edited by Nick Worrall
J. M. Synge’s tale of storytelling and strange idolisation is a humorous satire on Irish peasant life, a mock-heroic in lyrical leaping poetic prose.
When the young Christy Mahon stumbles into a tavern on the coast of Mayo, claiming to have killed his father, the excitement-starved villagers hail him as a hero instead of contacting the authorities. The barmaid and publican’s daughter Pegeen Mike falls in love with his glamour, to the dismay of her betrothed, who tries to set the stranger up with a predatory widow. But the dashing, silver-tongued hero is not all he seems, as a second stranger turns up to refute the story and the ‘playboy’s allure.
Synge created a huge scandal at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin where the play was first staged in 1907, because its audience did not take kindly to a comedy that seemed to portray the Irish as gullible, superstitious and violent, not to mention references to Irish womanhood that were construed as immodest. Today, The Playboy of the Western World is recognised as a finely balanced and blackly-humorous mix of Irish folklore and social observation.