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Fathers and Sons in The Playboy of the Western World

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Fathers and Sons in The Playboy of the Western World 4

Fathers and Sons in The Playboy of the Western World

Although the hostile reception in 1907 of Playboy has been attributed to Synge's slanderous portrayal of the Irish and the subversive implications of that portrayal--namely, that the Irish were unfit for self-rule--the most radical implication of all has escaped scholarly comment: the anti-patriarchal message found in the play's structure.

When, for example, Declan Kiberd in Inventing Ireland argues that "Father Reilly is so peripheral a figure to these fundamentally pagan people [the Mayoites] that Synge does not allow him to appear on the stage at all," he misses the significance of the priest's off-stage portrayal.

Admittedly, to this day, people cannot agree on the play's meaning. Like all great literature, Playboy lends itself to a number of readings: as a traditional comedy, in which a parent tries to obstruct the union of two would-be lovers; as a spoof of traditional comedy, in which the suitor rejects the woman and goes off with his father; as a stage demonstration of the Irish proverb "praise a lad and he'll prosper," in which the hero's propensity for poetry corresponds to his growth in self-esteem; as a biographical play, in which the poet repeatedly speaks of loss and loneliness, feelings that express Synge's own unhappy love affair with a young actress (Molly Allgood); as a reversal of gender roles, in which the men are feminized and t...

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