issue 8 / 2013
Naturalist Aesthetics in John Millington Synge’s Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World Gabriel Sunday Bamgbose Abstract: Efforts have always been made by literary scholars and critics to read the aesthetics of John Millington Synge‟s drama. However, little attention has been paid to the naturalistic dimension of Synge‟s plays. This study, therefore, investigates the naturalist aesthetics in Synge‟s dramaturgy. This is in an attempt to show that individuals‟ attitudes in certain contexts are conditioned by the forces of the environment they inhabit. The study adopts the naturalist dramatic theory in order to account for the intricate connection between human beings and nature. Also the study engages aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis to unveil the psychological implications of the actions and reactions of the individuals in Synge‟s plays. For the purpose of critical analysis, two of Synge‟s plays are selected – Riders to the Sea and The Playboy of the Western World. The study maintains that Synge‟s dramaturgy is influenced, in fact enriched by his close study of the Irish peasantry in the Aran Island. Both texts selected for this study reveal that Synge recreates and records the contemporary life of the Islanders in a journalist and objective style. The people‟s struggle for life in their Darwinian environment is captured in different dramatic forms. While Riders to the Sea presents a tragic vision of life, The Playboy of the Western World perfectly blends the comic with the tragic to present a farcical vision of life. Life in both texts is represented in journey motif. The journey of life in the closed system of the Island presented in Riders to the Sea often results in death and loss, and the journey of life in The Playboy of the Western World is coloured by disappointment, loss, rage, violence, boredom, and failure. The pessimistic and bleak realities of the people‟s life, in no small measure, affect their psyche and dictate their deeds. This signifies that there is a symbiotic relationship between person and place. Synge‟s dramaturgy is a stage where art and life in its wild realities co-exist. It is a justifiable fact that such a co-existence maintains a contractual relationship. While the 1
Irish life feeds Synge‟s dramatic imagination, he gives back to that life by aiming to reform it through his satiric representations. Keywords: Naturalist, Dramaturgy, Journey motif, Environment, Psyche Introduction John Millington Synge is one of the greatest Irish dramatists, whose work captures the contemporary life of Ireland. Synge makes significant contributions to the development of modern Irish drama. Synge surfaces on the scene of the Abbey Theatre established by Synge William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory for the development of Irish national drama “at a time when dramatic reservoir of the Abbey was depleting fast and there was lack of plays which could appeal to the audience‟s ethos immediately” (Asghar Ali Ansari, 2012:68). The plays of Synge, Ansari claims, represent the contemporary ethos of Ireland (68). According to David Hlavsa (1990:1): No playwright in Ireland had the powers of observation or recorded the life of the peasantry with as much delight and objectivity as John Millington Synge…. [He] was the premier dramatist of the Irish literary Renaissance and an important figure in the development of the naturalist theatre. Synge‟s fascination with the objective details of the life of the peasants in the Aran Island shapes the direction of his plays. There is an intricate tie between Synge‟s plays and “the folk-imagination” of “the Irish peasantry” (Synge, 1907:174). Synge acknowledges “the folk imagination” in his preface to The Playboy of the Western World. He submits that: In writing “The Playboy of the Western World”, as in my other plays, I have used one or two words only that I have not heard 2
among the country people of Ireland or spoken in my own...
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