The Playboy of the Western World

The playboy of the western world as a folk play?

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The hero Cú Chulainn occupies a tremendously important place in Irish literature and myth. Dating from the 8th century, the stories of Cú Chulainn feature a tragic twist in which the hero slays his own son, taking him for an intruder. Where Cú Chulainn — alone, without family — possesses extraordinary strength and wisdom, surviving trials and venturing to distant lands, “hero” Christy — previously joined at the hip to his drunken father — is dull and weak-limbed, never having traveled before stumbling upon County Mayo. Cú Chulainn purposefully slays an intruder, learning afterwards the boy is his son. His tragic end comes from strength. Christy strikes haphazardly at his father, contriving afterwards to elevate the act to murder. Not only was his 'heroism' accidental, but it was also cowardly. Cú Chulainn’s grief brings him low; Christy’s lie raises him up. All told, Synge challenges assumptions about morality by inverting a myth that his audience would most certainly have recognized.