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Riders to the Sea


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A: J. M. Synge Pf: 1904, Dublin Pb: 1905 G: Trag. in 1 act S: Cottage on an island off the west of Ireland, 1900s C: 1m, 3f, extrasNora brings her sister a bundle of clothes taken off a drowned man in Donegal, and they wonder whether they belong to their brother Michael missing at sea. They hide the bundle from their mother Maurya. Maurya is suffering a terrible premonition and begs her youngest son Bartley not to cross the sea in a storm to a horse fair on the mainland. Alone again, the sisters unwrap the bundle and find that Michael, like his father, grandfather, and four brothers before him, has been taken by the sea. Maurya has had a vision of eight riders to the sea, all her men including Bartley, heading to their deaths. Her last son Bartley is carried in. He was thrown from his horse and drowned in the waves. The women begin their keening, while Maurya reflects that the sea can now harm her no more.

A: J. M. Synge Pf: 1904, Dublin Pb: 1905 G: Trag. in 1 act S: Cottage on an island off the west of Ireland, 1900s C: 1m, 3f, extras

Arguably the most powerful one-act play in English, Riders to the Sea was based on Synge's experiences on the Aran Islands, which he visited several times 1898–1902. Tragedy is created from the simplest means. Fate is seen in the power of the sea, which provides the islanders with their livelihood but easily destroys them, and as with all true tragedy, there is a sense of release and resolution in Maurya's final recognition that, despite her terrible losses, she is now free from the terror she has had to endure. Brecht adapted the same theme in the setting of the Spanish Civil War in The Rifles of Señora Carrar (1937).


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John Millington Synge (1871—1909) playwright