John Millington Synge: Biography & Life

Also Read

Birth and Family Background

      John Millington Synge was born on April 16, 1871 at Newton Little at Rathfarnham near Dublin. John Hatch Synge, the father of J.M. Synge, was a barrister who had inherited some property in Galway, which affords him to attain good education. Whereas the surname “Synge” is concerned it is granted by Henry VIII to one of his ancestors due to his sweet voice. The Evangelical notions which he had attained from his mother’s side caused him intense misery. He stayed for some time on the Isle of man and became a picnicker as the majority of the people used to be on the Irish shore, though the atmosphere in the house was normal.

At School

      Synge’s health did not permit him to attend the school regularly till the age of ten though the home tutor provided him with much knowledge. Later he joined Trinity College Dublin, where he studied language and history during the years, 1888-1892, and got a passed degree, not with very good scores. Charles Darwin’s theory of Natural Science gave way to his passion for Nature, which satisfied his zeal for the form of music, led him to Germany for proper education on music. But he could not adjust himself with fast life of Germans and returned with a new approach i.e. Drama, which identified his universality.

Disappointment in Love

      Synge’s private life remained obscured for the critics thus enable us to have a full knowledge of his love experiences. Though his love with Cherry Matheson and the breaking due to her father’s strong repulsion to have any relation with an atheist, is unquestioned. Molly Allgood, an actress proved to be her second beloved put with the same fatal ending not due to her dislike for Synge but the sudden death of Allgood.

The Impression of Yeats

      Synge met W.B. Yeats in Paris, where he had been for a limited time. Yeats was busy with the political issue concerning Ireland’s freedom, thus attracting Synge’s attention towards the Aran Islands a home of folk-lores and Celtic Culture. He advised him to visit his home town and find the beautiful expressions from their tough lives thus give a new direction to drama. These following words inspired Synge to start as an Irish Dramatist “Go the Aran Islands live there as if you was one of the people themselves press a life that has never found expression”. Synge taking the advice of Yeats went to the Aran Islands and studied all the ways the people used to live and gave best expressions in his plays. Then Yeats, Synge and lady Gregory worked for the introduction of new trends of drama i.e. Irish literary theatre and Synge activated as a co-director.


      J.M Synge started his career as a journalist with The Aran Islands in 1901 but it could be published in 1907. His first play Riders to the Sea was written in 1902 and published in the next year. The Shadow of the Glen completed in 1903. It was published in 1904. Two plays A Tinker’s Wedding and The Well of the Saints, former a two Act Play while later a Three Act play was completed in 1904 and published in both England and America. A Tinker’s Wedding was published only in 1905. The Play boy of the Western World was performed in 1907 and also published in the same year while it was written in 1905. Deirdre of the Sorrows was published in the year 1910, after Synge’s death. The play could not be revised due to the serious illness of the dramatist. In Widow, West Kerry and Connemara were published in 1911.

Premature Death

      Synge was not very healthy from the very childhood, but any serious ailment was not judged till a gland on the neck was not found which was later operated on in 1897. But the success of the operation was doubted for the pain constantly remained disturbing him. Later a lump on his side was discovered which was declared as a tumor causing him death on the morning of March 24, 1909.

Ireland: An Inspiration

      Ireland and the natives predominated all his plays and ranked him one of the most successful dramatists. It was here that Synge found the materials for his dramas: fantastic characters, a pastoral setting; may barren or isolated and Celtic culture. He conferred, “I look on The Aran Islands my first serious piece of work it was written before any of the plays. In writing out the talks of the people and their stories in this book—and in a certain number of articles on Wicklow peasants which I have not yet collected—I learned to write the peasant dialect and dialogue which I use in my plays.” He followed the strange life of the people who are brought up in the atmosphere quite different from the sophisticated society. The Riders to the Sea, Shadows of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World, are the stories taken from this Island. Pat Dinane, an old man told Synge the story which later came as The Shadow of the Glen. Later, he was informed of a person who murdered his father in Connemara and fled to Inishmaan, became the basis for his The Playboy of the Western World. Riders to the Sea is again a play based on the true death of a young man, who was lamented and mourned by his relations. Sometimes imagination may have mingled with the reality but the result of it was always satisfactory and justified. Yeats attributed to Synge, “the true Irish heart—he lives in Aran, speaks Irish and knows the people.”

Attitude towards Nature

      Synge was a lover of nature as is estimated from his works, where nature is personified and a crucial role played by her gives us the impression that Synge as Wordsworth, finds the life in every minute petal of a flower, or in the waves of sea. Nature is only on the background, and he is not much concerned with its aspects. Nature is also in the hands of merciless God, for Synge.

Character and Personality

      Synge was a mixture of sensitiveness and strong will-power. Synge was not interested in Social aspects nor was he concerned with the political and economic issues. He takes the life as it is. Yeats has aptly said: “...He was wise in judging individual men, and as wise in dealing with them as a faint energies of ill-health would permit, but of their political though he long understood nothing.

      Synge’s temperamental idiosyncrasies made him incapable of handling political theories. Bad health, love of solitude arid aloofness can not obligate him as a detached spectator of light’s drama, but of one who had lived and experienced that drama to the full. Temperamentally Synge was averse to convection and was inclined to simplicity to which he responded with his heart and not with his mind.


      To have a full estimation of the dramatist these few lines will echo his sensitiveness: “...I surmised that unhealthy parents should have unhealthy, children.....Therefore I said I am unhealthy and If I marry. I will have unhealthy children. But I will never create beings to suffer as I am suffering, so I will never marry.”

      Yeats wrote, “Synge is invaluable to us because he has that kind intense narrow personality which necessarily raises the whole issue.”

Previous Post Next Post