Synge, John Millington

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Synge, John Millington

(sĭng), 1871–1909, Irish poet and dramatist, b. near Dublin, of Protestant parents. He was an important figure in the Irish literary renaissanceIrish literary renaissance,
late 19th- and early 20th-century movement that aimed at reviving ancient Irish folklore, legends, and traditions in new literary works. The movement, also called the Celtic renaissance, was in part the cultural aspect of a political movement that was
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. As a young man he studied music in Germany and later lived in Paris, where he wrote literary criticism. In Paris he met his compatriot W. B. YeatsYeats, W. B.
(William Butler Yeats), 1865–1939, Irish poet and playwright, b. Dublin. The greatest lyric poet Ireland has produced and one of the major figures of 20th-century literature, Yeats was the acknowledged leader of the Irish literary renaissance.
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, who persuaded Synge to live for a while in the Aran IslandsAran Islands
, 18 sq mi (47 sq km), Co. Galway, W Republic of Ireland, in Galway Bay. The three islands are Inishmore (the largest), Inisheer, and Inishmaan. The islands are barren; farming and fishing prevail economically, and the knitting of woolen sweaters is an important
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 and then return to Dublin and devote himself to creative work. All of Synge's plays reflect his experiences in the Aran Islands. Intense and poetic in style, his works depict the bleak and tragic lives of Irish peasants and fisherfolk. His first two one-act plays—In the Shadow of the Glen (1903), a comedy, and Riders to the Sea (1904), a tragedy—were presented by the Irish National Theatre Society. In 1904 this group, with Synge, Yeats, and Lady Augusta GregoryGregory, Lady Augusta
(Isabella Augusta Persse), 1859–1932, Irish dramatist. Though she did not begin her writing career until middle-age, Lady Gregory soon became a vital force in the Irish drama.
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 as codirectors, organized the famous Abbey TheatreAbbey Theatre,
Irish theatrical company devoted primarily to indigenous drama. W. B. Yeats was a leader in founding (1902) the Irish National Theatre Society with Lady Gregory, J. M. Synge, and A. E. (George Russell) contributing their talents as directors and dramatists.
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. Two of Synge's comedies, The Well of the Saints (1905) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907), were presented by the Abbey players. The latter play created a furor of resentment among Irish patriots stung by Synge's spoof of heroic ideals and nationalism. His later works were The Tinker's Wedding, published in 1908 but not produced for fear of further riots, and Deirdre of the Sorrows, a tragedy unfinished at the time of his death but presented by the Abbey players in 1910. The Aran Islands (1907) is Synge's journal of his stay on the islands.


See biographies by D. H. Greene and E. M. Stephens (1959) and D. Gerstenberger (1964); studies by D. Corkery (1931, repr. 1965), M. Bourgeois (1913, repr. 1969), W. B. Yeats (1911, repr. 1971), R. Skelton (1971), and M. C. King (1985).

Synge, John Millington


Born Apr. 16, 1871, at Rath-farnham, near Dublin; died Mar. 24, 1909, in Dublin. Irish playwright.

Synge was educated at Trinity College in Dublin and in Paris. In his first play, In the Shadow of the Glen (1903), he attacked the power of money and advocated higher morality. His one-act drama Riders to the Sea (1904) depicts nature as a tragic force for fishermen doomed to perish at sea. Synge’s plays, which had been influenced by French and Belgian symbolism, then became predominantly realistic, as seen in The Well of the Saints (1905) and The Playboy of the Western World (1907; Russian translation by K. Chukovskii under the title The Hero, 1923), which depict the ignorance and cruelty of the Irish village.

Synge’s book of sketches The Aran Islands (1907) describes the life of Irish fishermen, whose tales were the source of most of Synge’s plays. The play The Tinker’s Wedding (1907) is anticlerical, and the play Deirdre of the Sorrows (1910, unfinished) is permeated with tragic motifs. Synge championed the aesthetic principles of realistic drama.


Collected Works, vols. 1–4. London, 1962–68.
In Russian translation:
Dramy. [Foreword by Iu. Kovalev.] Leningrad-Moscow, 1964.


Kamyshev, V. S. “Esteticheskie vzgliady Dzh. M. Singa.” In the collection Esteticheskiepozitsii i tvorcheskii metodpisatelia. Moscow, 1973.
Kamyshev, V. S. “Dzh. M. Sing v bor’be za novuiu irlandskuiu dramu.” In the collection Problemy zarubezhnoi literatury XIX-XX vv. Moscow, 1974.
Greene, D. H., and E. M. Stephens. J. M. Synge, 1871–1909. New York, 1959.
Gerstenberger, D. John Millington Synge. New York, 1965.
J. M. Synge Centenary Papers, 1971. [Dublin, 1972.]
Levitt, P. M. J. M. Synge: A Bibliography of Published Criticism. Dublin [1974].