British and Irish Literature John Millington Synge
Soudabeh Ananisarab
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0125


John Millington Synge (b. 1871–d. 1909) was an Irish playwright, poet, and prose writer. While his life was short-lived and he died at the age of thirty-eight following a life-long battle with ill health, Synge’s influence on both Irish theater and the international theatrical landscape is undeniable. Synge was a key figure in the development of the Abbey Theatre alongside his contemporaries W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory. He provided Ireland’s newly established national theater with some of its most controversial and well-known plays; plays that set the tone for a large part of the theater’s repertoire that followed. The controversy surrounding the early productions of In the Shadow of the Glen and The Playboy of the Western World are a reoccurring subject of investigation for theater historians as Synge’s plays and their initial reception are used to probe a variety of issues regarding the complex play of national identity politics in early-20th-century Ireland. Furthermore, Synge possesses a lasting and valuable legacy through his influence on future writers; Samuel Beckett identified Synge as an influence on his work while Mustapha Matura’s The Playboy of the West Indies, as the title suggests, is directly inspired by Synge’s writing. It is the combination of these qualities of Synge’s oeuvre that have led to a wide range of academic scholarship into his work that extends from textual and performance analysis of his drama, prose, and poetry to studies into his relationship with the wider cultural and social debates of his time and beyond.

General Overviews and Critical Studies

A number of overviews and critical studies, in the form of both monographs and collected essays, offer useful introductions into Synge’s life and work. While these studies usually consider the whole of Synge’s oeuvre, commenting on his plays, prose, poetry, and even, at times, photography, their main emphasis is usually on Synge’s drama, which is then used to explore a range of issues, such as the wider contexts in which he was writing and his enduring legacies.

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