Ideology & Peculiarity of J. M. Synge

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Synge’s Ideology

      Synge was not an extreme political nationalist. Our own idea of him is that one who seeks, to find political nationalism in him is on the wrong scent; he was not given to politics; he was only as political as the ordinary citizen who is far more interested in other matters. What we are to understand by nationalism in his case is cultural nationalism - a holding by that inner core of custom of which political nationalism is the shield and defense. At this very time...Ireland was in one of her periodic reactions against politics and politicians; it was the period of the Parnell split; it was the period when the Gaelic League was catching hold of the young vital mind of the country, was teaching it that politics and nationalism must not be confounded-with the result that practically all who hearkened to its appeal became not Alone non-political but antipolitical, for they held the politicians, by neglecting such national pieties as the Language, were simply killing the soul of the country. Anybody who lived in Gaelic League circles in those years needs no instruction as to what kind of nationalist Synge was, for the land was full of such as be became. They were all young, they were all Language men, and they were all quite certain that they had the right end of the stick in their grasp; the thing was to build up the Irish nation on its ancient Gaelic foundations. They called themselves nation-builders, not state-builders.

Synge’s Peculiarity

      Synge was a solitary man, and no one could follow him. “Peasant” plays there were and are in plenty, so that “P.Q.” (Peasant Quality) is now a tern of dramatic classification, and sometimes of contempt. One reason may be that the vein which he worked was small and soon exhausted. His manner, diction, even the general character types, are fatally easy to imitate. Perhaps it was the individuality of Synge’s style that could combine the outrageous and the lyric, realism and irony and pity, in a manner beyond imitation. Yeats (with Lady Gregory’s help) could do no more than copy Synge’s language, without his insight into character through language. A passage from The Pot of Broth may suggest a useful comparison with speeches from The Shadow and The Playboy.

      Lady Gregory herself could achieve a comedy as refined as her gay and gracious nature, and a minor tragedy, pathetic or patriotic, fitted to her vision and gifts. It was left for Sean O’Casey to transplant tragedy to the Dublin slums, and to forge a new Anglo-Irish speech for it, being finely touched with the issues of two wars and, after, with the spur of the Irish censorship. None of these, or the many competent dramatists of the Abbey, could achieve those ambivalent complexities of mood, the fierce ironic joy in the brutal or the “glorious phrase”, with the grim detachment of the “disinterested” artist, manipulating his characters to advance or recede in the total rhythm of each play. But perhaps Synge is also a preacher, agnostic and a-moral, whose text (as Yeats had said) is the living world. It is a world which concerns the tragedy of the common people, and particularly of women; yet its tragedy may be dissolved or accented, momentarily, by laughter, and imagination nourished by its humor. In that world, the extremities meet to illumine, however, intermittently the human situation.

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