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

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Discuss the plot of The Playboy of the Western World.

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This play combines at least three themes and plot lines:  One one level, it is a comical romance, a rivalry between the widow Quin and the young girl,  Pegeen.  As such, it is simply a domestic comedy in which the young Pegeen should win the heart of this handsome, brave stranger from another world.  The complication, however, is that the play is also, more importantly, a dramatic presentation of the age-old conflict of generations:  how does the younger generation free itself from the older generation’s grip (here not only literally but symbolically)?  This plot, echoed in Pegeen’s rebellious retation with her father, the pub owner, turns on the revelation that this putatively athletic young man has actually killed his father with a shovel, by his own admission, something morally reprehensible even to these unsophisticated people.  The third twist to the plot comes when old Father Mahon appears, only to be chased outside (offstage) by Christy, an act that brings home to the small community the barbarism of his act.  If the entire play’s plots, taken together, are symbolic of Ireland’s ambivalent relation with England, then the play transcends its traditional plot points to make the stage experience a political statement by Synge.  From its violent reception at its opening, it can be seen that the audience was not merely seeing a comic entertainment; their reaction to racy dialogue and situation (“shift”), together with the mildly religious overtones of the engagement, show that the play was something more.

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