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  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

6 - J. M. Synge, ‘national’ drama and the post-Protestant imagination

Summary

Fogarty: ‘Do you mean to say all art is national? That is an awful queer thing for you to say.’

(Synge, National Drama: A Farce, Collected Works, III, 225)

In his biography of J. M. Synge, W. J. McCormack contends that we still view the dramatist 'through a mythology broadcast through Yeats's autobiographies and poems'. This mytho-historiography inserted Synge into the Irish Literary Revival as Celtic Ireland's defence against the filthy modern tide. His 'life' became a variant of Matthew Arnold's artistic Celt, enlisted to serve an Ascendancy motivated by cultural noblesse oblige, facilitating interpretation of the plays as peasant drama conceived by Yeats and delivered through sojourns in the primitive west. This chapter interrogates such authorized versions, tracing certain homologous relationships between the almost always repressed life and the plays. Synge's sensitivity to language as action, to the mediated relationship between gallous story and dirty deed, makes him 'in a way one of the most modern of the moderns'.

In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech Yeats constructed his account of Ireland’s national theatre movement. He and unnamed friends sought a place to perform ‘Irish plays with Irish players’, because Dublin theatres were ‘hired by English companies’.

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The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Irish Drama
  • Online ISBN: 9780511999567
  • Book DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL0521804000
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