J. M. Synge : Contribution to English Drama

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       John Millington Synge (1871-1909) is one of the most prominent figures in the history of the revival of the Irish drama at the beginning of the new century. Though Yeats is the leader of the Irish dramatic movement it was Synge who may be called the soul of the movement and by his contributions he raised the status of the Irish drama almost to the Shakespearean level. Indeed, by some of his enthusiasts he has been rated with Shakespeare. Of course, this is excess of enthusiasm and no literary judgement.

Synge's genius is seen in both comedy and tragedy, though he is more at home in the latter.
J. M. Synge

      Synge resembles Shakespeare no doubt, in his grasp of the emotional elements of life and the treatment of the same with great poetic power. Yeats discovered him at Paris, where he was a struggling journalist and advised him to return to Ireland and live among the peasants of Aran Islands. Synge took the advice and steeped himself in folk-lore of the place, the natural beauties, the superstitions, customs and manners of the primitive people who were quite untouched by the modern civilization like Hardy's peasant folk. All these supplied the raw materials of his plays.

      The idyllic pictures of a simple, unsophisticated, rustic people is perhaps Synge's greatest contribution to the English drama. The elements of philosophy he found in the mouths of the simple, primitive peasant-folk were the basis on which he built up his dramas of Irish life and character. But perhaps the most original element of his plays is his treatment of nature in his plays. Like Hardy, Synge looks upon nature not merely as a background against which the human drama, is set off, but nature in his plays is a kind of super human protagonist, making or marring the fates of the puny mortals that come into her orbit. She is sometimes a kind comforter (as in The Shadow of Wells) and sometimes a cruel malignant enemy (as in the Riders to the Sea) but always a chief actor in the drama.

      Synge's genius is seen in both comedy and tragedy, though he is more at home in the latter. In the preface to his famous The Playboy of the Western World he explains his programme - "to depict reality and joy and to put it in speeches as fully flavoured as nut or apple." This reality is the tragedy of life and joy is the comedy. Riders to the Sea and Deirdre of Sorrow are completely tragic in tone, presenting life as a gloomy and sombre business. Riders to the Sen is regarded as the greatest one act tragedy. Within the compass of one act, he created moving tragedy out of the simple life of the peasants. He creates profound tragic effect by the use of dramatic ironies, superstitious dread and symbolism.

       In The Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World, he depicts the reality of Irish life wit joy. The central character of the former, Nora deserts her husband. The play evoked a storm of uproar, when it was first produced in 1903. It shocked Irish feeling, which regarded Irish women as more virtuous than the English women, The Playboy of the Western World is based on a story which the playwright had heard from an old man in the Aran Islands. "There was a gentleman that killed his father and I had laid him in my house for six weeks till he got away to America." This gentleman in the original of Christy Mahon, the hero of the play. He is a peasant boy who flees home under the impression that he has killed his father. He is acclaimed as a hero'-until his 'murdered da reappears. The reaction of the audience was riotous. In broader application, the drama considers illusion and reality. Distance lends enchantment, throwing glamour over deeds. The immediate reality is often harsh and disillusioning. The most compelling feature of this drama is the poetic prose of the dialogue, ranging from robust flytings to Christies imaginative wooing of Pegeen.

      As a dramatic craftsman, Synge has definite merits. His materials of drama, situations and characters are reduced to the utmost degree of concentration. His irony is biting and sardonic and his tragedy a bitter pain. His style is rigidly economical, all unnecessary words are eliminated. It has the racy flavour of the soil, 'of the apples and nuts'. His insight into human nature, philosophical treatment of character make his characters astonishingly convincing and alive. His power or evoking atmosphere and imparting local colour is also a delicious element of his dramatic art. He is the greatest of the poetic dramatists and his plays rise above the conventional plays of the time. His Riders to the Sea is acclaimed as the masterpiece of tragic art. He has given a poetic conception of the character of Maurya where heightening of consciousness in the midst ot misery and defeat makes her a tragic character almost equal in dimension and glory to the tragic heroes of Sophocles and Shakespeare.

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