The Playboy Riots

Historical Context Essay

George Cusack (University of Oklahoma)
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It is often difficult for twenty-first century readers to understand why John Millington Synge’s masterpiece,

The Playboy of the Western World

, was so controversial. The play may seem surprisingly violent or even a bit crass in places, but it hardly reads as “an unmitigated, protracted libel against Irish peasant men and, worse still, upon Irish peasant girlhood,” as the nationalist paper

The Freeman’s Journal

suggested it was. Nonetheless, the fact remains that when the Irish National Theatre unveiled


for the first time on January 26, 1907, it sparked one of the most famous theatrical controversies in modern history.

Forewarnings of the events to come appeared well before the play itself. Three years earlier, Synge’s one-act play, The Shadow of the Glen, had drawn the

1246 words

Citation: Cusack, George. "The Playboy Riots". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 26 November 2004 [, accessed 26 May 2024.]

1515 The Playboy Riots 2 Historical context notes are intended to give basic and preliminary information on a topic. In some cases they will be expanded into longer entries as the Literary Encyclopedia evolves.

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