Riders to the Sea as a Poetic Drama

Riders to the Sea as a Poetic Drama

Riders to the sea as a poetic drama

Discuss on the Riders to the Sea as a Poetic Drama 

The poetic drama stands as the antithesis to what we call today the naturalistic or realistic drama. The poetic drama or better called the romantic drama as practised by the Elizabethan dramatists, especially by Shakespeare, has for its subject the imaginative interpretation and presentation of life. The world of men and women that the poetic drama creates is not the prosaic world of our every day life. We may find much of ourselves in the dramatic persona, clothed yet they are steeped in an idealism in a light that never was on land or Sea. Romance is the very breathe of their life. Thus, for instance, we can not completely identify ourselves with Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear or Othello who are idealised beings. But in the men and women of modern realistic drama, we see our Kith and kin, common place personages whom we find in our everyday life. Thus, the poetic drama has the charm of romance, imagination and emotion  added to reality, while a stark realism is the staple of the modern realistic play. Thus, the poetic drama requires "a metaphysical vision, not an attitude, economic and material." Perhaps, the greatest of the poetic dramatists is Shakespeare who is endowed with lofty imagination, subtle power of observation and analysis and divine gift of songs. All these qualities have made Shakespeare's dramas sublime poetic dramas. His characters are the nurslings of immortality, more real than living men. His dramas are rich in colourful pictures of nature which leave a deep impression on the eye and thus make his dramas visual. 

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Lastly, the natural medium of the poetic drama is an intense verse which in its emotional and rhythmical quality contributes to the charm of poetry which is diffused over the play. In sheer lyricism, the Shakespearean play is supreme and the verse is made flexible to suit different moods of mind. When the theme is grand and emotional pitch is high, the language reaches poetic heights. And when the subject is common place, with little of emotional tension, the style is direct, bold and colloquial just like the language of everyday life. Thus, the poetic drama, too, as Hamlet has said, "Holds as it were, the mirror upto Nature." Thus, the poetic drama aims at pleasure as well as satire through presentation of life. It is an imaginative interpretation of life in the language of emotion and not rational criticism of it. But the realistic drama in its zeal for realistic presentation of life has completely banished Poetry along with imagination, emotion etc.

The poetic drama had a revival in the early years of the 20th century and same of the dramatists connected with its revival are Stephen Philipps, Gordon Bottomley, J.E Flecker, W.B Yeats, J.M Synge, T.S Eliot and others. "But the true poetic drama was that of Synge, which thought not in verse, had all the qualities which the lesser dramatists in varying degrees lacked."

Riders to the Sea is a perfect specimen of the modern poetic drama though it is written in prose not in verse. It is a master piece of the realistic tragedy but in rich poetic imagination, emotion, sharpened sensibility, lofty vision and musical quality and in poetic style, it comes nearest to Shakespeare's grand tragedies. Synge's vision of life is perfectly metaphysical. He saw and felt deeply the comedy and tragedy of the life of the peasants of the Aran Islands. They lived far from the madding crowd's ignoble strife, untouched by modern sophistication. They ploughed their fields, caught fishes in the sea and struggled hard against the relentless Atlantic to survive. There is nothing high and mighty, grand and elevated in the lives of these simple peasant folk. They are just the ordinary people with ordinary frailties and strength of human character and not the superman of poetic dramas of Shakespeare. Yet the imagination of the dramatist has touched their simple lives with such high poetry and given the picture the glow and grandeur of a Shakespearean tragedy. These ordinary mortals in the tragedy are in ceaseless clash with the elemental forces of nature, particularly the sea under which Fate is masquerading itself and works out their doom. It is a kind of superhuman protagonist, a chief character that finds a kind of malignant pleasure in killing the puny creatures that come in conflict with it. It is by this device the dramatist has struck a note of dark fatalism in the play, which brings it nearer to the Greek tragedy. Man is shown here as a plaything in the hands of the dark, relentless force (Sea). 

"As flies to wanton boys, are we to the Gods; they kill us for their sport". These words from Shakespeare's King Lear might very well fit in the mouth of Maurya, the tragic heroine. The sea has taken a heavy toll in the lives of her father-in-law, her husband and her six sturdy sons. It can do her no more harm now as there are no male member in the family. At the end of the tragedy, she makes a calm resignation to God, and says, "No man at all can be living for ever and we must be satisfied." It is the same "calm of mind, all passions spent", which is also the final impression of Greek tragedies. Again, as Prof. Nicoll has observed, "The figures in the cottage, weak as they may be, in the face of the physical power of the ocean, reach greatness in their courage and grandeur". It is this lofty conception of human nature that raises what is merely pessimistic to the level of the tragic. Like the tragic dramas of Shakespeare or Sophocles, this tragedy leaves us in no mood of disgust or depression but rather in one of admiration for the magnificence of human passion and courage. 

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