J(ohn) M(illington) Synge



  • (1871 - 1909) Irish playwright, whose six produced playsestablished him as a leading figure in the Irish dramatic renaissance.

    Synge studied languages at Trinity College, Dublin and musicat the Royal Irish Academy. Hoping to become a musician, he spentmuch of his youth wandering in Germany, Italy, and France. In 1897he experienced the first symptoms of Hodgkin's disease, from whichhe would die 12 years later at the age of 38.

    In Paris Synge had a crucial meeting with W. B. Yeats,who encouraged him to visit the primitive Aran Islands in search ofmaterial; if he lived amongst the peasantry as one of themselves hewould be able to "express a life that has never found expression".Synge took the advice and spent his summers on the islands from 1898to 1902. The stories he heard in his first week there inspired hisearly one-act plays In the Shadow of the Glen (1903), whicharoused hostility when produced by the Irish Literary Theatre, andthe tragic Riders to the Sea (1904). The distinctive speechrhythms of the Aran Islanders echo through all his works.

    The Well of the Saints (1905) was followed by Synge'scomic masterpiece, The Playboy of the Western World (1907).Its unsentimental depiction of the Irish peasantry provoked riotsand demonstrations amongst nationalists when it was staged at Yeats'sAbbey Theatre. Synge's other major plays are The Tinker'sWedding (1908) and Deirdre of the Sorrows, based on afamous love story from Irish mythology. A seventh play, When theMoon has Set, was rejected three times by Yeats and not publisheduntil 1968.