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Theatre / The Playboy of the Western World

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The Playboy of the Western World is a play by John Millington Synge, first performed in 1907.

The setting is Michael James Flaherty's public house on the west coast of Ireland, over the course of a single night and day. A ragged young man, Christy Mahon, stumbles in out of the night, and, after some prompting, admits that he's on the run after murdering his father. This strikes the locals as a sign of a daring and adventurous young man, and they take him to their hearts, none more so than Flaherty's daughter, Pegeen Mike. Things change, however, when the truth of Christy's tale strikes closer to home.

This play provides examples of:

  • Betty and Veronica: Pegeen Mike is engaged to marry Shawn Keogh, a rather dull and timid local farmer, but she finds the exotic Christy much more interesting.
  • Bittersweet Ending: For Christy, it's mostly sweet. He's blossomed into a confident, adventurous young man, renegotiated his relationship with his father, and looks forward to whatever life will bring him next; he didn't get the girl, but the odds are good he'll find another one when he's ready. For Pegeen Mike, it's mostly bitter. She's right back where she was at the beginning of the play, stuck in her dull provincial life with her dull provincial fiancé, with the added bitterness of knowing that she's blown her one shot at something better.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Christy doesn't get Pegeen Mike in the end.
  • Dirty Coward: When the townsfolk hear that newcomer in town Christy has murdered his father, they treat him like a badass. When it turns out that he was lying and his father arrives in town, Christy attacks his father and apparently kills him for real. But this time, being so close to the event, the townsfolk are scared that they'll be attached to the crime as accomplices, so they immediately turn on Christy and attempt to lynch him.
  • Double Standard: When Christy first stumbles into town claiming that he's just killed his father, everyone around think's that's just the coolest thing and that Christy is a daring and adventurous man. When it turns out his father is still alive, causing the townsfolk to consider Christy a liar and a coward, he proceeds to apparently kill his father in front of them for real this time to regain their respect. However, since they now fear that they'd be accomplices in his father's death, they proceed to attempt to lynch Christy this time.
  • Extremely Short Time Span: The whole thing is over a single night and the following day.
  • The Ghost: Father Reilly. Characters worry about how he will react to events, and relay conversations they've had with him since they last appeared onstage, but he himself is never seen.
  • Giving Them the Strip: Michael James Flaherty attempts to strong-arm his son-in-law-to-be, Shawn Keogh, into a plan that Shawn wants nothing to do with, and Shawn abandons his jacket to get away.
  • Loving a Shadow: Pegeen Mike falls in love with Christy Mahon, despite knowing little about him, because the one thing she thinks she knows inspires her to imagine him as an adventurous, romantic figure, the "playboy" of the title. When it turns out that the one thing isn't true, she turns against him. The irony is that, partly inspired by her interest in him, Christy has blossomed over the course of the play into just such an adventurous, romantic figure as she imagined — but she doesn't realise this until it's too late to get him back.
  • Title Drop: The last line of the play has Pegeen Mike describing Christy as "the only playboy of the Western World".