J. M. Synge Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Edmund John Millington Synge was born April 16, 1871, in Rathfarnham, County Dublin, the youngest of the five children of a comfortable Anglo-Irish Protestant family. His schooling was mostly private until, at the age of seventeen, he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he won prizes in Irish and Hebrew even though he put most of his energy into the study of the piano, violin, and flute. During his youth, he developed a strong reaction to his mother’s religiosity and an enthusiasm for the antiquities and natural beauty of the Irish countryside. He went to Germany in 1893 to study music but the following year abandoned his plans to move to Paris and attend lectures in European language and literature at the Sorbonne. Instead, he traveled through Germany, Italy, and France between 1894 and 1896. He wrote some poetry and dramatic fragments, gave lessons in English, and studied French and Italian, returning during the summers to Dublin, where he furthered his interests in the Irish language and Irish antiquities.

In December, 1896, Yeats encountered Synge in Paris and discerned a literary talent in search of a subject. He advised Synge to go to the Aran Islands off the Atlantic coast of Ireland, where the people spoke Irish and still led lives free of modern convention. Synge complied, and for a portion of each summer from 1898 to 1902, he lived among the fisherfolk and recorded his observations with notebook and camera. He continued to write dramatic sketches and literary reviews and edited his notes under the title...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201591-Synge.jpg John Millington Synge Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Edmund John Millington Synge (sihng) was born outside Dublin, Ireland, in Rathfarnham on April 16, 1871, to John Hatch and Kathleen Traill Synge, the youngest of five children. Synge’s father died within a year, and he lived most of his life with his mother, who exerted a great influence on him and is believed to have been one of the models for the strong women in his plays. Synge was ill throughout his childhood and was forced to live a reclusive life that resulted in a solitary, independent nature. At age fourteen, he read Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), which transformed him into a confirmed naturalist who broke with his family’s devout Protestantism for a private combination of aestheticism and mysticism, a quality that informs his best plays. As a boy, he had little formal schooling but later simultaneously attended Trinity College, Dublin, and the Royal Irish Academy of Music, which encouraged his decision to become a professional musician. In 1893, he left for Germany to continue his musical apprenticeship but returned to Ireland in 1894 to devote himself to a literary career, writing poetry (which he had begun composing in college) and a play in German.

In 1895, he moved to Paris and studied languages and literature at the Sorbonne. For the next seven winters, he would travel to Paris, seeking the life of a Continental writer and critic. Although he had been studying Celtic civilization and Irish, his meeting William Butler Yeats in 1896 sparked an even deeper immersion in Irish life and culture. In 1898, at Yeats’s suggestion, Synge traveled to the bleak landscape of the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast, the first of five summer visits that would permanently change the course of his artistic...

(The entire section is 732 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

John Millington Synge (sihng) was long considered the greatest Irish dramatist until his eminence was challenged by Sean O’Casey, who was not the superior of the older playwright in tragic or comic power, or in beauty of language, but who exhibited far greater versatility and productive powers. Synge’s five completed plays all deal with the Irish peasant; about 1900 all literary Ireland was fascinated by the peasant and peasant culture—William Butler Yeats, Æ (George William Russell), Douglas Hyde, Padraic Colum, Lady Gregory, and others were recording stories and trying to capture the lilting poetry of peasant speech. Just before Synge died, however, he told Yeats that he was tired of the peasant on the stage and planned a play about Dublin slum life. Had he not died at such a young age, his dramatic work might have had the sweep of O’Casey’s.

Synge was born near Dublin on April 16, 1871, the son of a barrister and grandson of the translator of Josephus. He attended private schools until he was fourteen, then studied for three years with a tutor. Later, while a student at Trinity College, Dublin, he also studied music at the Royal Irish Academy and became a more than competent pianist and violinist. After receiving his degree, he went to Germany to study music and the German language, then to Italy for further language study, and finally to Paris, where he wrote verse and studied French literature. With his small legacy he might have spent the rest of his life as a minor...

(The entire section is 612 words.)