The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

In the Shadow of the Glen opens on Nora Burke in the kitchen of her cottage. It is a typical Irish peasant cottage, with a turf fire and a table in the center of the room. A front door and a small door to a bedroom are upstage. On a bed against the back wall lies a body covered with a white sheet. The stage directions indicate there are cakes, glasses, and whiskey on the table, “as if for a wake.”

As Nora is clearing things and lighting candles, there is a knock at the door. Removing a sock of money from the table, she answers it. She is greeted by a stranger, who says that he is walking to the Aughrim fair and asks whether he may come out of the rain and stay the night. She consents readily. The stranger is startled by the sight of the corpse on the bed. Nora tells him that it is her husband and that he died only hours before. When he asks why she has not laid him out or arranged him formally, she tells him that he cursed her, or anybody else, who might touch his body if he were to die suddenly.

As they talk, Nora describes her husband’s sudden illness and the great melodrama of his death throes. She offers the tramp whiskey and one of her husband’s tobacco pipes. When he asks why she is not afraid to let him in when no man is around and she is so far from neighbors, she says that she is not afraid of“beggar or bishop or any man of you at all.” They discover that they have a friend in common, one Patch Darcy. The stranger tells of being frightened by weird noises as he walked alone among the hills. He later learned that they were caused by Darcy, who had gone mad and died of exposure in the hills. Nora says that Darcy had had the habit of stopping in for a visit when he passed her glen and that it had kept her from being lonely.

The mention of loneliness reminds Nora to ask whether the tramp has seen anyone on the path. When he says that he did see a young man trying to control a herd of sheep, Nora quickly asks him to stay and watch the corpse while she finds him. She wants to ask him, she says, to spread the word that her husband has died. When the tramp offers to go, she declines, clearly wanting to see the young man herself.

Nora leaves. The tramp sits before the fire saying the De Profundis under his breath. Behind him, the sheet begins to move, and the corpse begins to rise. When he finally notices this, the tramp leaps up in terror. The “corpse,” trying to calm him, reveals that he is not dead after all. He asks...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The set of In the Shadow of the Glen was constructed to replicate a western Irish cottage. The loft, peat fireplace, and thatched roof were rendered in detail, and small touches, such as leather “pampooties” for the actors’ feet and correct color detail in their folk costumes, were included. The overall stage effect was of a precise realism, almost to a “folklife museum” extent. John Millington Synge and the Abbey Theatre producers knew that they were presenting a picture of the Irish peasantry to a middle-class Dublin audience that held a somewhat romanticized and unrealistic view of its lower-class, rural counterpart. So they went to some trouble to make the set of their dramatic representation as authentic as possible.

Such was the case with the language of the play as well. Synge had recorded peculiar pronunciations of words, unusual phrases, and special syntactical quirks in his notebooks during his field trips among the Aran peasants, and he expended great effort incorporating this folk speech into his play. The combined effect of the realistic set and the precise dialect was to give the production a striking documentary authenticity.

This folklife realism provided a suitable context for a story that itself was a field-collected folk anecdote. The plot of In the Shadow of the Glen came to Synge directly from the lips of one Pat Diran. Diran was a teller of tales, lies, and legends whom Synge met in 1898 during...

(The entire section is 505 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Casey, David J. Critical Essays on John Millington Synge. Boston: Twayne, 1994.

Flood, Jeanne A. “Synge’s Ecstatic Dance and the Myth of the Undying Father.” American Imago 33, no. 2 (1976): 174-196.

Gerstenberger, Donna. John Millington Synge. New York: Twayne, 1964.

Gonzalez, Alexander G., ed. Assessing the Achievement of J. M. Synge. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996.

Greene, Nicholas. Synge: A Critical Study of the Plays. London: Macmillan, 1975.

King, Mary C. “Towards the Antithetical Vision: Syntax and Imagery in In the Shadow of the Glen.” In The Drama of J. M. Synge. London: Fourth Estate, 1985.

Skelton, Robin. “In the Shadow of the Glen.” In The Writings of J. M. Synge. London: Thames and Hudson, 1971.

Yeats, William Butler. Synge and the Ireland of His Time. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Services, 1992.