Now we are living in the era of science. And our life is moving mechanically. So time is short, art is long. We want one-day cricket not a boring test-cricket. So also is our one act play, the latest outcome and the modern form of drama. The “Riders to the sea” (1904) is one of the masterpieces of our modern theatre. It is simple, but grand touching almost all the strings of one-act play. Synge’s (1871-1909) depiction of the Aran Islanders in the mouth of devouring sea is squeered up to a single family but opines the universal note of fate through the brief space of one-act play.
Synge is a very superb artist. By strictly observing the three unitics, Synge has proved Riders to the sea as a successful one-act play with no sub-plots or digresign. The life of the Aran Islanders is depicted beautifully by introducing only four characters on the stage whereas Bartley’s appearance is not more than ten minutes. So if we glance to King hear we have the same poignant grief with the small carvas in the sketchy paint of Riders to the sea. Here the dramatist has taken only sixty minutes or less, switches on the climax and bids farewell with a proper denouement. Sea is the source of the Aran Islanders’ living and dying. Sea has snatched away almost all the males except Bastley when we just open out the curtain. It begins with the sheadow of Michael’s death on his mother and sisters and closes with the death of Bartley. So Maurya’s keening touches every readers—
“Michael has a clean burial in the far north, by the grace of the Almightly God. Bartley will have a fine coffin out of white boards, and a deep grave surely. What more can we want than that? No man at all can be living forever, and we must be satisfied.”
Here’s a note eternal acceptance of fate and constant struggle. With the sketchey space the play presents the seamless garment of time, the past extending into the present, which is responsible for much of the play’s effect.
So like the sucoessful one act plays (Like Thornton Wilder’s The Happy Journey, Anton Chekov’s A Marriage Proposal, Ternessee William’s Lord Byron’s Love Letter) it is characterized by compactress, consciousness and restrained. Synge with his unerring sense of balance and proportions has given us the most compact structure. The play has grand, stark simplicity and controlled intensity of feeling. What strikes one most is intense poetic.
Henrik Ibsen’s ‘Enemy of the People’. Consentration. The action is compressed in one fairly short scene in a cottage. Synge is very much aware of the limited scope of a one-act play. And he has rightly followed the dramatic qualities of unity of play, unity time and unity of action. It is limited to one Rour for time, Kitchen is for place and tragic atmosphere for Aran Islanders is the unity of action. There is no digression, no extraneous matter. The plot is simple and ease without any sub-plot. The main theme of the play is never lost sight and drams upto the structural unity to the zenith.
The characterisation through the limited scope is very vivid and heart rending. Maurya is a stern realist with a bundle of superstitious beliefs. But she is a fulfilled character. We all sympathire with her. She becomes, in effect, her own artagoinist, emboiying within her maternal function and universal unyielding note. Sea is the most powerful metaphor in the drama. We find in Maurya the catastrophic collision between Materinity and Necessity. Cathleen and Nora are sympathetic to both mother and brother Bartly. On the other hand Bartley is a dynamic character. Within a very few minutes we feel his voice, touch his heart, have affection with his fate. His parting words to his sisters are really unforgettable. Even the old man’s speech about nails is really touching and pensive.
With yeats’ direction synge has depicted the Aran Islanders in ‘full-throated ease’. Their customs their manners their art of living and their fates under the devouring sea are the panacca of his writing. We see with close eye the drama of struggle, suffering and eventual destruction. Here the material is minimum and the dramatic effect is maximum. The language is colloquiual, plain and dialectical based. Both David Daiches and Mr. Williams highlight the language and style as the ivory of Synne’s writing. The ‘players are like the breeze to the jaded London’. The tension, the anxiety and a kind of hush remind the hush to sleeping Desdemona in ‘Othello’.
So I. M. Synege’s ‘Riders to the Sea’ is the finest instance of one-act play. With the sweep of imagination, with limited characters, pointed place, unified action, sketchy time, handy worths, simple plot, universal tune Synge achieves remarkable success. The ‘poetry in unlimited sadness’ (Jack B. Yeats) gets the touch of austere beauty. But the beauty fades out, only the shaded of death remains. The curtain falls. Maurya kneeling with her dead son signifying inevitality and acceptance death with darkness and winter. It is the true winter of life hoping to drench in vernal shower. So the one-act play is a grand success and Synge gets his prize.