Playboy of the Western World

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The plot of "The Playboy" has its origin in a story Synge heard about a man who did kill his father with a spade and, helped by the people of Inishmaan, escaped to America. Synge was taken by this story; from his own research in the West of Ireland, the part of the country that still retained the most of the old Gaelic culture, he was able to incorporate some sense of the loneliness of life there, along with the rebellious temperament of their people. If they were willing to shelter a murderer from the law, remember that for them "the law" was enforced by a conquering nation! They did not have complete respect for the British police. But of course, they also didn't have a realistic political alternative. The suggestions of alcoholism in the play, together with the combination of fear and disrespect with which "Father Reilley" seems to be treated, are all fairly taken from life. This may be part of what the original audiences didn't want to see--"the rage of Caliban seeing his own face in a glass," as Wilde would say. (When I was in Ireland, someone told me that they have three religions: Catholicism, alcoholism, and AA!) But before we are quick to judge these people, it's important to understand the tremendous weight of history that they were up against. I wish the video had been available. Note that this play can be acted in very different ways--the peasant culture can be made to look more or less wild and crazy, more or less stylized and serious. Look for it sometime when you're not in Charlottesville.
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