The Playboy of The Western World: by J.M Synge - Summary

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      The Playboy of The Western World (1907) is Synge's masterpiece, and in fact, "one of the masterpieces of the twentieth-century theatre". It is based on a story that Synge had heard from an old villager in the Aran Islands; "There was a gentleman that killed his father and I had him in my house for six weeks till he got away to America." And out of this germ the dramatist built this masterpiece of a comedy. The action takes place in a poor country public house on the wild coast of Mayo, where comes a callow young man, Christy Mahon, who says that he had killed his brutal father in a fit of anger. He is treated as a hero by the villagers and becomes a grand picturesque figure to the girls. Pegeen Flaherty, the bold beautiful daughter of the publican is captivated by his wild courage and poetic speech and casts off her loftiest fiance, Shawn, in favour of the new hero. Just in the hour of this triumph suddenly enters the father, intent on revenge for the blow with which the son thought he had killed the father, chastises the son and disappears. In bitterness of heart Pegeen rates poor Christy for his cowardliness. He rushes out and murderously attacks the old man. The reality affects the villagers differently. They seize and bind Christy, intending to hand him over to justice, when the father comes in, takes the son's side and the two march out in good humor. Pegeen who had turned against Christy when she found that he was no murderer of his father is left wildly lamenting "I've lost the only playboy of the Western World."

The Playboy of The Western World (1907)
The Playboy of The Western World (1907)

      The play during the first few nights of its performance in the Abbey Theatre had raised a storm of protest and was violently interrupted by demonstrations of anger. It was held that the dramatist had maligned the Irishman by showing them capable of glorifying a murderer. But recognition of its excellence came soon and spread beyond Ireland. The play gives an impressive representation of Irish peasant life and character. The characterization shows the humor of the dramatist at its best. All the characters are vital and natural, "warm in the blood and capable of poetry". For such wealth of human materials, as we find in the play, we can only go back to Shakespeare's comedies. The natural setting of the action - the bogs, potato fields, hedges, ditches, straying sheep, the moonlit fields is an admirable backdrop for such a hilarious comedy.

      The play is broader in scope than his other work, and the subtle of the development of the central character, Christy Mahon is the theme round which Synge builds a riotously funny comedy, full of spontaneous vitality which gives an excellent, if satirical picture of the Irish character.

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