Born, Rathfarnham, County Dublin, Ireland, 1871
Died, Dublin, Ireland, 1909

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 118.

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BIOGRAPHICALLY the most remarkable feature of Synge's career was its brevity. In the six years which elapsed between 1903, when In the Shadow of the Glen was produced, to 1909, when he died, he rose from absolute obscurity to world fame, and provided us with six plays on which his reputation must rest." [1]

Following the completion, or perhaps we should say, the beginning, of his education at Trinity College, Dublin, John Millington Synge set out to see the world. On foot he travelled through Germany, Italy and France, absorbing the very essence of them through the lives, legends and literature of their people. It was in 1899 in a Parisian attic that W.B. Yeats discovered him. With the unselfish insight that is not one of the least of Yeat's claims to distinction, he realized that here was a real genius being wasted on various kinds of literary hackwork. He persuaded Synge to return to Ireland and devote that genius to the themes of Irish life and the needs of the recently initiated Irish theater movement.

For some time after his return Synge spent his time renewing his kinship with Ireland, sensing the life and belief of its peasantry. Especially was he interested in those islands just off the west coast, and his famous one-act play, Riders to the Sea, sums up the essence of the "constant struggle of the islanders against their relentless enemy, the sea." [2] Many critics rate this play as Synge's best in spite of its brevity. Other critics, notably Ernest A. Boyd, in his Contemporary Drama of Ireland, pick The Playboy of the Western World as Synge's masterpiece. If the number of its productions on the Irish stage be the test of greatness, then this latter play certainly stands first among his limited output. As a matter of fact, it is probably to incidents attending the production of this play that Synge owes the world-wide attention focused on him at the time. Riots attended its appearance not only in Dublin but in Philadelphia as well. Its enemies attacked it as immoral while its proponents quite justly pointed out that it wasn't intended as a "problem" play, and that its morals needed no more defense than did those of Cervantes' famous Don Quixote.

The Well of the Saints has likewise been made the subject of controversy on the grounds that it is sacrilegious in intent. In the Shadow of the Glen faced criticism among the moral patriots as a "hideous slander on Irish womanhood." [3] The posthumous production in 1910 of Synge's unfinished Deirdre of the Sorrows emphasized the loss occasioned to the stage by the playwright's early death.

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1,2,3 Ernest A. Boyd in The Contemporary Drama of Ireland

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