Robin Skelton, J. M. Synge and His Work (Thames & Hudson 1971): ‘He noted only those aspects of island life which fed his own imagination and supported his views while he referred to the hardness of the islander’s life he did so rather with the admiration of the romantic than with the concern of the sociologist [ ]. Haunted by thoughts of mortality, he saw in the endless battle of the islanders with the elements and their constant nearness to sudden death a parable of the human condition [ ] in their ancient culture, their stories and mythic understanding of the natural world, he perceived a kind of knowledge that lay deeper than that of intellect [ ] (Q.p.; cited in Tomás Mac Síomáin, intro. [trans. Douglas Sealy] Tacar Dánta/Selected Poems, Newbridge: Goldsmith Press 1984, p.[viii].)
Alan Price, Synge and the Anglo-Irish Drama (1961; [rep.] 1972), ‘Aran was a microcosm of all that Synge considered to be important in the world; and it offered the essence of life, not stale, diffuse and incoherent, but fresh, compact and comprehensible.’; also, They understand that death is the only actuality, and love a dream; and so they go back to Emain to face death rather than endure the agony of living with a love or dream that they know must fade.’ (Price, 1972; p.207.) Further: ‘Owen’s words demonstrate that Lavarcham was once, like Deirdre, beautiful; but that when her love was killed, she did not join him in the grave but chose to live on.’ (pp.213.)
Richard Ellmann, ed. Selected Letters of James Joyce (London: Faber 1976): In the Freemans Journal of 5 February 1907, Francis Sheehy-Skeffington is quoted as saying at the debate [on the Playboy of the Western World, held at the Abbey on 4 Feb. 1907] that he was both for and against. The play was bad, the organised disturbance was worse, the methods [of the police] employed to quell that disturbance were worst of all. Richard Sheehy declared, The play was rightly condemned as a slander on Irishmen and Irishwomen. An audience of self-respecting Irishmen had a perfect right to proceed to any extremity. (Ellmann, op. cit., p.147, n.2.) [Cont.]
[ top ]
Declan Kiberd, ‘Synge as Sociologist’ [letter], in Hibernia (Feb. 1974), takes Leo Daly’s rambling letter on John Messengers book to task for the supposition that Synge possessed a heroic mystic concept of the people of Inis Beag and writes: Synge never laboured under any illusions about the island life and the sexual inhibitions of the folk are all sensitively and quietly documented in the Aran Islands, asserting that the playwrights findings are fairly closely related to Prof. Messengers. Challenging Dalys view that the resignation in Mauryas final speech in Riders to the Sea rings false, he adds: he [Daly] can know little of the scrupulous fidelity to detail exhibitied by Synge in the composition of the speech just quoted [viz, No man at all …]. The precise words of the last sentence of Mauryas speech were used in a letter, written by an Inishmaan boy to Synge in the Gaelic language, concerning the death of a close relation. The letter was written on February 1, 1902, and the relevant extract is: Fuair bean mo dhearbhráthair Seaghan bás, agus déineach do mhí no nodlag agus feuc gurab brónach a sgéul é le rá, ach má sadh féin caithfidh mid a bheaith sásta mar nach féidir le héinne a bheith beo go deo. [ ] Such words, mistakenly traced to via Synge to Sophocles by generations of American professors, give the lie to people like Mr Daly who seem to assert that Synge was not in close touch with the attitudes of the island. folk. [ ] in borrowing from the simple style of a young island boy for the climactic utterance of Riders to the Sea, Synge showed just how much he trusted the islanders to speak for themselves. Kiberd goes on to speak of the failure of generations of Gaelic scholars in Ireland to trace and to explain the immense use made by Synge of Gaelic literature, an ignorance which prevented the production, on native soil, of The Tinkers Wedding, simply on the grounds that its climactic sccene, [sic] was un-Irish. Kiberd further argues that the scene was probably suggested to Synge by a passage from Douglas Hydes translation-poem The Lout and His Mother in The Religious Songs of Connacht : s dá mbeitheá-sa marbh ar maidin amárach / s go mbéarfainn chun sagairt thú, ceanghaite i mála, / Ní léighfeadh duit aifreann gan airgead láimhe. Kiberd concludes by stating that he is preparing a thesis on the subject of Synges literary debt to previous Irish writers, in both Gaelic and English, and solicits information about any helpful material. The letter is subscribed Linacre College, Oxford University, Oxford.
Declan Kiberd, Synge and the Irish Language, Macmillan 1979; new edn. Gill & Macmillan 1993), ‘Countless critics of [Synge’s] play took grave exception to Christy’s scenes of courtship with Pegeen, without realising that almost all the controversial lines of the speech were culled from Gaelic poetry and song. The Gaelic Leaguers protested that Christy’s free and passionate idiom misrepresented the peasants of the west. They did not realise that it was from the songs of the folk that Christy’s most passionate lines have been looted.’ (pp.138-39.) ‘Synge had a genius for translation. His literary sensibility found its truest expression in the manoeuvre between two languages, Irish and English. His own poetry, composed in English, seems all too often to be a pastiche of second-rate contemporary styles, whereas the brillianat translations from continental languages into Anglo-Irish dialect gives us a sense of the man himself. The dialect in which he finally found his desired medium was the bilingual weave produced by this manoeuvre between languages.’ (Ibid., 1993 edn., p.88.)
[ top ]
Declan Kiberd, J. M. Synge - Remembering the Future’, in Inventing Ireland: The Literature of the Modern Nation (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), pp.166-88; ‘[For passage on violence and the Mayo peasants in the play, see under Kiberd, RX]; ‘Christy’s radical blankness as a personality’ (p.167); ‘A major investigation is conducted in The Playboy of the relationship between the [?folowe] and the crude life at its roots, between style and shock, which is to say between poetry and violence. In a private letter to an admirer, written soon after the riots, Synge remarked tht the wildness and, if you will, vices of the Irish peasantry are due, like their extraordinary good points, to the richness of their nature, a thing that is priceless beyond words. [Coll. Letters, I, 1983, p.297.] ‘Synge’s extraordinary influence on the middle period of Yeats’s poetry was attributable to his insistence that violence and poetry went hand in hand’ (p.169). So if the violence and the poetry sprang from a common source, it would have been impossible to separate them without a diminution of both’. (p.169.) ‘In the opening act of The Playboy, Synge describes a people who only rise to intensity of feeling when they are recounting deeds of violence. [ ] So obsessively are poetry and violence interwoven in the mental fabric of the Mayoites that the women seen incapable of describing  poetry except in terms of violence, and unable to imagine violence except as a kind of poetry. (170.) ‘Synge was amused by the fact that the great deeds of a Cuchulain were typically applauded by men too timid to think of emulating them’ (p.171.) The mortal charm of Synge’s dialect is the beauty that inheres in all precarious or dying things. Much of it is traceable to the Gaelic substratum, those elements of syntax and imagery carried over from the native tradition by a people who continue to think in Irish even as they speak in English. The famous jawbreakers - words like bedizened or potentate - are in the tradition of the hedge-schoolmasters nervously advertising their new mastery of English polysyllabic effects to impress the parents of their putative pupils, in the absence of a more forma diploma. the tradition was at least as old as Goldsmiths village schoolmaster.’ (173.) ‘Hiberno-English, like Christy Mahon, owes its force to the apparent murder of its parent: and the Playboy of the Western World may thus be read as a critical reflection upon its own linguistic parasitism.’ (p.174.) ‘Synge was a radical who grew up in an oppressed society, impressed by its cultural richness but even more horrified by its costs’ (p.174.) [Cont.]
Seán McMahon, remarks of Synge that ‘He began his study of music when he was twenty-one and for six years he travelled in Germany, Italy and France. The writings of this period, Vita Vecchia and Étude Morbide (the pieces he had originally wished Yeats to exclude), give evidence of a sickly kind of thanatophily. He was an impressionable young man, extremely sensitive to emotion, subject to fits of depression and equally neurotic elation. The quasi-autobiographical pieces mentioned above are very like the journals of the composer Schumann at the same age. Synge was also greatly affected by the Romantic Agony, addicted to Huysmans and other fin-de-siècle writers and shattered by broken love affairs. Some of the most despairing poems, which do show a depression that would have seemed to welcome death, belong to this period. But this agonised man bears little resemblance to that slow man, that meditative man who met Yeats in Paris and was advised to seek the material for his writing not in continental Europe but in the parts of his own country where life was most primitive and most real.’ (p.122 in McMahon, ‘Clay and Worms’, Éire-Ireland, 5, 4, Winter 1970 [Vol. 1], pp.116-43.)
Ann Saddlemyer, James Joyce and the Irish Dramatic Movement, in James Joyce: A Joyce International Perspective, ed. Suheil Bushrui & Benstock (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1982), pp.190-212 - on Joyce and Synge: [...] Joyce would recall their meetings in Ulysses: Harsh gargoyle face that warred against me over our mess of hash of lights in rue Saint-André-des-Arts. In words of words for words, palabras. Joyces portrayal is more accurate than Synges deliberately off-hand report to Lady Gregory. He and Joyce met frequently, and Stanislaus writes that the two had many quarrelsome discussions  ... about language, style, poetry, the drama, and literature in general. ... He was inclined to take the Irish language revival seriously, and when he was at a loss for an argument, was inclined to lose his temper, too. When that happened Synges angry face and wagging beard used to send my brother into kinks of laughter that made Synge still angrier. Joyce later described Synge as a great lump of a man who could not be argued with. It is said that he was a silent man, but he was not. They disagreed over how to spend their time together: when Joyce suggested picknicking in the Parc de St. Cloud, Synge objected to spending the holiday like any bourgeois. They argued over style, Synge dismissing Joyces carefully culled solecisms. Joyce told him of his aesthetic theories: Synge responded that he had a mind like Spinoza. Finally, Synge showed him Riders to the Sea, which Joyce had already heard praised by Yeats and Symons. I am glad to say that ever since I read it I have been riddling it mentally till it has not a sound spot, he wrote with anxious relief to Stanislaus, adding, thanks be to God Synge isnt an Aristotelian. He objected to the catastrophe being brought about by an animal rather than by the sea, and criticized it, as he had Hydes plays, for being dwarf-drama. Synge, naturally, disagreed, but may well have had Joyces Aristotelian strictures in mind when he defended The Playboy four years later with the argument, the story - in its essence - is probable given the psychic state of the locality. But Joyce was sufficiently impressed by Riders to the Sea to quote Mauryas speeches as examples of the musicality of language, and to translate the play into Italian, even visiting the Abbey Theatre in 1909 to gain the original music for the keen. Nora Joyce performed the part of Maurya in the English Players production in Zurich in 1918, and Joyces programme notes relented slightly with the admission, Whether a brief tragedy be possible or not (a point on which Aristotle had some doubts) the ear and the heart mislead one gravely if this brief scene from “poor Aran” be not the work of a tragic poet. Synge noted in his dairy an appointment with Joyce in Dublin in September 1903, but it was perhaps inevitable that the two never became friends. / By the time Joyce and Synge returned to Dublin in 1903 [...; goes on to recount details of Ulysses involving Joyce, Gogarty and Synge.] (See Saddlemyer - full-text version, in RICORSO Library > Criticism > Major Authors > James Joyce - in this frame or new window.]
[ top ]
Seamus Heaney, ‘A Tale of Two Islands: Reflections on The Irish Literary Revival’, in Irish Studies, I, ed. P. J. Drury (Cambridge UP 1980), pp.1-20: ‘One has a sense that for Synge there was enormous exultation and confirmation and destination in the Aran experience: he had found a power-point, he was grafted to a tree that had roots touching the rock bottom, he had put on the armour of authentic pre-Christian vision which was a salvation from the fallen world of Unionism and Nationalism, Catholicism and Protestantism, Anglo and Irish, Celtic and Saxon - all those bedevilling abstractions and circumstances. Admittedly, Nationalist Catholic Ireland would wince and whinge at his presentation of western womanhood in The Playboy of the Western World, but that was ignorance and prejudice pattering weakly as rain on the strong tegument of his integrity. That was stock reaction by the round-tower and shamrock crowd. Synge rested secure in his sense of having penetrated the real Gaelic soul, of having translated into a work of art in the English language the fundamental attitudes and structures of feeling that he discerned in the Irish language culture of the west. And Synge’s achievement was buttressed by the subsequent appearance in Irish and English of an indigenous western literature, notably works by natives of the Blasket Islands such as Tomas O’Criomthain, Maurice O’Sullivan and Peig Sayers, whose autobiographies confirmed an image  of the native stock as tragic, noble, simple, stoical, poetic. And Synge’s certitude transfused Yeats also [… ].’ (pp.9-10; see further under Seamus Heaney, Quotations, infra.)
Seamus Deane, on Synge’s plays (Celtic Revivals, London: Faber 1985): ‘[each] story of fantasy [… ] is, first, rebuked by fact and then, in the next instant, legitimised as belonging or contributing to a higher truth than mere fact could ever reach’ (p.57.) ‘Mesmerised by an eloquence which begins in illusion but which continues after the destruction of illusion, we are forced to concede to the imagination a radical autonomy. It insists on its own truth not by ignoring fact but by including it and going beyond it. The imaginary, overtaken by the real, becomes the imaginative. The dynamic force which makes this possible is language.’ (Ibid., pp.57-58; both cited in Donald E. Morse, et al. A Small Nation’s Contribution to the World, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1993, p.36.)
Mary C. King, The Drama of J. M. Synge (Syracuse UP 1985): The question which Nora poses, What way would I live?, is central to the play [In The Shadow of the Glen]. Its corollary must be the extent to which either Daniel Burke or Michael Dara might be said to be living men, men who can offer life. For Michael, about coconut out the stocking of money left by Dan, life is equated with possessions and cash. His counting of Dan's money emphasises that for him Nora, too, is a commodity: his proposal of marriage invites her to sell herself once more. As she watches the young man counting the gold, her dreary existence passes before her as a static (grammatically stative) procession. She sees herself deprived of agency, become merely an observer of the passing years. Her lament rises, in a cumulative crescendo of non-finite verb forms, until she sees herself as a fixed and tormented point at the centre of a moving, whirling cosmos, trapped in the nightmare of her own stasis. What life can there be, she asks, [here sets out the following speech as a chart: when you do be sitting / looking out from a door the like of / that door, and seeing nothing / but the mists rolling down the bog, / and the mists again, and they rolling up the bog, / and hearing nothering / but the wind crying out in the bits of  broken trees / were left from the great storm, / and the streams / roaring with rain? (III, 49.) / Nora's seeing nothing, hearing nothing, Isn't it a great while I am, Isn't it a long while I am, (III, 49, passim) build up into a negative threnody for the barren negation of her life. As her keening continues, she sees herself divorced from activity, eternally sitting here in the winter, and the summer, and the fine spring, with the young growing behind me and the old passing (III, 49). Her cosmic pity and terror are given a local habitation and a name as she remembers young Mary Brien with two children, and another coming on her in three months or four (III, 51) and old Peggy Cavanagh, with no teeth in her mouth, and no sense, and no more hair than you'd see on a bit of a hill and they after burning the furze from it (III, 51). Outside and inside environment, macrocosm and microcosm, are pressed into contiguity as she envisages the universe itself caught up in a relentless and necessary process of birth and decay, but leaving her morbidly isolated from generation to generation. (pp.74-75.)
Luke Gibbons, ‘Synge, Country and Western: The Myth of the West in Irish and American Culture’, chap. in Transformations in Irish Culture (Field Day/Cork UP 1996), pp.23-35: ‘In its American form, the western is a hymn to individualism, a celebration of self-interest and personal liberty evoked in visual terms by the limitless expanse of the great plains and the vast open prairies. In marked contrast, the image of the west of Ireland elaborated in the Anglo-Irish contribution to the Literary Revival represents the precise opposite: an escape from individualism and the fragmentation of community which Synge believed to be endemic in the modernising process. [… T]he appeal of the west of Ireland for writers like Synge and Yeats lay precisely in the fact that it offered a refuge from such a puritan ethos, from the suffocating moral and atmosphere of an Ireland dominated by the emergent bourgeoisie, both Catholic and Protestant. This gives a radically different inflection to the animosity towards  law and order which we find in both idealisations of the west. (pp.23-24.)
[ top ]
Nicholas Grene, ‘Synge in Wicklow’, in Wicklow, History and Society, ed. Ken Hannigan & William Nolan, (Dublin: Geography Publications 1995), an essay giving an account inter al. of Synge’s mother’s anxiety about him and her anti-Catholic snobberies [‘as the house was owned by Roman Catholics it would not be free from fleas’]. See also Grene's retrospect on the play and the riot in The Irish Times 26 Jan. 2017 - online; accessed 09.06.2019.
Robert Welch, The Abbey Theatre, 1899-1999: Form and Pressure (OUP 1999): ‘Synge’s play [Riders to the Sea ] is a masterpiece of concentration and structure. Its language, with its strong emphasis on the particularity and physicality of the island world this play evokes, has the felt reality of concrete experience. Synge achieves this strength through an adaptation into English of features of Gaelic grammar and syntax, filtered through his accurate ear for Hiberno-English speech. This language, often parodied and frequently misunderstood, is a perfect dramatic vehicle for registering shocks or realisation, horror, grief. [ ] The terrible primal horror of folk tale is united with the spare artistry of tragic writing at its finest. This was undoubtedly, the Abbey’s first masterpiece; Yeats’s dramatist had arrived.’ (p.30.)
[ top ]
Benedict Kiely, Dialectic and Culture, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), ppp.23-39: The ignorant absurdity, say, of the attack made on the langauge of Synge by St John Ervine and others, who tried to argue that it was a mode of speech never heard on sea or land, was never so clearly brought home to me as on a day on a road in Tyrone when I heard to countrymen talking in a language as rhythmical and stylised as John Synge ever offered to the stage. (p.238.) Further: For what Synge did was to rationalise dialect and idiom with a melodic line, and to enrich an orderly English by the use of dialect. OCasey did something similar for Dublin speech all through his autoobiographical volumes the rhythms and intonations of Dublin speech are clearly discernible. Yet there is nothing there to halt, by pedantry or affectation, any normal intelligent reader of English. (p.239.)
Conor Farrington: The Language of Drama, in The Dubliner (July-Aug. 1962): [ ] There is one dramatist, Synge, whom Eliot discusses briefly in his essay and dismisses as a special case since Synges plays are based upon the idiom of a rural people whose speech is naturally poetic. This will not quite do; it might have been a valid dismissal if Synge had been writing for a closed society, if his audience had also been that rural people. But the people of Galway, Mayo, and the Western Islands are not and were not his audience. His audience was first the Dublin public-complete with houses, motor cars, and telephones, to whom the idiom was comparatively strange-and later the public of most civilised  cities of the world. Synge succeeded not because he wrote in a style attuned to the ear of his audience, but because the rural idiom provided a convention within which they could accept language more expressive than their own. / It is worth noting too that Synge is the only modern poetic dramatist whose style grows richer and more highly wrought from play to play. Unfortunately this rural idiom, together with Synges own defensive modesty, has obscured the significance of his development to the extent that critics can say, like Ronald Peacock, that he is an isolated figure of no universal significance. At the risk of seeming chauvinist, I suggest his example is of great significance indeed. True, in his first play The Shadow of the Glen he could write sentences like: Its proud and happy youd be if I was getting my death the day I was shut of yourself. Now this is almost a word for word transliteration from Gaelic; in writing thus he was awkwardly following rural idiom, the slave of dialect. But soon, in The Playboy of the Western World his speech has developed the carriage of a thoroughbred wherever we sample it; for instance, Hed beat Dan Davies circus, or the holy missioners making sermons on the villainy of man! Already the specifically native idiom is fading, and in the tragic peak of his last play, Deirdre of the Sorrows, it is barely perceptible: I see the flames of Emain starting upward in the dark night and because of me there will be weasels and wild cats crying on a lonely wall where there were queens and armies and red gold, the way there will be a story told of a ruined city and a raving king and a woman will be young for ever. This is not local speech at all but universal. This idiom of a rural people was nothing more than a liberating convention. (pp.37-38.)
[ top ]
Stanley Sultan, A Joycean Look at The Playboy of the Western World (1969): The incoherent outrage felt by early audiences of The Playboy of the Western World; Synges drastic alteration of his historical source; and the relationship between the comedy which is the dramatic line of the play and the new element at the end with its totally different thematic implications; all three curiosities are explained by the fact that the Playboy presents a carefully developed analogue to the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus. (In Maurice Harmon, ed., The Celtic Master, Dolmen Press 1969, p.50.
Kevin Barry, review of Nicholas Grene, ed., Interpreting Synge: Essays from the Synge Summer School, 1991-2000 (Lilliput Press 2000), in The Irish Times, 12 Aug. 2000 [Weekend] - writes of Grenes introduction: Synges drama is associated with a late romantic cult of the peasant, a pastoral kitsch particularly distasteful in a country bent on establishing its credentials as a fully modernised urban society. The mist that does be on the bogs can stay there. And so, though lip-service is paid to Synges genius and the canonical status of his work is accepted, there has been no critical monograph on Synge in fifteen years and books published on Synge in Ireland have been particularly rare. Further: Through all these essays there is evidence of Synges demand for joy [that] has been reduced in much present-day Irish theatre to a bleak parody of the formal artificiality of Synges language that leaves the audience no response other than shame-filled laughter.
C. L. Dallat, reviewing of J. W. McCormack, Fool of the Family: A Life of J. M. Synge (Weidenfeld & Nicholson), in Times Literary Supplement (21 April 2000), writes: The biographers method is not merely to identify Synges particular social stratum but to look closely at the financial condition of his family and the financial condition of his family and their complex and shifting relationshps with business and property interests. In so doing, he finds images not of permanence and financial stability as the rewards of colonial exploitation but of dispossession, disinheritance and vain struggles to recapture a birthright; condistions which found their way into Synges first play, When the Moon Has Set. The familys situation, in fact, resembles at a different financial level - genteel poverty being barely recognisable as such by the victims of actual poverty - the depredations his family themselves and his class felt justified in making on thie own unpaying tenants in places like Belmullet and the Aran Island which Synge visited as a half-convinced Celticist, Rousseauean (as in either Jean-Jacques or Henri) idealist, light-weight social anthropologists and, at times, Guardian journalist. McCormack explores Synges rejection of Church of Ireland and the effects of his mother Kathleens sectarianism; investigates Synges attitude to parricide in the context of his disbelief in and repudiation of religious and civil authority; Joyce gave credence to rumour that Synge was syphilitic; McCormack believes that, despite intense relationship with several women including Molly Allgood, sex at least in the form longed for by avid biographers, did not raise its lovely head. (q.p.)
[ top ]
Terence Brown, reviewing of W. J. McCormack, Fool of the Family (Weidenfeld & Nicholson), in The Irish Times (18 March 2000) [Weekend], writes: The biographer of John Millington Synge, is confronted by two considerable problems. One, which W. J. Mc Cormack admits early in his text, through appropriate Biblical allusion to making bricks without straw, is the paucity of materials - letters, papers - which, combined with familial reticence, self-censorship and destruction of crucial elements, in the documentary record, make the act of biographical portraiture difficult indeed. The other other- is the degree to which Synges life,and achievement has been so sedulously entered, not in the comparatively straightforward annals of literary history, but as crucial icon in the coloured tapestry woven by cultural nationalism to represent the rebirth of the Irish nation in the first two decades of the 20th century. / In this Synge plays a major role as the scoion of an Ascendancy family who, obeying the Yeatsian exhortation, escaped the cultural banality of his Victorian Protestant background and the Parisian decadence which tempted him, through immersion in the pristine waters of Gaelic civilisation in the Irish western isles.
Rob Doggett, In the Shadow of the Glen: Gender, Nationalism, and A Woman Only, in ELH, 67, 4 (Winter 2000), pp.1011-34 - abstract: All nations depend on powerful constructions of gender. Despite many nationalists ideological investment in the idea of popular unity, nations have historically amounted to the sanctioned institutionalization of gender difference. No nation in the world gives women and men the same access to the rights and resources of the nation-state. Rather than expressing the flowering into time of the organic essence of a timeless people, nations are contested systems of cultural representation that limit and legitimize peoples access to the resources of the nation-state. Yet, with the notable exception of Frantz Fanon, male theorists have seldom felt moved to explore how nationalism is implicated in gender power. As a result, as Cynthia Enloe remarks, nationalisms have typically sprung from masculinized memory, masculinized humiliation and masculinized hope. (Includes quotations from Synge and from Arthur Griffith; available at JSTOR - online.)
Nelson Ó Ceallaigh Ritschel, In the Shadow of the Glen: Synge, Ostrovsky, and Marital Separation, in New Hibernia Review, 7, 4 (Winter 2004): [...] It is intriguing that the contemporary detractors of Synges play, who accused it of foreign moral influence, did not cite Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House as proof. Ibsens play had been staged in Dublin by Edward Martyns Players Club four months prior to the premiere of In the Shadow of the Glen; certainly a few of those who objected to Synges play witnessed the production. Ibsens protagonist, of course, leaves her husband at plays end and is named Nora. Is it possible that Synges detractors realized the difference between Ibsens and Synges Noras? Ibsens play is focused on the need for the individual to achieve self-identity, regardless of gender. The radicalness of A Dolls House for late nineteenth-century Protestant Norway and Europe, with its many movements for womens suffrage, was the notion that a woman could identify herself as a person, not as a mans wife, mother, daughter, or widow. If In the Shadow of the Glen is an Irishing; of Ibsens play, then a major part of the alteration is its revolutionary nature - one that lies more in the area of culture than gender. Clearly the detractors, as quoted above [viz., Arthur Griffth and Maud Gonne, et al.], attacked Synges play on the grounds of cultural morality: an Irish wife would not leave her husband. What In the Shadow of the Glen specifically attacked in 1903 Ireland was the prohibition of marital separation - and it did so within an extremely Irish context. / This interpretation is certainly consistent with John B. Yeatss reaction. After witnessing a rehearsal, he wrote, Mr. Synge has attacked our Irish institution, the loveless marriage, adding that the plays lesson enforced [the idea] that rent contracts are not the only ones that stand in need of revision. [J. B. Yeats, Ireland Out of the Dock, The United Irishman, 10 Oct. 1903, p. 2; Ritschel, p.89.]
[ top ]
Nicholas Grene, ‘Reality Check: Authenticity from Synge to McDonagh, in Munira H. Mutran & Laura P. Z. Izarra, eds., Irish Studies in Brazil [Pesquisa e Crítica, 1] (Associação Editorial Humanitas 2005), on Synges Playboy: ‘If we try to find a source for this preoccupation with reality and authenticity at the time of the literary revival, the colonial context is no doubt important. A colonised people is forced to accept forms  of identity from elsewhere. They are the mimic men, to use the title of an early novel by V. S. Naipaul: their culture, their behaviour, their very being is derived from the colonising centre. Always cited to illustrate this idea in an Irish context is the famous passage in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young man where Stephen Dedalus reflects on his knowledge of English as against that of the English Dean of Studies: “The language in which we are speaking […, &c.] acquired speech.” Given the insecurity of a long colonised country, the lack of self-belief that we are our own people, it may be understandable that reality should be so important to us. Somewhere, at some time in Ireland , there must be or must have been a reality that is not merely mimic culture shipped in off the mailbotat. Synge in writing his plays believed he was in touch with such a reality; his opponents vehemently insisted they knew better. But both claimed privileged knowledge of the “real spirit of the island”. And this reality was something other than the actuality of what went on day by day in the accidental life of the here and now. (pp.75-76.)
Michael Billington, Decadent Age, review of Marina Carr & Mustapha Matura, in Guardian Weekly (17-23 Dec. 2004): Every 10 years Nicolas Kent revives Playboy of the Western World, Mustapha Maturas famous Trinidadian transposition of Synges Irish tragicomedy. On its third outing at the Tricycle the show remains as lively, ebullient and funny as ever. If anything, it is a shade too genial, missing some of the sombre undertorm of Synges masterpiece. / It is astonishing, though, how closely Matura follows Synges plot. We may be in a Trinidad rum shop rather than a Mayo shebeen, but the hero, Ken, is a fugitive who finds that his presumed parricide endows him with an unexpected sexual charisma. Local girls ply him with freshwater oysters and molasses, and an antique voodoo woman sinks her claws into him. But the heart of the play lies in the joint transformation of Ken from nervous wimp to conquering hero and of Peggy, who runs her fathers rum shop, from sharp-tongued sourpuss to adoring lover. / As comedy Maturas version is hard to fault: he keeps all of Synges surprise entrances and adds to them his own 1950s period texture and joyous creole dialogue, with its references to washicongs (pumps), totie (penis) and Basil de Boobalee (a dummy). The main difference between Matura and Synge is that in the latter you feel women are perennial victims and that Pegeen, after her moment of self-discovery, is doomed to derelict solitude, but that itself may be a comment on the cultural gap between County Mayo and life-loving Trinidad. / Even if the tragedy is short-changed, the performances in Kents revival are a delight. Sharon Duncan-Brewster, salaciously licking the sweat from her heros bare torso, captures the blossoming sensuality of the oppressed Pegeen. And Kobna, Holdbrook-Smiths Ken has such beguiling innocence that even when he tells Peggy he feels closer to her than anybody (man, woman or dog) he makes it sound like a compliment. / Two supporting performances also have abundant, extra-textual life. Joy Richardson turns Mama Benin, the old obeah woman, into a figure of quivering concupiscence as she hitches up her skirts to reveal an amplitude of thigh. And Ben Bennett makes Peggys intended fiancée a wonderfully nerdish figure for ever hovering on the fringes of the action like a scutting, bespectacled mouse. (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Reviews, via index, or direct.)
Ronan MacDonald, A Gallous Story or a Dirty Deed?: J. M. Synge and the Tragedy of Evasion, in Tragedy and Irish Literature: Synge, O'Casey, Beckett (London: Palgrave 2002), pp.42-84; On a short visit to Paris in March 1903, John Synge made the mistake of soliciting the young James Joyces opinion on a manuscript of Riders to the Sea. As Richard Ellmann notes, No manuscript was ever read with less sympathy. (Ellmann, James Joyce, rev. edn. 1983, p.124.) In a penurious period for both men, material scarcity does not seem to have engendered professional magnanimity. The previous January Joyce had felt piqued by Yeatss praise of Greek echoes in the play, territory over which he kept a jealous watch. It was with some relish, then, that Joyce stripped the play of any lofty Hellenic pretensions: I am glad to say, he wrote to his brother Stanislaus, that ever since I read it I have been riddling it mentally till it has [not] a sound spot. It is tragic about all the men that are drowned in the islands: but thanks be to God Synge is not an Aristotelian. Citing Aristotles Poetics, Joyce insisted that the play, with its one-act brevity and emphasis on natural disaster, was just a tragic poem, not a tragedy. It was, he claimed, merely a dwarf drama. Richard Ellmann records that a disgruntled and unconvinced Synge found Joyce a stickler for rules and definitions. The same might be said of the Stephen Dedalus in the fifth chapter of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where, in the celebrated exchange with Lynch, he denies tragic stature to the girl killed in the hansom accident: The reporter called it a tragic death. It is not. It is remote from terror and pity according to the terms of my definitions. This scene has been interpreted as an example of the overly abstract and intellectualized Stephen, whose bloodless aesthetic theorization denies him the everyday reality and suffering which his nascent creativity so desperately needs. / It seems that Joyce later revised his opinion of Synges play: he learnt several passages by heart and translated it into Italian in 1908. The younger Joyce, searching for a reason to criticize Riders, found one in Aristotelian criteria for tragedy. If the play could be proven to lack classical tragic qualities then this was a convenient way for Joyce to decry an artwork that, owing to sibling rivalry, he wanted to dislike. In many ways, this manoeuvre was a portent for future Synge criticism. Sketching the critical history of Riders to the Sea offers a useful case study of how definitions of tragedy intermingle with notions of literary merit, an imbrication considered at length in the Introduction above. From the earliest reviews to recent scholarly essays, commentary has ruminated on this generic question and rather than just a matter of neutral designation, the debate is usually a coded value-judgement on the play. Association with the august tradition of literary tragedy is high praise indeed. David R. Clarke hails it as one of the great modern tragedies, while Ernest Boyd claims that Maurya takes on the profound significance of an Aeschylean figure, in her vain protest against Fate, and her ultimate resignation. A tightly controlled structure where the action hinges on an inexorable sense of doom, which the characters are nonetheless agents in hastening, prompted even Arthur Griffith, in an otherwise hostile review, to praise its tragic beauty. / Conversely, like the young Joyce, detractors over the years have indicted Riders by questioning whether it is truly a tragedy – it is, allegedly, too passive or too short, lacking in anagnorisis or lacking in moral complexity to merit the designation. Where is the heroism, the great action, the hamartia and the hubris? Accusations of formal infelicity and deviation from a blueprint are deployed in arguments about the plays genre, which are also arguments about its literary merit and expressive profundity. Apart from the Aristotelian issue, Synge criticism resonates with wider strains of tragic theory. We saw in the Introduction that tragic theory has often prized the notion of confrontation and revelation. Georg Lukács in his essay The Metaphysics of Tragedy, typifies this tendency when he claims that tragedy is the becoming real of the concrete essential nature of man. (pp.42-43; available at Palgrave - online; access 08/09/2021; incls. 7 refs. to Letters of James Joyce, et. al.) Note: MacDonald's chapter bears the epigraph, Et ton heritage? Mes têtes de mort te saluent. My compliments to the little Irish pigs that eat filth all their lives that you may prosper. (When the Moon Has Set.)
Fintan OToole, How Darwin Helped Shape Irish Writing, in The Irish Times (21 Feb. 2009), Weekend Review, p.8: How Darwin Helped Shape Irish Writing, in The Irish Times (21 Feb. 2009), Weekend Review, p.8: When John Millington Synge was 14, he got hold of a copy of Charles Darwins On the Origin of the Species. He opened it at random on a passage in which Darwin points up the similarity between a human hand and the wing of a bird or bat, and asks how this can be explained other than through evolution. Having already developed a keen interest in natural science, Synge recognised the overwhelming force of Darwins argument. He also recognised the implications of that argument for the Protestant faith in which he had a deep and implicit belief. / As he read Darwins words, Synge flung the book aside and rushed out of the house. The sky seemed to have lost its blue and the grass its green. I lay down and writhed in an agony of doubt. My studies showed me the force of what I read, and the more I put it from me, the more it rushed back with new instances and power. / He lay on the ground a long time, then went back into the house, got the book and hid it outdoors. But what had been read could not be unread. A crucial step had been taken towards the creation of Irelands greatest playwright. [...]. (See full-text version in RICORSO Library, Criticism > Reviews, via index, or direct.)
[ top ]
Rebecca Lynn Stout, In Dreams Begins Responsibility: The Role of Irish Drama and the Abbey Theatre in the Formation of Post-colonial Irish Identity (Texas A&M University 2006) - on the nationalist audiences reaction to the Playboy]: Folklorist Carolyn Brown has written that a lie in folklore is a fictional story which is told in the form of a personal narrative or anecdote, which challenges the listeners credulity with comic outlandishness, and which performs different social functions depending on whether it is  heard as true or fictional. (Carolyn S. Brown, The Tall Tale in American Folklore and Literature, Tennessee UP 1987, p.11.) The key element to this definition is whether it is heard as true or fictional. As an audience composed primarily of political nationalists, sitting in a theatre which identified itself as Irelands national theatre, immediately after viewing a play that adhered to all the tenets of theatrical realism, now viewing a play that used exactly the same set and in the program proclaimed itself to be an artistic manifestation of the pursuit of truth, it is understandable that the audience might believe itself expected to perceive the staged lie as true. Yet the lie or tall tale is double-edged, as it both manipulates the boundary between reality and fiction and depends upon the audiences ability to discriminate between the two, thereby creating a tension between skepticism and belief (Marcia Peoples Halio, Proud Lady: Yeatss Countess Cathleen, in The Journal of Irish Literature, 20, 1, Jan. 1991, p.95.) In other words, if the audience is unable to properly negotiate these boundaries, it is left believing a lie to be the truth, or vice versa. It is left out of the joke and, consequently, becomes the butt of that joke. (pp.131-32.) [Cont.]
Alan Titley, The Irish Language and Synge, Nailing Theses: Selected Essays (Belfast: Lagan Press 2011): Synge [...] knew his older litrature as we as the contemporary spoken tongue. Knowing how to speak argot English does not give you access to The Tale of the Green Knight or the medieval Arthur. And yet, it is not as simple as that. He recognised the connection ebtween the folk tales he hears on Aran and the great stories of Europe. And becaue o his study at Trinity College and his attendance at the lectures of Renan and de Jubainville at the Collège de France in 1898 more than any figure of his generation Synge was aware of the bearing, not to say overbearing, of Herder, Renan, the Revue Celtique, and Zeitschrift fur Celtische Philologie on the local endeavours of Douglas Hyde, Tomas Ó Críomhtháin, and others [W. J. McCormack, From Burke to Beckett: Ascendancy Tradition and Betrayal in Literary History, Cork UP 1994, p.228]. In other words, he did realise that there was a connetion between the writings of the past, the scholarship of the present and the living language He did not want to admit it. To admit it would be to accede to the cultural arguents of the time and to their wilder shores. Synge wished to keep a division betwween the life of the western peastant and the reality of modern life. Irish was fine as a peasant language, but any sense of its broader cultural and political significance, he was suspicous of. The Aran Island and the west of Ireland and the Irish languge were a cultural resoucce. Their reality was the present past and not the present future. (p.136.)
[ top ]