Critical Analysis of The Play Riders To The Sea

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The Publication of the Play

      Synge completed the play in 1902, and handed it to W.B. Yeats at Coole. The experiences on Aran Islands suggested him this one-act play, which Yeats had thought to be effecting The Shadow of the Glen and Riders to the Sea, both plays were appreciated by his friends of literary field, and the performance of it was cheered up by Arthur Symons who brought forth his intention to publish it in fortnightly Review. Later, the same review sent the play back with the views that the play does not fulfill their purpose. Finally, Yeats magazine Samhain took the charge of publishing it.

Performance: A great Success

      Whatever changes Willie Fay had asked for in Riders to the Sea were made and the play was produced on 25th February, 1904. Many effort were made to give the play an authentic touch. Synge asked Michael Costello, for some samples of Aran flannel and some pairs of shoes. Even the actress, playing the role of Cathleen, was taught to spin, so as to give the a play a realistic environment. Thus, the play produced as the most perfect one-act play on the Irish stage.

      Riders to the Sea, though gathered small audience yet enthusiastic, Griffith’s paper goes on to say that its “tragic beauty powerfully affected the audience.” Padraic column wrote Synge, “The more I think of the play the more It seems—to my perfect vision—perfect, and I cannot offer to criticize as to construction or dialogue. I can only say that the long speeches of Maurya beginning ‘Bartley will be lost now’, and the next one cannot be given by any actress I know.”

Synge’s Art of Characterization

      The Play Riders to the Sea win our appreciation not because-of unity of scenes, but also due to the art of characterization, where all the characters are made alive by the virtue of remarkable portryal.

      As we read the play or see it on the stage, all the characters seems to us as if they are close to us and a feeling for every individual character arouses. This is the hallmark of the playwright. Our attention is not focused only at the heroine, Maurya, but the other characters—Cathleen, Nora and Bartley—too strike us as real human beings. Cathlen and Nora, being sisters have much in common yet they have been individualized. Portraying, Bartley, Synge keeps in mind that being the only male member of the family, should be brave and determined so as to justify his intention to leave for the sail and for the development of the story. Maurya is beautifully picturized as a lady with much courage and power of endurance. She not only rises above the worldly sufferings and pains but also our expectations because the woman with such a rare qualities, is non-exist, but we can not deny her existence in some other lady of fishing family in the Island. The story is based on a real incident so the characterization does not consist of anything fanciful or extravagant.

      There is nothing incredible in the story if we think that all the male-members of the family, are drowned or eaten up by the sea. Actually the sustainer is the destroyer. It is the luck of the people living near sea coast with the occupation of fishing provided by the sea. If the sea, give them protection and food, sometimes proves dangerous also.

Plot Structure

      Synge’s greatness lies in the fact that though the play abounds in naturalistic detail, the plot is compact and closely knit, transforms the work into a complete with nothing fragmentary. There is no subplot which could digress the attention of the reader, from the main plot. Following classical structure, the play begins with an abrupt or climatic suspense. The three classical unities of time, place and action are observed in the structure. The play tells the story, of Michael’s going to sea and getting drowned, the death by drowning in the past of Maurya’s four sons, her husband and his father though not in the chronological order and only in the reverie of Maurya. There is nothing irrelevant in the play and there are no loose ends. Only within one hour, the whole drama is performed. The climax comes with the old men carrying the dead body of Bartley, which transforms a fearful Maurya into complete fearless as nothing to be afraid has been remained. So, the play is mixed up with the present and the past, and all the events move in one family.

Riders to the Sea: A True Tragedy

      The Play is based on the Greek tragedy as the lives of the human beings are in the hands of fate and all the aspirations and hopes are shattered by the interference of the destiny. The protagonist, Maurya, is deprived of all of her sons, left alone with two responsibilities on her shoulder at such a tiring age. The play reveals the conflict between Man and Nature is also subordinate of God for, it cannot work without the permission of the Almighty. So indirectly, the conflict is between Man and Almighty, where it is naturally God who wins and it is man, who accepts his fate. It is the tragedy of the man.

Symbolism in Riders to the Sea

      The sea, the main protagonist or we should say, antagonist of the play, is symbolically fate or destiny, which proves an enemy to Maurya and her family. All the eight male members are brought to death, because of the influence of sea as a villain. There the whiteboards, shown at the very opening of the play, again heighten the atmosphere of death. The number ‘nine’ has symbolic meaning as it appears again and again. For instance, Michael was drowned nine days ago and his, dead body could not be recovered. When the body of Patch was taken by the neighbors, first two women; and then three more women and they had been followed by four more women had come. Thus, the addition becomes nine again. When Bartley was to leave for Mainland, he promises her sister to come in two days, or in three days, or maybe in four days. Other symbols, such as stick, and the new clothes and new shoes worn by Michael, seen in the vision of Maurya suggest the journey towards a new world i.e. heaven.

Source of the Play

      In Synge’s The Aran Islands we find an account of the life of fishermen similar to that presented in the play, thus may be pointed out that a real incident on the Island, gave him the idea of the story. A few lines prove it:

      “The Sun seldom shines, and day after day a cold south-western wind blows over the cliffs bringing up showers of hail and dense masses of cloud The sons who are at home stay out fishing whenever it is tolerably calm from about three in the morning till after nightfall, yet they earn little, as fish are not plentiful.... The old man fishes also with a long rod and ground bait with very little success ....and women look after calves and do spinning...” Another incident, to which he was a witness, on the Island, may be quoted here also:

      “Tonight as we were returning from the trip, we met the mother of the man who was drowned from this island, still weeping and looking out over the sea....Later in the evening, the sister of the dead man came in. She pieced together all she could remember about his clothes; “Ah!” She said, “It’s Make sure enough, and please God they’ll give him a decent burial.”

Supernatural Elements in the Riders to the Sea

      The Aran Islands is a place of fantasy and hallucination, so the existence of supernatural elements are quite natural here, what we also find here and there in the play. But the most striking scene felt when Maurya describes her daughter, what she had seen on the spring well: I’m after seeing him this day and he riding and galloping. Bartley came first on the red mare, and I tried to say ‘God speed you,’ but something choked the words in my throat. He went by quickly; and ‘the blessing of God on you,’ says he, and I could say nothing. I looked up then, and I crying, at the grey pony, and there was Michael upon it—with fine clothes on him, and new shoes on his feet.” Thus fine clothes and new shoes suggest Bartley’s new journey which is irresistible. This kind of simple and natual symbolism is the hallmark of Synge’s plays.

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