Friday, October 19, 2007

Playboy

J.M. Synge was at the forefront of an Irish Renaissance that sought to revive an authentically Irish culture at the turn of the 20th Century. One of Synge's well known lines, "To be human we must once again learn to be brutal" suggests the dialectic between primitivism and the new age: a return to roots was somehow needed to live in the new century. The Catholic-Irish were often popularly figured as this primitive element, untouched as they were by Anglo-colonial influence. And yet, his work criticized, parodied, and often made outright fun of the nostalgic attitude towards the poor. Can you see that in his work? What purpose does it achieve? What pro-Irish attitudes/blindspots might his work be addressing?

19 comments:

Jenna said...

Throughout his play, Synge portrays humorous characters who seem to contradict traditional Irish values imposed by the church. Strong female characters like Peegen Mike and Widow Quin refuse to give in to the constraints placed on them. Peegen does so by refusing and despising the man who her father has chosen for her. Widow Quin is rumored to have cause her husband’s death, and continues to live independently. These women are foils to the restrained men in the play. These strong women, however, quickly lose the respect of the audience as they become enamored with Christy Mahon. Their impulse to protect the criminal is silly and amoral; Synge’s comedic portrayal of their respect for Christy and then their hatred of him for being a liar suggests that they were never truly the strong and independent characters we first see. The backward values of these women, and of the entire town, are teased continually throughout the play. Synge’s mockery of the townspeople for their excitement over Christy is contradictory, however, to his own seeming favor of Christy in a play of despicable characters.

-Jenna Sopfe

M. said...

There were two major things I felt like Synge was doing excessively throughout his text. The first was using dialogue that showed total religious fervor, and second was using dialogue that read like a romantic text – almost reminding me of Shakespeare as weird as that sounds. In both cases I think Synge was excessive on purpose to comically mock the Catholic-Irish.

Act I seems to have lines like “Glory be to God!” “God bless you” and “By the grace of God” sprinkled all over it to the point that it is repetitive, unnecessary and noticeable. The reader can see the comedic value and ridiculousness of the characters’ religious fervor when for example on p. 105 Christy admits for the first time that he has killed his father, says he did so “with the help of God” and Jimmy’s response is not one of terror, but rather “Oh, glory be to God!” This is clearly critical because it is not often God is held responsible for a murder, and it is also unusual that someone will respond to the news he is in the same room as a murder with praise for the Lord. All of this excessive religious dialogue is Synge’s way of mocking the extremely intense Catholic fervor of the Irish people that he feels is often overzealous and misguided.

Also, the romantic nature of the dialogue jumped out to me as a sharp contrast from the dry, simple language of McTeague written less than a decade before. Looking for example at p. 173 in Act III, Pegeen and Christy have an almost poetic exchange of words as they profess their feelings for one another. We hear phrases like “Isn’t there the light of seven heavens in your heart alone…” and “If that’s the truth, I’ll be burning candles from this out to the miracles of God…” All of this poetic language seems to poke fun at the Irish’s Romantic attitudes. If Synge believes we need to “learn to be brutal” – the sort of Romantic behavior his Irish characters are displaying is the opposite of how he believes man needs to behave to be “human.”


--Matt Stevens

M. said...

Synge’s criticisms of the Irish peasantry’s treatment of a murderer is a vivid example of a primitivism that is still relevant to today’s society. When Christy retells his murderous tale, the villagers praise and admire his sin when one expects them to become fearful or disgusted. They reward Christy with material possessions of alcohol (another vice) and food (one of which was roadkill), items that can lead to or stem from forms of brutality and death. The villagers’ curiosity and fascination with murder is exaggerated to emphasis the people’s need to fill some primitive void. The absurdity of their reaction causes the reader to wonder why murder is not looked down upon—perhaps the brutality of the act gives the people some sick satisfaction. This may seem repulsive, but Synge’s social comment still applies today. In modern times, we can parallel the villagers’ reactions to our own obsession with horror stories and films. Gore, murder, and death are abominations, yet society continues to take pleasure in watching or orally “reliving” these terrible acts. We reward these acts by paying to experience a primitive brutality that “civilized” beings cannot experience firsthand. Therefore, we are similar to the villagers in Synge’s play. Even in the 21st century, the primitive instinct inherent in human beings cannot be fully suppressed or eliminated.

-Michelle Cheng

marissa said...

The appeal of the primitivism of the Catholic-Irish arises from the idea of reformed pagans. Despite the devotion to Catholicism, there remained hints of paganism in Ireland, such as the circle of the celtic cross - a symbol of the sun merged with the symbol of Christ. Aspects of the pagan beliefs were incorporated into Catholicism in Ireland so that the Celts would more readily accept the religion. The Irish peasantry were thus associated with the ideas of Celtic legend and had a sense of mystic lore about them. Synge turns this idea upside-down in "Playboy." When Christy Mahon appears and relates his tale of slaughter, he becomes a hero of mythological proportions among the villagers. Yet the villagers are capricious, worshipping his strength one moment, scorning his cowardice the next, and conspiring to punish him in another. The reverent attitude towards the mystic lore of Irish peasantry becomes absurd in this situation.

- Marissa Rousseau

josie said...

It is ironic that such a detestable crime as patricide could receive such unexpected praise and fascination from the villagers of Mayo. Christy is mistakenly attributed with bravery, when truly the murder of his father was brought about by fear and bitter resentment of his father's brutality. If Synge intended for the Irish people to represent the "primitive," then he shares a similar perception of the natural man with Norris. Both authors portray man's instinctive nature as brutal and amoral according to the standards of modern society. Even more interesting is the representation of the female characters, who are eager to revere the violent characteristics of the men. Though Widow Quin and Christy are both guilty of committing a heinous murder, Peegen Mike chooses to praise the latter while denouncing the former. Though Christy's act is seen as courageous and manly, Peegen views Widow Quin with utter contempt and refuses to keep company with the "like[s] of that murderer" (Synge 100). Her contradictory reactions to the same crime reveal the double standard in the matter of gender, for Christy is revered and given sympathy, while the Widow is isolated and shunned by the rest of the community.

m said...

Since Synge “used one or two words only that [he had] not heard among the country people of Ireland” in The Playboy of the Western World, and expressed his admiration for the “folk imagination” of the Irish, his judgments of their culture possess legitimacy. Moreover, Synge attributes the “wildness” and “vices” of the Irish peasantry to the “richness of their nature.” Thus, while he criticizes the Irish’s extreme allegiance to the priests, alcoholism, and pugnacity, he also loves them for their zeal for life. By characterizing the God-fearing Shawn as a meek coward, and glorifying the reckless Christy as “the champion of the world,” the characters reveal the true values of Irish Catholics (133). Amidst the suffering and loss of Irish culture due to the Great Famine, and tenant farmers’ vulnerability to landlords, “a daring fellow [was] a jewel of the world” (140). However, it is ironic and absurd that the characters would be infuriated with Christy for not actually murdering his father. By turning on Christy when she witnesses the second murder, Pegeen indicates that the Irish upheld rash gallantry in ideology, but not in reality. This disparity symbolizes the Irish’s desire for revolution, but fear for the consequences. Old Mahon’s queer appreciation for his wayward son because of the stories he can now tell highlights the Irish’s desperate search for and recovery of their unique heritage and culture.

-Stephanie Cho

m said...

J.M. Synge creates various situations throughout the play to demonstrate the reliance on the Christian beliefs of the characters. Emphasizing the lifestyle of the religion, Synge demonstrates numerous instances of common Catholic greetings between the characters. Synge demonstrates the overwhelming amount of concern for the religion through the various character actions which create comical situations. In Act Two, comic relief is captured through Widow Quin’s reaction towards Mahon’s entrance without the common greeting, allowing the author’s attitude of how religion plays an active role in the lives of every character of the play. Although the sole use of Biblical references could be inferred as slightly primitive, seeing as how the Bible is a primitive text, Synge’s use of comedy throughout the play harmonizes with the accompany of the Old Testament allusions.

Primitive individuals usually are understood to be ignorant and slow understanding towards witty and comical situations however, most of the major characters of Synge’s play are clever and quick. Widow Quin, especially, is a crafty woman who tries to manipulate certain situations for her personal benefit. As Mahon begins to ask about his son Christy in Act Two, Widow Quin is quick to asses the situation and skillfully conjure up enough lies to convince the head-wounded Mahon that his son was not hiding nearby. Synge smartly incorporates characters, such as Widow Quin, in this play to provide a rebuttal to the understanding that the Irish during this timeframe were primitive in behavior. This pro-Irish attitude strings together the suggestion of a move away from strictly primitive manners of the Irish during the cusp of the twentieth century.

Ashley McFadden

m said...
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m said...

In Synge's The Playboy of the Western World, the characters living in rural Ireland were the primitive aspect of the play living their boring, monotonous lives drinking and listening to exciting stories such as Christy's tale of how he commits patricide. Throughout the play, the readers get the idea that the people who live in this "Mayo County" do nothing to improve their lives even with a "hero" among them. We are led to believe that even with a character as dominant as Peegen Mike, she still would have ended up with Shawn Keough for her husband because nothing exciting or different would ever seem to occur in this unchanged humanity. Through situation comedy, Synge criticizes the people living in this county by creating unexpected twists in their lives such as Old Mahon returning from the dead. In this satire of patricide, the character of Christy Mahon is the accomplished "playboy" or trickster that leads everyone to believe his leud tale until the ultimate surprise in the end that fools everyone. Synge's parody of the country peoples' enjoyment of Christy's story allows for readers to notice the faults and defects of their humanity by their not looking down upon a tragic element of murder in this play.

- Monica Chum

Meghan said...

Synge’s criticism of the Irish peasantry is obvious. The village reveres Christy for patricide because his actions enable the Irish to engage in their favorite pastime: storytelling. Yet when the story is revealed as truth, the Catholic guilt descends upon the village. To avoid being punished themselves, they realize they must punish Christy. Though Synge may be critical of the peasantry, his portrayal of Irish storytelling sentiments and of the Catholic presence make this text pro-Irish. Many nationalists solidified an Irish identity in culturally primitive traits like storytelling and Catholic customs. Storytelling allowed the Irish to maintain a heritage long since destroyed by British occupation while Catholicism provided an identity distinctly separate from the Protestant north. Therefore, while Synge is rather critical of the peasantry, he recognizes primitivism as a key facet of Irish identity.

Meghan Casey

Kyle Curson said...
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m said...

While it is clear that Synge is advocating a renewed respect and solid identity for the Irish culture, it is unclear as to whether his characters themselves are representations of this ideal. Although Christy is worshipped for having murdered his father, it is apparent after the second act that he never suceeded, making the town's adoration ironic and comical, and Christy's own flaunting detestable. Why would Synge use a lying failure to represent the Irish ideal? By the end of the play, however; Christy could very well represent the call to the Irish to return to the more active, persistent and willing. Indeed his choice to act parallels with Shawn's own indecision and cowardice. (It is clear from the begining of the play that Shawn has been waiting some time for the approval of his and Peegen's marriage, while Christy's entrance into Pegeen's life marks a clearly accelerated sense of conviction and decision making in her circumstances.) I do believe Christy serves as a simultaneous inspiration and criticism of the Irish people. Synge is calling for action, calling the Irish identity into existence with Christy's action and perserverance, but he is also admonishing those who are too easily satisfied. Peegen's and the village's admiration of Christy on behalf of his father's murder is ironic and contradictory until the end of the play. It is not until Peegen has seen Christy's determination that her feelings for him are set in stone, (it is clear that her initial infatuation was based on the story of the murder). And it is not until Christy's raw display of motivation, in the act following his deception of the town, that his character has a clear, symbolic persona. Perhaps Synge is calling for a nation of determined citizens who will not settle for less than a realized culture and identity.

Suzannah Powell

m said...
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m said...

What struck me most was Synge’s contrast of primitivism with an overzealous use of religion. This seems to result in caricatures of the poor that he’s trying to prove to be “rich and living.” Synge seems to be poking fun at the Mayo villager’s primal natures as well as their conventional Catholic tendencies. Christy is praised for murdering his father: the women of Mayo are smitten over him for this very reason, admiring his perceived strength and bravery. However, the women seem to give in much too easily to how they should act, in the end breaking away from the notion that they are strong characters. When Christy says “…when I’d be abroad in the dark night poaching rabbits on hills, for I see a divil to poach, God forgive me [very naively].” (110) Synge satirizes the Irish’s primitive love of nature and hunting for their religious Catholic fervor. It seems that Synge wants to point out this contradiction as a uniform characteristic of the Mayo villagers.

--Tracy Pham

Kyle Curson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kyle Curson said...

In my post, I said "Although the Catholic church has always claimed deemed itself as the epitome of morals and virtue..."

Just noticed the "claimed" shouldn't be there. Sorry, it was bothering me.

m said...

From the portrayal of characters and their attitudes in the play, it is obvious that Synge does indeed criticize and satirize the poor people and Irish customs in his stories. The idea that all of the poor people were glorifying the murder of Christy’s own father is barbaric and primitive. Not only this, but they actually go on and protect this murderer in their own houses and leave him to take care of their own families, being disappointed with him only after they find out that he’s not a murderer.

Other instances of the play in which it is apparent that Synge is making fun of people of low economic standing and Irish ideals and practices is when Flaherty, Pegeen’s father, and his friends go to a wake in order to drink and spend a good time. Synge is obviously making fun of Catholicism, which is one of the most traditional Irish practices. He makes it seem as though Catholics do not have a real morals since they are merely gaining entertainment from other people’s suffering.

-Stephanie Uriarte

m said...

“The Playboy of the Western World” by J.M. Synge introduces us to a new style of writing. It is distinct from the previous Naturalistic readings such as “Open Boat” and “McTeague.” For example, Synge’s play is a drama where comedy emerges. It is full of satire that criticizes the poor. Synge makes fun of several features in the Irish culture; however his parodies of gender dynamics are the most intriguing. Synge uses the character of Shawn Keogh to represent the weak Irish man. For example, he is afraid to be left alone with Pegeen Mike; instead of staying with her and making sure she is safe. Another scene that questions his manhood is when he refuses to fight Christy. This shows that he is a coward who is unwilling to stand up for anyone or anything. On the other hand, Pegeen Mike’s character is the opposite. She is more brave and courageous than Shawn Keogh. Pegeen Mike is strong and independent. For example, she is willing to stay with a murderer overnight while her father is gone. Synge satirizes the notions of manhood and womanhood.

At the same time, Synge is making fun of how the Irish perceive death. For example, in our country, people morn over the death of a loved one; however Christy is not remorseful about killing his own father. Instead, he shares his story with everyone and becomes the town hero. The return of Mahon makes this play a true comedy. Christy goes around boasting about the murder of his father; however his father was only wounded. In the end, Christy is a liar and even more of a coward than Shawn Keogh.

- Shantae McKinney

Carol said...

While highlighting the hypocrisy of the characters, Synge ridicules the poor, as well as underlines the Irish roots to which these people cling. Although all the characters pepper their speech with phrases like, “God forgive you,” and “God help me,” they also seem mesmerized by Christy’s gruesome tale of murder. The primal aspect of humanity seems to rise within them unbidden. These contrasting struggles over religious and instinctual behaviors reflect the turmoil of the Irish culture during the early 20th century. Searching for a cultural identity amidst the modernization of the world, Ireland struggled to combine its primitive tribal history with the structure and morals of Western culture. This struggle reveals itself in The Playboy of the Western World though the disparity between primal love of brutality and traditional Catholic teaching.
-Carol McBirney