The Playboy of the Western World, produced first in 1907, is a three-act play. It is as fantastically humorous as the Riders to the Sea is tragical. Dread of his father ties this peasant to his stupid toil. A fearful deed frees the youth and throws him into the company of the lovely maiden, Pegeen, and admiring friends. The latent poetry and wild joy of living awake in him, and, under the spur of praise, he performs great feats. He who had never before dared to face girls, makes such love to Pegeen that poesy itself seems to be talking. The Playboy is one of the wildest conceptions of character in modern drama. His very extravagance compels interest. Pegeen is a fitting sweetheart for him. Her father is a stalwart figure, possessing a shrewd philosophy and rare strength of speech, as “fully flavored as nut or apple.” Some critics object to such a boisterous play, but they should remember that it is intended to be an extravagant peasant fantasia.
Deirdre of the Sorrows, another three-act play, produced first in 1910, tells the story of the beautiful princess Deirdre, of her isolated young life, and her seven years of perfect union with her lover Naisi. When her lover is slain, this true and tender queen of the North loosens the knot of life to accompany him.
Synge belongs in the first rank of modern dramatists. The forty Irish characters that he has created reveal the basal elements of universal human nature. His purpose is like Shakespeare’s,—to reveal throbbing life, not to talk in his own person, nor to discuss problems. Synge has dramatized the primal hope, fear, sorrow, and loneliness of life. Although his plays are written in prose and have the distinctive flavor of his lowly characters, yet a recent critic justly says that Synge “for the first time sets English dramatic prose to a rhythm as noble as the rhythms of blank verse.”
The twentieth century shows two main lines of development,—the realistic and the romantic. The two leading essayists of the period, A.C. Benson and G.K. Chesterton, are both idealists and champions of religious faith.
Among the novelists, Conrad tells impressive stories of distant seas and shores; Bennett’s strongest fiction gives realistic pictures of life in English industrial towns; Galsworthy’s novels present the problems that affect the upper class of Englishmen; Wells writes scientific romances and sociological novels.
Some of the best poetry, full of the fascination of a dreamy far-off world, has been written by the Celtic poets, Yeats, Russell, and Fiona Macleod. Masefield and Gibson have produced much realistic verse about the life of the common toiler. Noyes has written Drake, a romantic epic, and a large amount of graceful lyrical verse, in some of which there is much poetic beauty.