Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Is 'The Playboy of the Western World' a farce or a comedy?

Farcical element in The Playboy of the Western World

The Playboy of the Western World is a comedy rich in farcical elements. In fact the play is a boisterous comedy which keeps us amused and laughing throughout. The comic elements, many of which are coarse and crude, are so abundant in the play that sometimes it seems that the play is more a farce than a comedy. Moreover, like a comedy the play does not end with the ringing of the marriage bells. The play may also seem to have no definite purpose or aim. For these reasons, I think it would not be a crime if we term The Playboy of the Western World as a farce. 

In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims to entertain the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include sexual innuendo and word play. Farce is also characterized by physical humor, the use of deliberate absurdity or nonsense, and broadly stylized performances. In dramatizing Playboy of the Western World Synge does not disdain the effects of farce on the sage, the primitive appeal to eye and ear, which transcends nationality and education. Indeed it is likely that his close acquaintance with the plays of Shakespeare and Moliere encouraged him to include so many farcical scenes in his own comedies. 

There seems to be a steady increase in the number of farcical scenes as the play progresses. The humour of situations in this play is often farcical.

There are two ludicrous scenes in the first act: The first situation is when Shawn trying to escape from the clutches of Michael in order to avoid sleeping at the shebeen for the night, manages to run away, he leaves his coat behind in Michael’s hand. He is so terrified of having to spend the night alone with Pegeen, an unmarried girl, that he has to make a run from shebeen in order to avoid being forced to stay by Michael. There are undertones of subtler comedy on each occasion. 

Another situation is Pegeen and Widow Quin each pulling Christy in her own direction because of their rivalry over the young man. We have known of two men fighting over a woman but here we have a farcical situation because here two women fight over a man and each pulls him toward herself. It is an indignified physical situation which immediate appeal is primitive and visual.

In Act 2 there are more such scenes. Christy hiding a mirror behind his back when the village girls come to see him, constitutes a funny sight for the audience while this situation becomes even more comic when one of the girls says that Christy is so vain that he even wants to look at the reflection of his back side in the mirror, adding that probably men who murder their fathers become conceited. 

Sara putting on Christy’s boots is funny too. Then we feel amused to find Philly who is already semi-drunk searching for more liquor and, on finding all the cupboards in the shebeen locked, cursing Peggen as the devil’s own daughter.

Christy hiding behind the door when he sees his father is alive and coming towards the shebeen locked is another comic situation. Here the comedy arises from Christy’s discomfiture at finding his father to be very much alive and also from the contrast between what Christy has proclaimed and what turns out to be the real fact. The appeal is till mainly visual in this swift series of comic sketches, and, highly-colored language is a delight to the ear.

In Act III, where we move from one farcical incident to another at bewildering speed: Jimmy and Philly, slightly drunk, talking nonsense about skulls and bones; Old Mahon’s second entrance; Michael James’s drunken return from the wake; Shawn Keogh fleeing from Christy’s threats of violence; Old Mahon beating his son before the assembled villagers; Sara’s petticoat being fastened on Christy; Christy biting Shawn; Pegeen scorching Christy; Old Mahon’s last return on all fours.

The efforts of Widow Quin and Sara to fasten a petticoat on Christy in order to disguise him as a woman so that he may be able to escape from the wrath of the crowd is also funny, because they are trying to convert a supposed hero into a female.

One of the most amusing situations which is bound to evoke a roar of laughter from the audience is Christy’s managing to bite Shawn’s leg and Shawn’s screaming with pain.

But perhaps the most amusing situation in the whole play is the second resurrection of Old Mahon. The old man comes back into the shebeen on all fours not having been killed even by the second blow which Christy has given him, this time again with a spade. Apart from Synge’s obvious delight in farce, such scenes often have a clear dramatic function: the hero is being humiliated and ridiculed as a very proper punishment for his vanity, boasting and lies.

Thus, we see that Playboy of the Western World is a farce in a good sense of the word. The play has the capacity to entertain the audience to the utmost satisfaction with its comic and farcical elements.