riots that The Playboy of the Western World precipitated, it did manage to generate almost as much hissing and booing as applause, thus anticipating the swarm of controversy that marked the production of almost all Synge’s later works.