John Millington Synge's Playboy of the Western World - 1907
January 26, 1907 marked the first production of JM Synge's controversial play. At the famous Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the play went on thru protest and rioting. The language was so strong and obscene and suggestive at times that the relatively conservative crowd was shocked. On top of that, the way in which Irish peasants were portrayed turned the crowd violent and there was a riot in and outside the theatre following the play. Synge said later that he only meant the play to be "a comedy, an extravaganza, made to amuse. I never bother worrying whether my plots are typically Irish or not; but my methods are typical."
William Fay, playing the lead character in the work, said the audience became "a veritable mob of howling devils" at the very mention of a petticoat
Sinn Fein founder, Arthur Griffith, detested the play's "foulest language", saying that it was "a tribute to the good taste and common sense of the audience". By Monday, the crowd that showed up to see the play were primed to explode before the curtain opened. WB Yeats and Lady Gregory pleaded with the crowd to stop their boo-ing and screaming, but they continued, yelling "Kill the writer" and other such violent phrases.
WB Yeats later recollected that second performance of the play: 'On the second performance of The Playboy of the Western World, about forty men who sat in the middle of the pit succeeded in making the play entirely inaudible. Some of them brought tin trumpets, and the noise began immediately upon the rise of the curtain. For days articles in the Press called for the withdrawal of the play, but we played for the seven nights we had announced; and before the week's end opinion had turned in our favour. There were, however, nightly disturbances and a good deal of rioting in the surrounding streets. On the last night of the play there were, I believe, five hundred police keeping order in the theatre and in its neighbourhood.'
The play was a bleak, though fairly accurate, representation of the Irish peasant. Many screamed that the play was indecent and guilty of promoting negative stereotypes of the general Irish population. Now it is viewed as a great cultural work of Irish literature.
On Those That Hated "The Playboy of the Western World"
by WB Yeats
Once, when midnight smote the air,
Eunuchs ran through
Hell and met
On every crowded street to stare
Upon great Juan riding by:
Even like these to rail and sweat
Staring upon his sinewy thigh.