The Playboy of the Western World Analysis

J. M. Synge

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Tavern

Tavern. Unlicensed public house in the wild Mayo County region on the west coast of Ireland in which the play is centered. The location is somewhat north of John Millington Synge’s beloved Aran Islands, and thus an apt setting in which to illustrate Synge’s repulsion at the ignorance of Ireland’s poor. Synge came by this disdain honestly, through his fiercely Protestant family, who owned land in both County Galway and County Wicklow (thereby bracketing the island both east and west).

Within the setting’s isolation, there is community. The tavern stands alone but is constantly filled with people. These people have carved an existence out of their remote setting, relying on contact with the larger world both through the post and the gossip at social gatherings. Nevertheless, this is a place beset by evil, both real and imagined. There are strange people out at night, from the madmen of Keel to the ten tinkers in the glen to the thousand militiamen in the countryside. Even the unseen priest, Father Reilly, haunts the action. The people surrounding this public house threaten it with madness, theft, war, or religion. Into this place comes Christy, a boy from eastern Ireland, and therefore one possessing more native wit than the westerners he encounters. He brings the evil of the outer world with him but wins over the local folk. When the truth is found out, they turn against him savagely. However, after he is reprieved from a lynching, he goes forth, returning to the east, a new man, having briefly seen himself as a hero in the eyes of the local people and found out a bit of his true nature.

Historical Context

(Drama for Students)

Birth of the Irish Theater
At the end of the nineteenth century, Irish writers were divided between two impulses: to...

(The entire section is 607 words.)

Literary Style

(Drama for Students)

Realism and Poetry
The play is an interesting mixture of realism and poetry. Synge' s time on the Aran Islands...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Drama for Students)

Beginning of the 1900s: In the latter part of the nineteenth century, realism becomes the dominant literary movement in the...

(The entire section is 214 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Drama for Students)

Research the movement for home rule in Ireland during the early part of the twentieth century. Explain how the clash between those loyal to...

(The entire section is 176 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Drama for Students)

Playboy of the Western World was adapted for television in 1946 by the BBC and in 1983 in Ireland.

A film version of Playboy of...

(The entire section is 42 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Drama for Students)

In The Abbey Theatre (1987), E. H. Mikhail presents a comprehensive history of The Abbey Theatre from the beginning to the...

(The entire section is 153 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Drama for Students)

SOURCES
Bennett, Charles A., ‘‘The Plays of J. M. Synge,’’ in the Yale Review, January 1912.

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Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Interpretations: John Millington Synge’s “The Playboy of the Western World.” New York: Chelsea House, 1988. Eight representative essays consider Christopher’s self-transformation and parallels with Christ, the realistic and fantastic aspects of the play, its complexity and ambiguity, and its irony, wit, and poetry.

Greene, David, and Edward M. Stephens. J. M. Synge: 1871-1909. Rev. ed. New York: Macmillan, 1989. The standard, authorized biography based on Synge’s diaries, letters, and manuscripts. Provides the basic accounts of the composition of The Playboy of the Western World and of its riotous reception in 1907.

Kopper, Edward A., Jr., ed. A. J. M. Synge Literary Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1988. A valuable collection of sixteen chapters by leading scholars, covering all aspects of Synge’s life and work. Excellent introduction to the critical literature. Good bibliographies.

Owens, Cóilín, and Joan Radner, eds. Irish Drama: 1900-1980. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1990. Places the play in the general context of the Irish dramatic movement. Concise introduction, map, and the best detailed annotations to the text of the play.

Whitaker, Thomas R., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of “The Playboy of the Western World”: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969. Thirteen judicious selections on the composition of the play, its milieu, early audience reaction, and production values. Interpretive essays consider the paradoxes of Christopher’s characterization, Synge’s ironic language, and the play’s surrealistic qualities.