J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

J.M. Synge’s one act play, “Riders to the Sea,” is considered by many to be the best one act tragedy written in the English language. I know it’s one of my favorite plays for many reasons, but I’m curious why you might think it is considered one of if not the best.

If you’re not familiar with the play, or want to reread it, here’s a link. I strongly recommend reading it aloud; it will only take about 15-20 minutes. Relax and picture the scenes in your mind; you might even look on-line and find images of Galway and the Aran Islands to put you in the mood. Here’s a link about an article which discuses the native language of Ireland: LA Times: Speaking of Riders to the Sea…

Warning: Have plenty of tissue nearby when you read this play.

J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

While you’re reading the play, consider:

1. who was J. M. Synge?
2. where and when has the play been performed?
3. symbols: the colors white and red
4. the symbol of water
5. the passing on of various articles—examples and meaning
6. allusions to fate/who were the 3 fates?
7. allusions to religion and the Bible, especially Revelations
8. when does the play take place and why is this important?
9. the comment of the priest
10. define tragedy—Aristotle’s and contemporary (what’s comedy?)
11. the role of the supernatural
12. pagan beliefs, in particular with relevance to the cake
13. keening and other unknown words and acts
14. the setting in the Aran Islands (Ireland)
15. historical context within which the play takes place
16. what and when was the Irish Literary Revival and who was involved?
17. refer to handout with questions to consider when reading drama

(For my English 1B students, in your reading response, do some research in order to answer and discuss one or more of these questions.)

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One thought on “J.M. Synge’s One Act Tragedy “Riders to the Sea”

  1. For my VC English 1B students, I will give you the questions to consider when reading drama tomorrow. Have fun! I’m looking forward to hearing your answers tomorrow!

    PS volunteers to read? I’ll do Maura…who will do Nora? Cathleen? Bartley? or the old men and women with single lines?

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