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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Characters Discussed

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Christopher (Christy) Mahon

Christopher (Christy) Mahon, the playboy of the Western World. Arriving one evening in a village on the wild coast of County Mayo, cold, tired, and hungry, he captures the imagination of the people when he tells them how he split the skull of his harsh, unimaginative old father with a loy. Timid no longer, the young man outleaps and outruns his competitors during the rigorous village sports. His reputation for bravery is tarnished, however, when his father, with a bandaged head, arrives in town. When the athletic young man attacks his father a second time, he barely escapes hanging. Even Pegeen deserts him. Like the others, she is afraid to get involved in a murder so close to home. Disgusted with the villagers, he is determined to be a playboy somewhere else.

Margaret Flaherty

Margaret Flaherty (Pegeen Mike), the wild, sharp-tongued daughter of publican Flaherty. Enraptured by the poetic utterances and valor of young Christy, she resists the blandishments of Shawn Keogh, her cousin whom she is to marry. After hearing of Christy’s brave attack on his father and seeing his prowess on the playing field, she thinks Shawn too cowardly for her taste. She is ready to betray Christy, however, when he attacks his father again.

Widow Quin

Widow Quin, a scheming young woman of about thirty. Hearing of the arrival of the brave young stranger, she tries to coax him away from Pegeen Mike, but to no avail. In spite of her cajolery, he is determined to remain near Pegeen. Meeting the elder Mahon in the tavern, the widow tries to send him on a wild-goose chase. Afraid the two will fight, she tells the old man that his son has left the village.

Michael James Flaherty

Michael James Flaherty, a fat, jovial innkeeper and the tippling father of Pegeen Mike. He is one of the drunkest men at Kate Cassidy’s wake. When Christy and Pegeen tell him they intend to marry, he puts up a violent objection. He has qualms about having as a son-in-law a young man who killed his own father. Finally, however, he agrees to the wedding.

Old Mahon

Old Mahon, a crusty, hard-bitten old squatter, Christy’s father. Seemingly indestructible, he survives several painful beatings. A lesser man would have died from such repeated blows. In spite of his aching head, he advances threateningly on his young son in the tavern. Seizing a loy, Christy again batters his tough father to the floor. Rather glad that the boy has lost his timidity, the old man smilingly offers to take his son home with him.

Shawn Keogh

Shawn Keogh, a cowardly young man, Pegeen’s future husband. Afraid to fight Christy, he offers him numerous gifts if young Mahon will leave the village. Shawn knows that he is in danger of losing Pegeen to the stranger. In desperation, he even attempts to enlist the aid of Widow Quin, unaware of her hopes to win Christy for herself.

Jimmy Farrell

Jimmy Farrell, a small farmer, fat, amorous, and about forty-five years old. He is Michael Flaherty’s drinking companion.

Philly Cullen

Philly Cullen, a thin and mistrusting small farmer, the exact opposite of Farrell.

Sara Tansey

Sara Tansey,

Susan Brady

Susan Brady, and

Honor Blake

Honor Blake, girls of the village. After hearing of Christy’s arrival in the town, they rush to the inn and ask him to tell the story of how he split his father’s skull. This single act has lifted the young man to a hero’s level.


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Jimmy Farrell
Jimmy is a forty-five-year-old "amorous"...

(This entire section contains 1051 words.)

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villager who flatters Pegeen when he visits the pub. He and his friend Philly represent the voice of the villagers as they respond to Christy's story. Jimmy's praise of his actions helps build Christy's confidence and create his mythic stature in the community.

Michael James Flaherty
A jovial publican, the good-humored Michael James allows his daughter to run the pub with a strong hand. Like the other villagers, Michael James initially regards Christy as a hero, but as soon as the truth is discovered, he is one of the first to call for his hanging.

Pegeen Flaherty
Pegeen, a young, attractive woman of twenty, runs the pub for her father. Though Pegeen complains bitterly about being left alone at night, her strength of character and quick tongue suggest she is capable of taking good care of herself. At the beginning of the play, Pegeen is engaged to Shawn, whom she is easily able to control. Pegeen's fiery nature emerges in her dealings with her fiancé, her father, and the Widow Quin, her rival for the attentions of the local men and Christy when he arrives.
Although independent and self-confident, Pegeen allows herself to be seduced by Christy's mythology.

Her penchant for romance and her active imagination cause Pegeen to encourage his poetic lovemaking and, as a result, she pledges herself to him. Her lack of clear-sightedness, coupled with her fiery temper, makes Pegeen turn against him when she discovers that he has not killed his father. By the end of the play, however, Pegeen regrets her impulsive actions and laments, "Oh my grief, F ve lost him surely. I' ve lost the only playboy of the western world.''

Shawn Keogh
Shawn is engaged to Pegeen at the beginning of the play, although she appears not to think too highly of him. She often calls him Shaneen, which translates to ‘‘little Shawn,’’ teasing him for his timid demeanor. Shawn reveals his conservative nature when he declares that he cannot marry Pegeen until he gets approval from the Catholic Church, since the two of them are cousins. This conservatism also causes Shawn to be afraid to be alone with Pegeen, assuming that if word got back to the clergy, they would disapprove. Shawn also shows himself to be a coward when he finds Christy outside the pub, "groaning wicked like a maddening dog,'' and he is too afraid to get close enough to him to offer aid.

After Christy arrives, Pegeen compares Shawn unfavorably to "the playboy of the western world.'' Shawn does show some spunk, however, when he tries to bribe Christy into leaving the village with a new suit of clothes and a ticket to America. Yet, when Christy refuses, Shawn resorts to his true self when he admits to the widow that he is too afraid to turn Christy in to the police for fear of retribution.

Christy Mahon
When Christy first comes to Michael James's pub, he is quite fearful about his reception there and being caught by the police. He had just committed a desperate and impulsive act from which he had run in panic, not checking to see if his father was truly dead. Yet, Christy's attempted murder of his father also reveals his rebellious nature. Christy's father had tried to force him to marry the Widow Casey, who is twice his age, blind in one eye, and noted for ‘‘misbehavior with the old and young.’’
When Christy first arrives at the pub, Pegeen calls him a "soft lad,'' but after she hears his story, she determines him to be a hero. When Michael James decides to entrust Pegeen's safety to him while she works alone in the pub at night, Christy becomes more confident in his abilities. His fears soon return, however, when Pegeen, angry at the attention Christy receives from the local girls, suggests that the police might find him out.

After all in the village declare his bravery and embrace him as ‘‘the playboy of the western world,’’ Christy swells with pride, believing and becoming his own myth. Since the villagers believe Christy to be a clever, daring man and so expect him to win at all the local sporting events, he becomes the day's hero. Since Pegeen regards Christy as a desirable lover, he becomes passionate and eloquent as he woos her. By the end of the play, Christy retains his newfound strength and courage as he confronts his father and the angry villagers. As a result, Christy's father gains a new respect for him as the two turn their back on the community that rejected him.

Old Mahon
Christy's bad-tempered father has alienated all of his children with his brutish behavior. His constant berating of Christy provoked his initially mild-mannered son to crack his skull. When Old Mahon comes looking for Christy at Michael James's pub, he is bent on revenge. However, when Christy is ill treated by the villagers, Old Mahon's paternal instincts surface as he declares they will turn their backs on "the villainy of Mayo and the fools is here.’’ After Christy stands up to him and threatens to finish the job he had started, Old Mahon gains new respect for his son and follows him out of the village, smiling at his newfound courage.

Pegeen Mike
See Pegeen Flaherty

Philly O'Cullen
Philly, along with Jimmy, represents the collective voice of the townspeople. Whereas Jimmy is more trusting, Philly is more cynical; yet he too is taken in by the excitement surrounding Christy's actions, at least initially. When he learns the truth, he, like the others, is ready to hang the boy.

Widow Quin
The thirty-year-old Widow Quin is a lusty woman who appears to be engaged in a sexual rivalry with Pegeen. The Widow Quin appreciates men, although she hit her husband with a rusty pick, under circumstances never revealed, and as a result he died. This act prompts her to feel an affinity toward Christy, along with the fact that she finds him as attractive as does Pegeen. The Widow Quin is more realistic than her neighbors are, however. She is the first to discover that Christy did not kill his father and immediately strikes a deal with the boy, which would benefit both of them.




Critical Essays