Illustration of Christopher Mahon with a noose around his neck and a woman standing in front of him

The Playboy of the Western World

by J. M. Synge

Start Free Trial

Discuss the nature of tragedy in The Playboy of the Western World.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There may be a good reason you're having trouble figuring out the tragic nature of Synge's The Playboy of the Western World:  it isn't a tragedy.

The play deals with conformity and rebellion, with myth making, and with mob mentality.  It also presents a not-so-complimentary portrait of the Irish.  But it isn't a tragedy.

Nobody dies, first of all.  Second, fate doesn't lead to anyone's downfall.  No life-changing battle is fought--figuratively or literally--by the protagonist.  Nothing is cleansed away by a purge at the close of the work.  In short, it's not a tragedy.

If one had to think in these terms, Playboy may be an anti-tragedy.  The protagonist tries to kill his father, but fails; he is at first made into a hero for his rebellion, but later almost killed when the fickle crowd changes its mind; the hero is not a hero; the crowd's penchant for creating myths is exposed as faulty; and the play is more comic than tragic.  It is almost mock-tragic, in the same sense as something mock-heroic or mock-epic.

The villagers are bound to tradition, prone to create heroes where there are none, and violent.  Their early admiration for Christy's violent act is certainly a comment on the Irish mentality.  But it isn't a tragedy.  For that, you would need to look at Synge's "Riders to the Sea." 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team