Abadat’s Note on Riders to the Sea

  1. Evaluate Riders to the Sea as a modern tragedy with a classical setting.2015****2011***


“Riders to the Sea’’ by John Millington Synge is a tragedy of the modern age but written in the light of Greek convention of tragedies. The play is a modern tragedy with a classical setting because it contains almost all the essential features of a tragedy as we find in the definition of tragedy given by Aristotle.

In fact, “Riders to the Sea” is a serious play and complete in itself. Also, there is a portrayal of a tragic hero named Maurya. The fall of Maurya arouses pity and fear in the readers’ minds as it happens in the cases of classical Greek tragedies. “Riders to the Sea” also maintains the classical unities of a play. In addition, the play has been written to present the classical theme of man’s struggling against the nature. Fate also plays a vital role in the lives of the characters. The features of a classical tragedy dramatized in “Riders to the Sea” are described below.

To begin with, the conversation between Nora and Cathleen unravels the background information of the play as a prologue does in classical tragedies. They also play the role of chorus as they explained the setting of the play at the beginning. As the action proceeds, Maurya , the men and women, also play the role of chorus who narrate the incidents of the sad demise of Maurya’s family members including her husband.

As a matter of fact, we are puppets at the hands of our creator. Our fate is sometimes invincible and cruel. In “Riders to the Sea” we find fate to play a vital role in Maurya’s family life. She can no way ward it off. Sea, the agent of fate in the play, defeats Maurya killing all the male members of her family.  The fate of Bartley and others in the play is predestined like that of King Oedipus and Agamemnon who are two great tragic heroes of the classical literature.

Further, J.M. Synge has made use of the device of the dramatic irony in his play which is a common device used by the Greek playwrights. Bartley believed that he would be able to come back home safe within three or four days whereas the audience knows that he will not return with safety.

Moreover, Synge maintained the three classical dramatic unities in his one-act play “Riders to the Sea”. The events in the play take place in about an hour which is uniform to the classical unity of time. The unity of place demands that the action of the play will take place in one setting or in a single city that Synge maintained. As “Riders to the Sea” does not contain any subplot and its story revolves around only one main plot, we can assert that it maintains the unity of action as well.

Furthermore, the tragic defeat of Maurya arouses pity in our minds for her and we often become fearful as we see how fate has taken a toll on her life. This very arousal of pity and fear is known as catharsis that Synge maintained in his play to creat a classical setting.

Besides, “Riders to the Sea” deals with the universal theme of death which is ultimately accepted by Maurya which is common in classical tragedies.

In conclusion, though “Riders to the Sea” is written in modern age, it resembles and contains the major features of classical tragedies in many ways. Therefore, we can sum up that “Riders to the Sea” is modern tragedy with a classical setting.



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