This Is AuburnElectronic Theses and Dissertations

The Devolution of Irish Masculinity in Twentieth Century Irish Drama: Representations of Manliness in the Plays of John Millington Synge, Sean O'Casey and Martin McDonagh




Jones, Elizabeth

Type of Degree





This project argues that prominent playwrights John M. Synge, Sean O’Casey and Martin McDonagh who are either native Irish or self-identify as Irish reject the various versions of masculinity proposed by nationalistic entities during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as representing the ideal Irish man. Instead, these dramatists create either hypermasculine or hyperfeminine male characters to represent Irish manhood which are ultimately ineffectual in any traditional masculine roles. Synge’s female characters in The Playboy of the Western World, “The Shadow of the Glen,” and “Riders to the Sea” represent the nation of Ireland while his male characters are proven incapable of either supporting or defending this nation. O’Casey demythologizes key moments in Ireland’s quest for independence in his Dublin Trilogy as he presents characters that progress in the de-evolutionary process as they embrace or pretend to embrace the cause for a free Ireland only for their own purposes and only to fail in their ambitions. Both Synge and O’Casey adopt a more conventional method of depicting Irish manliness by identifying their male characters with and against the women in the plays. With Martin McDonagh’s postmodern drama, there is a rapid de-evolution of both the Irish man and the Irish woman as each of the plays depicts scenes of both genders doing violence for the sake of violence with no revolutionary subtext to justify the butchery. In his The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lieutenant of Inishmore this violence stems from the extreme domestic dysfunction that is associated with being physically present in Ireland. The masculinities developed within McDonagh’s drama are thus indirectly positioned opposite not a female version of Irishness, but compared with a fantasized “normal” masculinity that exists either in England or America. With the advent of Synge’s Playboy, the representation of Irish masculinity devolves relatively quickly into a version of manhood that, as long as it resides on Irish soil, verifies the colonizer’s depiction of Irish men as inherently incapable of attaining the manly ideal.