Study Guide

J. M. Synge

J. M. Synge Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edmund John Millington Synge was born April 16, 1871, in Rathfarnham, County Dublin, the youngest of the five children of a comfortable Anglo-Irish Protestant family. His schooling was mostly private until, at the age of seventeen, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he won prizes in Irish and Hebrew even though he put most of his energy into the study of the piano, violin, and flute. During his youth, he developed a strong reaction to his mother’s religiosity and an enthusiasm for the antiquities and natural beauty of the Irish countryside. He went to Germany in 1893 to study music but the following year abandoned his plans to move to Paris and attend lectures in European language and literature at the Sorbonne. Instead, he traveled through Germany, Italy, and France between 1894 and 1896. He wrote some poetry and dramatic fragments, gave lessons in English, and studied French and Italian, returning during the summers to Dublin, where he furthered his interests in the Irish language and Irish antiquities.

In December, 1896, Yeats encountered Synge in Paris and discerned a literary talent in search of a subject. He advised Synge to go to the Aran Islands off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, where the people spoke Irish and still led lives free of modern convention. Synge complied, and for a portion of each summer from 1898 to 1902, he lived among the fisherfolk and recorded his observations with notebook and camera. He continued to write dramatic sketches and literary reviews and edited his notes under the title...

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J. M. Synge Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201591-Synge.jpgJohn Millington Synge Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Edmund John Millington Synge (sihng) was born outside Dublin, Ireland, in Rathfarnham on April 16, 1871, to John Hatch and Kathleen Traill Synge, the youngest of five children. Synge’s father died within a year, and he lived most of his life with his mother, who exerted a great influence on him and is believed to have been one of the models for the strong women in his plays. Synge was ill throughout his childhood and was forced to live a reclusive life that resulted in a solitary, independent nature. At age fourteen, he read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), which transformed him into a confirmed naturalist who broke with his family’s devout Protestantism for a private combination of aestheticism and mysticism, a quality that informs his best plays. As a boy, he had little formal schooling but later simultaneously attended Trinity College, Dublin, and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, which encouraged his decision to become a professional musician. In 1893, he left for Germany to continue his musical apprenticeship but returned to Ireland in 1894 to devote himself to a literary career, writing poetry (which he had begun composing in college) and a play in German.

In 1895, he moved to Paris and studied languages and literature at the Sorbonne. For the next seven winters, he would travel to Paris, seeking the life of a Continental writer and critic. Although he had been studying Celtic civilization and Irish, his meeting William Butler Yeats in 1896 sparked an even deeper immersion in Irish life and culture. In 1898, at Yeats’s suggestion, Synge traveled to the bleak landscape of the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, the first of five summer visits that would permanently change the course of his artistic...

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J. M. Synge Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201591-Synge.jpgJohn Millington Synge Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Millington Synge (sihng) was long considered the greatest Irish dramatist until his eminence was challenged by Sean O’Casey, who was not the superior of the older playwright in tragic or comic power, or in beauty of language, but who exhibited far greater versatility and productive powers. Synge’s five completed plays all deal with the Irish peasant; about 1900 all literary Ireland was fascinated by the peasant and peasant culture—William Butler Yeats, Æ (George William Russell), Douglas Hyde, Padraic Colum, Lady Gregory, and others were recording stories and trying to capture the lilting poetry of peasant speech. Just before Synge died, however, he told Yeats that he was tired of the peasant on the stage and planned a play about Dublin slum life. Had he not died at such a young age, his dramatic work might have had the sweep of O’Casey’s.

Synge was born near Dublin on April 16, 1871, the son of a barrister and grandson of the translator of Josephus. He attended private schools until he was fourteen, then studied for three years with a tutor. Later, while a student at Trinity College, Dublin, he also studied music at the Royal Irish Academy and became a more than competent pianist and violinist. After receiving his degree, he went to Germany to study music and the German language, then to Italy for further language study, and finally to Paris, where he wrote verse and studied French literature. With his small legacy he might have spent the rest of his life as a minor...

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J. M. Synge Biography (Drama for Students)

J. M. Synge Published by Gale Cengage

J. M. Synge was born on April 16, 1871, in the Dublin suburb of Newton Little, to John Hatch and Kathleen Traill Synge. After his father died a year later, Synge, his three brothers, and one sister were raised in a comfortable, upper-class home by their devoutly religious mother. Synge suffered from poor health during his youth, which eventually prompted his mother to have him tutored at home. He began his studies in music theory and Irish history and language at Trinity College in Dublin when he was seventeen and completed a bachelor's degree in 1892. Synge began to write poetry during his years at Trinity as well as at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he completed graduate work in music theory.

Synge left Ireland in 1893 to study music in Germany, but his stage fright caused him to reconsider his career choice. A year later, Synge began language and literature studies at the Sorbonne. During his time in Paris, Synge met William Butler Yeats who would have a dramatic effect on the rest of his life. Yeats inspired Synge to go to the Aran Islands, off the coast of Ireland and, as Yeats notes in his preface to The Well of the Saints, encouraged him to "live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has never found expression.'' For four years, Synge studied Irish life on the islands as he took photographs of the islanders and careful notes on their speech and habits.

In 1901, he turned his notes into a collection of essays, The Aran Islands, and wrote his first play, When the Moon Has Set. Two verse plays followed in 1902, but Synge would not develop his mature style until later that year when he penned three plays: Riders to the Sea, In the Shadow of the Glen, and The Tinker's Wedding. On October 8, 1903, In the Shadow of the Glen was the first play shown by the Irish National Theatre Society, run by Yeats and Lady Gregory. Though the play initially received a mixed reaction, due to its honest depiction of Irish life, it later gained success during its run in Dublin and England. Riders to the Sea earned positive reviews in Ireland and England.

While writing his next play, The Playboy of the Western World, Synge became ill with Hodgkin's disease, which delayed the play's opening. The Playboy of the Western World became the most controversial production of the Irish National Theatre. Theatergoers rioted during initial performances in response to what they deemed to be a degrading portrait of Irish life. Controversy followed productions of the play for years. However, by the later part of the twentieth century, it came to be recognized as Synge's masterwork.

Synge drafted Deirdre of the Sorrows during hospital visits as he battled his increasingly debilitating illness. He died on March 24,1909, in Dublin without having had time to revise it.