John Millington Synge

Plays by John Millington Synge

Deirdre of the Sorrows

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Deirdre of the Sorrows is based on an ancient Irish myth, a story of a beautiful young woman, Deirdre, and her equally handsome lover Naisi, one of three brothers sworn to protect each other - and the young lovers - from Deirdre's betrothed, the ageing king Conchubhor.

Almost finished upon Synge's premature death, and published posthumously after revisions by Synge's fiancée, the actress Mary 'Molly' Algood, and poet and theatre-manager W. B. Yeats, Deirdre of the Sorrows is a vivid reimagining of the Deirdre myth, complete with Synge's distinctive lyric style.

In the Shadow of the Glen

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Dan Burke, it seems, is dead, his body lying on his bed beneath a sheet. His young wife Nora has taken in a Tramp into the house, a man seeking refuge from the cruel weather of the valley in which she lives. They pass pleasantries until Nora's intended arrives, a neighbouring shepherd named Michael Dara, with whom Nora schemes a fresh union even while her husband's body is not yet cold.

The comic surprise that follows is a magnificent coup de theâtre: that it is followed by a denouement as unexpected as any the Irish theatre had seen speaks volumes to Synge's sophistication as a playwright and master of his craft.

First performed in Molesworth Hall, Dublin, in 1903, In the Shadow of the Glen was the first play by Synge to be presented professionally, and, in its one act structure, contains the germ of all of the great playwright's oeuvre: comedy, macabre, rural isolation and the motivating power of lyrical speech.

audio The Playboy of the Western World

LA Theatre Works
Type: Audio

Orson Bean and Alley Mills star in the story of a man who becomes the town hero after he boasts of murdering his father. Riots greeted the first performance of this 1907 comic masterpiece of the Irish Literary Renaissance.

An L.A. Theatre Works full-cast performance featuring Orson Bean, Robert Evan Collins, Alexander Enberg, Jacqueline Heinze, Stuart W. Howard, Dennis Madden, Seth Margolies, Alley Mills, Carolyn Palmer and Sarah Moyo Tracey.

Featuring: Orson Bean, Robert Evan Collins, Alexander Enberg, Jacqueline Heinze, Stuart W. Howard, Dennis Madden, Seth Margolies, Alley Mills, Carolyn Palmer, Sarah Moyo Tracey

The Playboy of the Western World

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

J. M. Synge’s tale of storytelling and strange idolisation is a humorous satire on Irish peasant life, a mock-heroic in lyrical leaping poetic prose.

When the young Christy Mahon stumbles into a tavern on the coast of Mayo, claiming to have killed his father, the excitement-starved villagers hail him as a hero instead of contacting the authorities. The barmaid and publican’s daughter Pegeen Mike falls in love with his glamour, to the dismay of her betrothed, who tries to set the stranger up with a predatory widow. But the dashing, silver-tongued hero is not all he seems, as a second stranger turns up to refute the story and the ‘playboy’s allure.

Synge created a huge scandal at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where the play was first staged in 1907, because its audience did not take kindly to a comedy that seemed to portray the Irish as gullible, superstitious and violent, not to mention references to Irish womanhood that were construed as immodest. Today, The Playboy of the Western World is recognised as a finely balanced and blackly-humorous mix of Irish folklore and social observation.

Riders to the Sea

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Maurya's son Michael has been swept out to the sea, the latest of the men in her household to die. While they wait for his body to wash ashore, the last remaining man in the house, Bartley, decides to take a boat to the mainland for the Connemara horse fair. But Maurya's premonition of the ghost of Michael following Bartley out to sea proves ominous, leaving Maurya and her daughters alone.

First performed in 1904, Synge's one-act play Riders to the Sea carries with it the weight of a culture in thrall to the ocean around it, in a style reminiscent of ancient Greek tragedy,at once unmistakably local and inescapably epic.

The Tinker's Wedding

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Sarah Casey, an Irish traveller woman, has for years been going the roads with Michael Byrne, a casual tinsmith; now she would like to get married. She has saved up just enough money to pay the priest to marry them; half a sovereign plus the tin can Michael has made is to be the fee for the ceremony. But the tin can is too much of a temptation for Michael's mother Mary, who sees in it a quick sale that would give her ample money for alcohol, leaving Sarah unable to pay the unsympathetic pastor for the wedding, and the respectability, she so craves.

A broad comedy with elements of social truth, The Tinkers' Wedding was refused production in the Abbey Theatre, instead premiering at His Majesty’s Theatre London, 11 November, 1909, after Synge had passed away.

The Well of the Saints

Bloomsbury Publishing
Type: Text

Martin and Mary Doul are blind and homeless tramps. They beg for a living in a village where the locals have taken a perverse pleasure in making the poor unfortunate couple believe that they are the most beautiful, radiant couple that ever walked the earth.

Of course, this is visibly not the case, as they soon discover, when a saint blesses their eyes with water from a holy well, miraculously restoring the blind couple's sight. This new vista gives a terrible insight into their condition, and the cruel face of the world, driving a wedge in their marriage even as their restored sight once again begins to fade.

Synge's dark comedy was first performed in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, in 1905.

Picture of John Millington Synge

John Millington Synge (1871-1909) is widely regarded as the greatest ever Irish dramatist. Born in Dublin in 1871, he trained first as a musician and composer, but after a meeting with W. B. Yeats in Paris, came to focus on literature, giving voice for the first time to those communities on the West Coast of Ireland.

Capturing their dialect and energising their stories, the lives of the people of Connemara, and the Aran Islands were brought to life through his six great plays: In The Shadow of the Glen (1903), Riders to the Sea (1904), The Well of the Saints (1905), The Playboy of the Western World (1907), The Tinkers' Wedding (1908), and his unfinished mythological drama Deirdre of the Sorrows (performed posthumously in 1910); as well as his travel journal of his time off the coast of Ireland entitled simply The Aran Islands (1907).

A strong advocate and contributor to the nascent Abbey Theatre, Synge, along with Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats, was its leading light. His premature death from Hodgkin's disease left the Irish theatre bereft of its first great genius.