John Millington Synge (1871-1909)
The Irish playwright who described th myth, character and simple life of the Aran Islands blending and colloquial realism.
Although Synge's works were actually written and produced in the Edwardian era, he is included in this because of his section of his connection with the Irish Abbey Theatre, of which he is one of the most remarkable representatives, and because of the influence his plays had on 20th-century drama.
John Millington Synge was born in 1871 at Rathfarnham, near Dublin, into an Anglo-Irish middle class family English by descent and Protestant in religion. His father being quite poor, Synge studied at home in an atmosphere permeated by extreme Evangelicalism which eventually exasperated him.
When he was fourteen, he happened to read Darwin, whose theories gradually turned him away from his faith in Christianity, causing a permanent rift between him and his family and isolating him from his own background. In 1888 he went to Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied music, graduated in 1892 and began to develop a deeping interest in all that was Irish.
In 1893 he went to Germany to study music and, in 1894, to Paris. It was in Paris that Synge met Yeats in 1896.
This meeting was of great importance fro him, since Yeats advised him to return to his own Irish roots. "Give up Paris - he said Go to the Aran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves, express a life that has never found expression". It was only in the summer of 1898, however, that Synge responding to Yeat's advice made the first of five long visits to the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway. The time he spent there provided the inspiration for his subsequent works. Yeats also tried to involve him in the cause of Irish nationalism, but Synge was only slightly interested in politics; much more in the theater. His first plays were presented by the Irish National Theater Society in 1903 and 1904. In 1907 his Playboy of the Western World was first produced at the Abbey Theater in Dublin, causing riots among Irish patriots in Dublin and demonstrations by Irish Americans when it was performed in the United States in 1911. Synge's realism, in fact, his eccentric characters and his parody of Irish attitudes were in conflict with the lofty ideals of the nationalists, who wanted the theater to convey a higher and nobler image of Ireland.
While writing The Playboy of the Western World, Synge had fallen in love with a 19-year old actress, Molly Allgood, a girl quite remote from him in age, cultural background and education. This love also inspired his last play, Deirdre of the Sorrows, written while his health was deteriorating. He died in fact in Dublin in March 1909, leaving the play unfinished. It was eventually edited by Lady Gregory, Yeats and Molly and performed in January 1910, played and directed by Molly herself.