DruidSynge: When the Moon Has Set

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When the Moon Has Set

When the Moon Has Set is Synge’s first play. Synge gave a two act version to W. B. Yeats and Lady Gregory to read in the autumn of 1901 and they rejected it for production by their fledgling Irish Literary Theatre. The play has its germ in fragments of dialogue from 1896, and Synge may have been working it into a one-act play as late as the summer of 1903. Synge refers in an essay from 1903 to the ‘Irish country houses [where a playwright] would find material … for many gloomy plays that would turn on the dying away of these old families, and on the lives of the one or two delicate girls that are left so often to represent a dozen hearty men who were alive a generation or two ago’ and When the Moon Has Set may represent Synge’s attempt to write such a play. It may also be his attempt to offer those ‘delicate girls’ a way out of their terminal condition. Each version of the play turns on the decision of a young woman, Sister Eileen, to give up her life as a nun and commit herself to a distant cousin, Colm, who inherits an old house from his just-deceased uncle. This uncle lost his chance of love with a local woman and remains in death a presence stinging Colm to press home his love for Eileen. Synge scarcely hides that Colm was meant to represent himself, and the play is written out of great emotion, the grievance he felt on Cherie Matheson refusing his proposal of marriage. It has never been given a professional performance. The one-act version has been published in Collected Works Volume III: Plays Book I (1968), and has been edited by Ann Saddlemyer. This version is also being made available by DruidSynge in the publication, Synge: A Celebration (2005), the book edited by Colm Tobin. The two-act version has been given two outings, the first in a journal from Trinity College Dublin, The Long Room (1982), edited by Mary C. King, the second in the Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991), edited by W. J. McCormack.

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