Playboy Of The Western World Summary

John Millington Synge

Playboy Of The Western World

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Playboy Of The Western World Summary

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John Millington Synge’s three-act play The Playboy of the Western World had its debut in Dublin in 1907. It takes place in the early years of the twentieth century in the County Mayo area of Ireland. The setting is a pub owned by Michael James Flaherty and has as its central character Christy Mahon. Christy is a young man from a farm who tells the patrons at the pub that he has killed his father. Flaherty’s daughter, Pegeen, a barmaid at the establishment, becomes taken with Christy’s story. The play is known for its use of poetic language and Irish dialects. In a preface to the play, Synge lauds the Irish people for having such a colorful language.

As act I begins, Pegeen is in the pub tending to plans for her pending wedding to Shawn Keogh. Her father is not present as he is attending a wake. When Shawn enters, he talks of an unsettling darkness outside, prompting a nervous Pegeen to ask him to stay with her. He tells her that would not be proper as they are not married yet. Instead, he says he will send Widow Quin to keep her company. He also says that he heard the cries of a man outside. At this point, a drunken Michael Flaherty enters with companions Philly and Jimmy. Michael insists that Shawn remain with his daughter but Michael continues to refuse and exits the scene. In short order, he returns to the pub and says he has seen a face looking up from a ditch where he earlier heard the man’s voice.

The scared Christy Mahon comes into the pub. He wants to warm up by the fire. Shortly he lets it be known that he is fleeing the authorities. He says little else but is eventually pushed to tell his story. Christy tells them that he has killed his father, which rather than shocking the onlookers, seems to impress them, having never before met a man who could commit such an act. Michael offers him a job for the evening staying at the pub so Pegeen does not have to be alone. Michael and his friends then depart for the wake, which they had not made it to earlier. The prospect of Christy staying interests Pegeen, who at that point dismisses Shawn. Pegeen offers Christy multiple compliments. Widow Quin attempts to seduce Christy but Pegeen quickly sends her away. The widow makes certain to let Christy know that Pegeen is engaged to Shawn before she exits. Christy is crestfallen at this news as he has already fallen for Pegeen. Continuing to build on the attraction she feels for him, Pegeen tells Christy that Shawn is a coward whom she would never marry. She goes to bed leaving Christy thinking that had he known he would become so revered, he would have killed his father sooner.

By the next morning, as act II opens, word of Christy has spread through the village and several girls show up wanting to see what the fuss is about. They flirt with him and learn that Widow Quin has arranged for him to participate in a sporting event at the beach later in the day. Over breakfast, Christy elaborates on the murder, how it began as a fight with his father over a proposed marriage, which the father set up for Christy. When his father came at him, Christy killed him with a spade. By that morning, it becomes clear that Pegeen and Christy are in love. Shawn and Widow Quin enter the scene and send Pegeen out to tend to her sheep that have wandered away. Shawn then offers to send Christy to America to get him out of the picture. He refuses and when he exits, Shawn promises riches to the widow if she can somehow come between Christy and Pegeen. The widow agrees, saying she will get Christy to marry her and not Pegeen.

When Christy reenters, he sees through the window what seems to be the spirit of his father “Old Mahon” with bandages around his head. Christy hides and Old Mahon asks the widow if she has seen anyone matching the description of his son. She sends him to the docks, claiming to have seen him preparing to get aboard a boat. Worried that Pegeen will not stay with him if he shows cowardice at the appearance of Old Mahon, Christy turns to the widow for help. She strikes a deal with him for things he will be able to provide when the day comes that he is owner of the pub. Christy is taken to the sports contest, and the widow is confident that the truth will eventually be known, and Pegeen will leave Christy, who will then turn to the widow.

Act III finds Philly and Jimmy entering the desolate pub where Old Mahon arrives and asks the men about his son. When Widow Quin arrives, she tells them that Old Mahon is just a madman seeking attention. As Christy approaches the pub, a conquering hero from the sports competition, the widow convinces Old Mahon that he is seeing things because of his injured head, which leads him to exit to have himself committed to an asylum. Upon returning, Christy proposes to Pegeen and she accepts. Michael and Shawn enter, and Michael insists that Pegeen marry Shawn who should fight Christy for her hand. Shawn refuses, prompting Michael to accept Christy as his daughter’s intended. Old Mahon returns and tells Pegeen the truth about Christy.

Fighting ensues along with an uproar among the surrounding crowd, and ultimately Christy kills his father for real, assumingPegeen will take him back, but she does not. Michael, with Pegeen and Philly’s help, ties up Christy. More fighting takes place. Old Mahon crawls back in and frees Christy, who asks Mahon if he has come to be killed for the third time. Mahon is not concerned with any of the others and orders his son to leave with him. Shawn assumes that Pegeen will now marry him, but she sends him away and, sorrowful over the loss of Christy, says, “Oh, my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”