The Playboy of the Western World

An Exploration of Symbolism in the Works of J.M. Synge and W.B. Yeats: Perspectives Across Theater and Verse College

Writing from the late 1880s to the dawn of modern Ireland in the first two decades of the 20th century, Yeats and Synge penned their works during a period of national liminality; or what critic Seamus Deane refers to as “the long process of its [Ireland’s] transformation from a British colony into a modern, independent state”[i]. The literature of both writers is reflective of this transitional context, and is exhibited in how they draw from past tradition to forge a distinct literary identity. This can be explored in their use of symbolism, as both rely on myth and folklore – often Irish in origin – to portray a country in the process of reclaiming its own voice and autonomy. Nevertheless, what brand of nationalism this technique is used for is occluded by the contradictory nature of their works, not in the least because Synge’s depiction of Irish peasantry in his plays were seen by nationalist groups to perpetuate stereotypes, and Yeats in his poems appears to prioritise the flourishing of the arts above that of the good of the masses. Moreover, the way in which they deploy shared symbols differs; the former uses his linguistic knowledge of Irish – a skill Yeats never mastered - in attempt to fuse together Gaelic tradition...

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