In the Shadow of the Glen

by J. M. Synge

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What does the play In the Shadow of the Glen say about the Irish culture?

In the Shadow of the Glen shows that Irish culture varies based on region but also places great importance on traditional folklore. The play focuses on rural Irish life, which was often romanticized by the urban Dublin population. The play challenged its audience with a non-idealized view of Irish peasants, showing Synge's critique of Irish culture at the time.

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Synge's commentary on Irish culture in this play can be interpreted in multiple ways. One direction to take is to look at Synge's accurate portrayal of life in the Irish countryside. Synge spent time living in the Aran Islands, an isolated area of western Ireland, in order to gain accurate knowledge of rural life. He wanted to represent his characters realistically by using accurate dialogue and accents of the play’s rural setting. There were dialect and cultural differences between the countryside and Ireland’s urban center in Dublin. This realistic portrayal showed that Irish culture was not homogenous.

Synge's goals regarding his city audience should also be considered when considering what this play says about Irish culture. Synge was a prominent playwright of the Irish Literary Revival, a movement based in nationalism that renewed interest in Gaelic tradition and the Irish language. Romanticizing rural life was a common theme in Irish art and drama of this movement. Writers in Dublin saw the Irish countryside as being uncorrupted by British influence. Using Irish peasant characters was seen as patriotic, because often their stories embraced Irish folklore traditions that had been suppressed as a result of centuries of British rule (particularly in urban Dublin, where these plays were performed). Synge, however, refused to perpetuate this romanticized notion of the rural Irish population. Characters like Nora and Dan struggle with loneliness, deceit, and other personal issues, making them fully formed human characters rather than country stereotypes.

Despite his original characters, the central story of In the Shadow of the Glen is based on folklore Synge collected during his time in rural Ireland. The presence of traditional Irish folklore could also be analyzed when answering this question; it shows that these stories were an important part of Irish culture at the time, especially considering the renewed interest in these tales. It is important to look at this play in the context of the political climate of the time. Support was growing for Irish independence from Britain, cultivated through embracing traditional Irish culture.

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