Deirdre of the Sorrows, John Millington Synge’s last play, was not performed until after his death. The play deals with Irish legend, dramatizing an account of the beautiful Irish heroine who preferred death along with her lover to life as the wife of the king. The play is full of this romantic dedication, fully developed in Synge’s rich Irish idiom. The language of the Irish peasant is given power and dignity as it is shaped into the tragic movement of the play. The play is also not without touches of humane characterization. The king is not simply a cruel ruler; he is also a sad and lonely man who deeply regrets the deaths he has caused. Naisi is not simply a martyred hero but also the husband who rants that his wife has caused him to be a softer man and allowed him to desert the ways of his brothers and his companions in arms. The play contains the rich warmth of Synge’s local and distinctively Irish characterizations and the romantic quality of the legendary.
In spite of his relatively small output—four full-length plays and two one-acts—Synge is justly considered one of the finest dramatists of the modern stage and the Abbey Theatre’s most important playwright prior to Sean O’Casey. Completed shortly before his death, but never revised to the author’s complete satisfaction, Deirdre of the Sorrows can be seen as Synge’s final statement on the joys of life, the possibilities, both good and bad, of love, and the inscrutability of human destiny.
The real strength of the play, and the thing that probably sets it apart from the many other dramatic versions of this famous Irish myth, comes from the way Synge combines an austere mood of classic, almost Grecian tragedy with characterizations that are immediate, human, and sympathetic. Deirdre first impresses the audience as a flighty young woman who chases in the woods gathering twigs and nuts with little concern for her future queenly role. Her initial reaction to King Conchubor’s demand for immediate...
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