Nicholas Taylor-Collins
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‘Go on from this’
J. M. Synge’s Playboy
in Shakespeare, memory, and modern Irish literature
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This chapter explains how the return of Hamlet’s Ghost is replayed by Synge in Playboy of the Western World (1907). Unlike in Shakespeare’s play, Christy Mahon benefits from his father’s absence, excelling in the Mayo shebeen where he turns up, even falling in love with Pegeen Mike. However, when Old Mahon rises from the dead to haunt his son, Christy’s and Hamlet’s trajectories begin to match one another’s again. Christy’s tactic is to try (again) to kill his father, hoping for the same positive reaction from the Mayoites. Where Hamlet ‘remembered’ his father’s Ghost by proving him true – by demonstrating that Claudius did murder King Hamlet – Christy updates Hamlet by wanting to kill his father to confirm Old Mahon as a memory on which he, Christy, can build his own truth. Christy goes yet further. Just as with Hamlet examining Yorick’s skull, Christy also remembers forward by realising that he can only succeed offstage. When Christy and Old Mahon leave at the end of the play, Christy becomes a disruptive memory himself, destabilising the traditional world of the Mayo shebeen. The diabology that underpins the Hamlet–Playboy connection – the way to approach and communicate with a ghost – leads to Christy’s understanding of how to be ghostly, without yet being dead.

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