Few of Ireland's great writers led a life more private than John Millington Synge. Indeed, had he not written his three best-known plays, he might have remained no more than a minor footnote to the Irish literary revival. However, "In the Shadow of the Glen", "Riders to the Sea" and "The Playboy of the Western World" have secured his place as a main figure in 20th-century theatre. Synge was born into an Anglo-Irish community which had already lost much of its power and wealth and had become very much a garrison in an alien society. His reading of Darwin at the age of 14 placed him at odds with the evangelical Protestantism of his family. Although not temperamentally given to mysticism, some of Yeats's influence rubbed off on him. When he first visited the Aran Islands, at Yeats's prompting, it was part of his mental baggage. But he saw, through direct experience of the harsh island life, that his own cosmology would be earthier in character and content. The islanders' strange and wild faith - a grafting of Christianity onto a pagan nature worship - fuelled Synge's growing beliefs.
These, allied to his intensely musical temperament, produced the extraordinary language of his mature plays.