The Playboy of the Western World

Definition

Theater

  • J. M. Synge's comic masterpiece, which provoked someof the worst riots in theatrical history when first performed in 1907at Dublin's Abbey Theatre. The main action begins with ChristyMahon's arrival at a pub in a wild part of Mayo, where his story ofslaying his bullying father makes him a hero amongst the local women.Later, Christy's father appears with a fractured skull and berateshis son so furiously that Christy attacks him again. Believing theman dead, the villagers try to hang Christy, but his father recoversonce more and the two indignantly leave the pub together.

    Trouble began on the first night of the Abbey production andcontinued throughout the run. The audience hissed and stamped theirfeet, sang patriotic songs, and shouted "Kill the author!"There were fights and demonstrations at every performance until 500police "thick as blackberries in September" were broughtin to maintain order. Those outraged by the play included Irish nationalists,who were upset by the unsentimental portrayal of peasant life, andpious Catholics, who complained about what Sinn Fein called"the foulest language we have ever listened to on a public platform".(The word 'shift', meaning petticoat, caused particular offence.)Others denounced the supposed insult to Irish womanhood, or condemnedthe comic treatment of patricide.

    Yet more protests came from Irish Americans when the playtoured America in 1911 - 12. In New York stink bombs, potatoes,a cigar tin, and an old watch were amongst the objects thrown on stage:the owner of the watch later called at the stage door and asked forits return. In Philadelphia the whole company was arrested for performinga play "likely to corrupt morals". (Hearing this, GeorgeBernard Shaw commented: "All decent people are arrested in theUnited States.")

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