Interpretation of Critics View On Riders To The Sea

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A Distinguished and Perfect Tragedy

      One of the most unfailing criteria of tragedy is that of universality and Riders possesses this in abundance. It is a great tragedy having harrowing and ruthless appearance of the cosmic force. The tragic tale of old Maury a, whose resignation from the worldly aspects gives it a solemn touch, which is a true part of a perfect tragedy. Though Riders of the Sea has depicted only one side of the life which is quite dark, sad and hopeless but the originality in it can not be disputed whereas some writers portraying the darkness of life digress from their aim achieve a gloomy obscuring picture.

Masterpiece in Irish Literature

      W.B. Yeats, praised the work Risers To The Sea, thus: Mr. Synge is a new writer and a creator of our movement. He has gone every summer for years past to the Aran Islands, there in the houses of the fisher, speaking their language and living their lives and his play Riders to the Sea seems to me the first piece of tragic work done in Ireland of late years. One finds in it, from first to last, the presence of the sea, and a sorrow that has majesty as in the work of some ancient poets.

Tragic Chorus

      In views of R. Williams: Riders to the Sea is a tragic chorus which draws its strength from the quality of acceptance which Synge had discovered in the islanders among whom he had lived. It moves on a limited plan: the inevitability of the men’s defeat. When the last of Maurya’s sons has been drowned she speaks to herself: They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me....They’re all together this time, and the end is come. May the Almighty God have mercy on Bartley’s soul, and on Michael’s soul and on the souls of Sheamus and Patch, and Stephen and Shawn; and may He have mercy on my soul, Nora, and on the soul of everyone is left living in the World....Michael has a clean burial in the far north by the grace of the Almighty God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of the white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living forever, and we must be satisfied.

      It is powerful rhythm, within a limited action. Its paradox is the depth of its language and the starved almost passive experience. It is as if the fatalism were determined at one level and the lives of the islanders at another, and then the two are fused, but incompletely in a dominant single rhythm. As such it is a dramatic fragment for reasons other than its brevity, but what he achieved in this fragment is an indication of that common action which the theory of language might be, at its most serious. What has been achieved, that is to say, is a chorus but not yet the action on which the chorus depends.


      Of this archetypal nature is the conflict of man with the sea, the give and taker of life. The Islandmen must be constantly aware of its menace, its moods, its protection. Again and Again through the play the characters speak of the tides and their significance. It is the killer of the young, the breadwinners, whose life it is to be upon it. The fishermen are all its riders, mysteriously linked to the human and superhuman riders, her and in tradition. We may if we wish discoin, uneasily, some connection between the red mare ridden by Bartley, and the grey mare (pony) by Michael’s phantasm, for one colour belongs to strength and vitality, the other to the dead. The bread that was baked is kept on the table where Bartley’s body is laid, that Maurya tries vainly to give to him when she meets him by the spring well, serves to refresh the old men who must take his coffin. At the opening we see the “fine white boards” bought at a great price for Michael’s coffin, and they are instantly recognizable by their size and proportions if one has made such things; the new rope will serve for a halter for the horses, or to lower a coffin.

Deep Study of Environment in The Riders to the Sea

      Riders to the Sea (1904), is a tragedy of old woman, whose sons have been perished in the sea. The play opens in a cottage: One sone has recently been drowned, whose clothes are identified by his sisters, but the last son also meets the same end and the old women’s austerity is recognized by her words, “they’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me. I’ll have no call now to be up crying and praying when the wind breaks from the south, and you can hear the surf is in the east, the surf is in the west making a great stir with the two noises.” The woman consols herself that this son, “will have a fine coffin’ out of the white boards and a deep grave surely.” This play is in prose and the poetic concentration is so intense that the play starts and ends in no time, as it is felt by the audience. A new expression is given to an age-old experience where austerity is quite natural after passing through such harrowing experiences.

Prominent Role of the Sea (As a Protagonist)

      Synge’s people have superstitutious fears that the dramatic guidance is agnostic. A pagan fatalism counters the catholic tonings of Riders to the Sea. The action is brief and the conception vast. The sea is an off stage protagonist, demanding, like death itself, which it serves to symbolize.

      It is as unfeeling as Hardy’s Immanent will, yet it and humanely air mysteriously interlocked and the only strength is acceptance: I “They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me....” But there is one appearance unique in Synge, which will full dramatic ratification counter the rest. Maurya sees her last son Bartley riding seawards and leading a pony on which the recently drowned Michael appears “with fine clothes on him and new shoes on his feet”, and she knows that Bartley is doomed. This once, Synge’s world view is invaded by spirit perception.

Riders to the Sea: Inevitability of Death

      “The age-old sense of loss is conveyed in such a way that even a person, who is quite ignorant of Island’s life, can feel the tragic effect. The symbolism of the red mare and the grey pony, the ageless and noble terror-image of the horse, communicates its sense of mystery even without the memory of the four Riders of the Bible. It is linked to reality by the everyday life of the Islanders, as well as by the wisdom of the old. We can perceive the double value in such a passage as this:

      Bartley (to Cathleen): If the West Wind holds with the last bit of the moon let you and Nora get up weed enough for another cock for the keep. It is hard set we’ll be from this day with no one in it but one man to work, or Maurya’s

      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. Cathleen: We have fine white boards herself bought, God help her, thinking Michael would be found, and I have a new cake you can eat while you’ll be working.

      The old Man (looking at the boards). Are there nails with them?

      Cathleen: There are not, Colum; we didn’t think of the nails, and all the coffins She’s seen made already.

      Cathleen: It’s getting old she is, and broken.

      Maurya is quiet and calm and the tragic ending is achieved, where nothing is noisy or horrible. She is the representative of Irish dignity, where losing too much the value of acceptance is perceived.

Enchantment of the Play (Technical Interest)

      Technical Interest in Riders to the Sea, is considerable, for the solution of the problem of obtaining sufficient momentum is achieved within a single act. His concern is the, conflict of Man Vs Necessity into Man Vs the sea, and the impetus is given by the complete tragedy and Maurya’s final resignation: “They’re all gone now, and there isn’t anything more the sea can do to me...” Not very strong but a light symbolism is within the action; the dead and the living riders, the water spring by which Maurya meets her son the bread which she fails to the living and which refreshes the makers of her son’s coffin. The elemental structure of the play is clear two recognitions (Identification of clothes and the dead body is of Bartley and this last reversal of the situation; the rider of the sea who seeks to sell his horse that he may live comfortably.

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