Places: Riders to the Sea

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1903

First produced: 1904

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Tragedy

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedCottage

Cottage. Riders to the SeaIsland home within sight of the sea that is the home of the play’s main characters. The play’s entire action takes place in a single room that serves as a kitchen, workroom, and storage area. The room is sparsely furnished; its most essential features are its fireplace, a spinning wheel, and its front door. The fireplace provides immediate evidence of the simplicity of the family’s existence; it serves both as a cooking oven and as the cottage’s sole source of heat. The fireplace’s fuel is turf, which is stored in a loft beside the fireplace. The primitiveness of these arrangements is crude, even by the standards of the late nineteenth century, when turf-burning ovens were found only in places of extreme isolation and poverty.

The room’s spinning wheel is clearly not decorative since Cathleen begins working at it immediately. The fact that some pieces of clothing are handmade is important in the identification of Michael’s belongings. John Millington Synge makes strong use of the door, through which each drowned member of the house has come, with seawater dripping a trail to the door.

*Aran Islands

*Aran Islands. Group of small islands off the west coast of Ireland, near the entrance to Galway Bay, on one of whose islands the cottage stands. Exposed to the full fury of the open North Atlantic Ocean, the waters around these islands are extremely dangerous, and the constantly changing weather is unpredictable. The play emphasizes the danger of life on the sea with references to the numbers of men who have drowned in it–including five members of the family. However, sea travel is also essential to the family’s survival–a fact made clear by repeated references to Galway and Connemara on the mainland. Aside from items brought by traveling salesmen, everything the family cannot make must come across the sea.

BibliographyGerstenberger, Donna. John Millington Synge. New York: Twayne, 1964. Excellent basic reference book on Synge with one chapter devoted to Riders to the Sea. Points out that Riders to the Sea was the only one of Synge’s plays that did not occasion angry outbursts from Irish audiences. Discusses imagery and symbolic use of color. Selected bibliography.Grene, Nicholas. Synge: A Critical Study of the Plays. New York: Macmillan, 1975. Discusses Synge’s Aran experience. Extensive discussion of Riders to the Sea and how it differs from Synge’s other plays. Praises the economy of the play and delineates way in which props such as the spinning wheel, the bread, the bundle, the boards, and other objects are used for dramatic effect. Cautions against overemphasizing comparisons to classical tragedy and argues for authenticity and originality of the play.Skelton, Robin. J. M. Synge. Cranbury, N.J.: Bucknell University Press, 1972. A summary of Synge’s background and analysis of the plays, including Riders to the Sea. Chronology and bibliography.Skelton, Robin. The Writings of J. M. Synge. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1971. Chapter on Riders to the Sea discusses folklore and mythology referred to in the play.Thornton, Weldon. J. M. Synge and the Western Mind. Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, England: Colin Smythe, 1979. Compares views of a wide variety of critics and scholars on Synge. Excellent introduction to what has been written about Synge’s work.
Categories: Places