Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot

By Raymond Williams | Go to book overview

5
J. M. Synge

(i)

SYNGE is undoubtedly the most remarkable English- speaking prose dramatist of the century, in the same way, and for much the same reasons, that the Abbey Theatre is the most remarkable development in the theatrical history of these islands for some three centuries. Certain aspects of his work, as of the Irish dramatic movement as a whole, offer some of the best material we have for a study of the place of drama in the total culture of a modern society. Such a study is outside my scope, but a more direct literary judgment ought to be offered, both for its own sake, and as a necessary groundwork for the larger study. For the insistent question, as one reviews the commonplaces of recent Irish dramatic history--the use of a surprising, organic language akin in process to poetry, and the foundation of event on the living processes of a community which had not suffered the levelling of industrialism--the insistent question is one of value. Initial respect for the sensibility which lies behind and beyond such facts is very natural, but it is nevertheless tempered by doubts which more recent Irish drama in what would seem to be the same tradition have raised, and by a suspicion which one's intuition of the nature of normal response to the surface of Irish drama has reinforced. Towards a resolution of these doubts only a direct literary judgment can adduce evidence. Synge's plays, that is to say, need evaluation as texts, with a temporary suspension of interest in the wider cultural issues, save only those which the texts themselves raise. It seems to me that unless such a discipline is brought to bear on the Irish drama, we are likely to be the victims of a long-played hallucination, of which the ultimate exposure might have serious dramatic consequences.

The body of Synge's dramatic work is small. There are only three full-length plays: The Well of the Saints; The Playboy of the Western World; and Deirdre of the Sorrows; and of these the last is unrevised. The Tinker's Wedding is a middle-length piece;

-154-

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Drama: From Ibsen to Eliot
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Foreword v
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction 11
  • Part I 39
  • I - Henrik Ibsen 41
  • 2 - August Strindberg 98
  • 3 - Anton Chekhov 126
  • 4 - Bernard Shaw 138
  • 5 - J. M. Synge 154
  • 6- Two Social Plays 175
  • 7 - Luigi Pirandello 185
  • 8 - Jean Anouilh: a Comment 196
  • Part II 203
  • I - W. B. Yeats 205
  • 2 - T. S. Eliot 223
  • 3 - Some Verse Dramatists 247
  • 4 - Criticism into Drama 269
  • Index 279
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