From Sinn Féin, February 2nd, 1907.
The management of the Abbey Theatre has sent us the following advertisement to occupy a column of our space:—
SUPPORT ABBEY THEATRE
He who Strikes at
FREEDOM OF JUDGMENT
AT THE SOUL OF THE NATION.
TILL FURTHER NOTICE.
We visited the Abbey Theatre on Tuesday night to exercise our freedom of judgment, and as a result we decline to print as an advertisement what the Abbey Theatre management has forwarded us. The opposition is not ‘organised’—it is the opposition of the public. However, we print it free of charge as the defence of the Abbey Theatre management for what is taking place on the stage each night.
Mr. Synge’s play as a play is one of the worst constructed we have witnessed. As a presentation on the public stage it is a vile and inhuman story told in the foulest language we have ever listened to from a public platform. The play represents the peasant women of Mayo contending in their lusts for the possession of a man who has appealed to their depraved instincts by murdering, as they believe, his father. Later, they discover the supposed parricide to be an impostor, and in rage drive him forth. This hideous story is told in language much of which is too coarse to be printed in any public journal. The author declares that the words and phrases he used he has himself heard spoken. We have no doubt of it. We heard no phrase on the stage of the Abbey Theatre which may not be heard on the lips of the dregs of humanity, but we have yet to learn that it is realism or art to reproduce on a public stage the language of the gutter. The father of the hero refers to his son in one place as ‘a dirty —1 lout.’ The word omitted is so obscene that no man of ordinary decency would use it, and certainly no man, unless an utterly degraded one, would use it in the presence of a woman. In the Abbey Theatre it is represented as being used in conversation between a Mayo peasant man and a Mayo peasant woman. We observed a man who hissed this vile expression being roughly seized by two policemen and thrust out of the theatre.
The author of the play presents it as true to Irish life. He declares in the programme that ‘the central incident in the Playboy’—that is the fighting of the women of the West for the hand of a parricide because he is a parricide—‘was suggested by an actual occurrence in the West.’ This is a definite statement, and if the author can sustain it, we shall regret that so vile a race should be permitted to exist. If, on the other hand, the author’s statement is untrue—his play can only be considered as the production of a moral degenerate.
On Tuesday this story of unnatural murder and unnatural lust, told in foul language, was told under the protection of a body of police, and concluded to the strains of ‘God Save the King.’ The circumstances were appropriate, but we are sorry for the Abbey Theatre. It invited the opinion of the public upon its play, and when their opinion was unfavourable it invited the aid of Dublin Castle to crush its expression. And yet its directors talk of ‘freedom.’ We have never yet understood by that word in connection with the Press licence to publish obscenity or licence to libel with impunity. In connection with the drama it is evidently the definition of the directors of the Abbey Theatre, who seem to have now got hopelessly away from life. With the aid of the police and ‘God Save the King’ much may be accomplished in Ireland, but even such potent influences will not be strong enough to make the Irish people cry ‘Ecce lo fice!’ to Mr. J. M. Synge.
1 Cartlann: The original transcript of the line reads: ‘It was my own son hit me; and he the devil a robber, or anything else, but a dirty, stuttering lout.’