The Playboy of the Western World tells a tale about conformity to the law and rebelliousness. Shawn Keogh, the play’s ultra-conservative character, bows to the law in deference and with meekness. Christy Mahon represents the opposite extreme. He rebels by posing as a patricidist and criminal of the legal systems. The law in the play is portrayed by the author as a social institution which stifles a person’s expression of their individuality. Shawn, who obeys the law, is shown as a dull character whose personality is completely stifled. Christy on the other hand is presented as a flamboyant and independent individualist whose individuality has been stifled because of the laws of society. Christy is transformed into an individualist, who has risen above the laws and society. Shawn on the other side, remains a slave of the law. The play shows that Ireland can also achieve its own unique character through the contrast between these two characters. Christy breaks free from the oppressive British legal system, while Shawn remains a passively occupied country who meekly obeys British law.

Shawn has the highest level of respect for the law. Shawn displays a respectful attitude toward law and morality throughout the entire play. His entourage describes him repeatedly as “a decent person” (13). He has a lot of moral and legal obligations, and he forbids him to break the law. Shawn has to obey the church’s laws and is patiently waiting for the bishops’ holy dispensation before getting married. He fears breaking church rules constantly. He fears being left alone with his fiancee without a legal dispensation. It is evident that he obeys the criminal law of secular society. Christy commits patricide and he’s the only person who doesn’t laugh at it. He immediately calls Christy “a bloody-handed killer” (20) rather than praising him for his heroic feat. Shawn’s actions in the play are governed by the traditional legal rules and he is bound both by moral and legal constraints.

But rather than applauding Shawn’s law-abiding behavior, the author paints him as insipid. He is a figure that is dominated by social institutions including the church and law. The author shows how his slavish submission to these institutions has a negative impact on his personality. His individuality can never be seen by the audience. It is only through his subservient relationship with these social and legal institutions that his character is expressed. Shawn behaves more like a robot than a sovereign, independent individual. He obeys laws both secular and religions without thinking about it. He becomes a part and parcel of broader morality because of his passive meekness. Shawn is portrayed as a slavishly submissive to the laws, which makes the law appear oppressive and stifles individual freedom.

Christy, on the other hand, is a person who goes above and beyond law. Christy is a law-fearing “man” at first, but he decides to rebel and pose as someone who committed patricide. Christy says that he killed his father out of anger after his father had been forced to marry the widow he refused to marry. Christy proves to be an individualist radical by acting like he murders his dad to defend himself and his independence. Christy becomes his own master by killing his father. Christy presents himself as a person who believes in personal freedom to the point of breaking laws to get it. Christy grows as a person after he violates the law and commits his imagined crime. Christy, the sexually cowardly Christy that was the “laughing prank of all female women” (49) and the “fool for men” (58), now exudes confidence. Christy, the cowardly and sexually timid man who was once the “fool of men” (58) or the “laughing joke of every female woman” (49) becomes a confident champion in the world.

Christy’s remarkable development illustrates how oppressive the legal system is. Christy’s individuality can only be unleashed and developed fully when he breaks the law. Christy becomes a free individualist by releasing himself from all legal constraints. Christy becomes a supremely individualist by acting as if he is someone who breaks the laws and separates himself from society’s moral framework. Christy’s breaking the law allows her to transcend the tyranny of society and law, instead of becoming a slave of the law like Shawn.

In the play, the Irish community initially appears as a law-abiding group. Michael tells the audience the “bonafide consumers” of the liquorhouse are all Irish. This shows that the community respects the law. The community’s law-abiding exterior quickly shows a rebellious spirit that breaks the law. Christy, when he confesses to his community that he is the patricide perpetrator, receives a standing ovation from the entire community. People view Christy’s patricide, which is illegal, as a heroic act. One member of this community said that a man who kills his father in violation of the law would face “a foxy, pitch-pike devil on the flags and banners of Hell” (19). Christy’s crime is admired by the community, revealing its secret law-breaking nature. In the play, police officers are called “peelers”, a reference to the English Prime Minster Robert Peel. Peel was the man who invented the English justice system. This shows Ireland to be an occupied territory and that police officers are operating under British law by “selling English laws” (37). Thus, the legal system itself is an instrument used by foreign oppressors. Christy’s breaking of the law can be viewed as a brave act against the oppressive British legal systems.

By doing so, breaking the rules is turned into a positive virtue. Ireland’s only way to get rid of British rule is to defy authority. No wonder Christy’s resistance to the legal authorities has been greeted with such enthusiasm by the community. The author suggests that Ireland can achieve its own uniqueness by “breaking” British law in the same way Christy does. Christy, at the end the play’s “master of fights”, is transformed by his act of rebelliousness. Ireland too could become its master through active rebellion and free itself from British oppression.

The Playboy of the Western World pays tribute to the brave and rebellious spirit of those who are willing to defy authority and the law. The Irish who live under foreign rule lionizes Christy’s murdering father, as he is a man of courage and will to fight against the authorities. That is exactly what Ireland is looking for if they want to be free. To become independent again, Ireland’s people will have to learn how to violate British law in the same way that the father who murdered Christy did. Ireland can choose either to be individualistic and free, as Christy was, or to stay submissive to British law. Despite the fact that the Irish community eventually loses their courage and threatens Christy, they still show a strong psychological disposition for rebellion by praising Christy’s crimes. Michael says it’s better to raise his grandchildren as “little weeds” like Christy and her rebellious spirit than to have them become passive law-abiding citizens like Shawn.

Works Cited

Both the original and the paraphrased version of this phrase remain the same.

Synge, M, John. The Complete plays of John M. synge Vintage Books, New York 1960.


  • owenbarrett

    I'm Owen Barrett, a 31-year-old educational blogger and traveler. I enjoy writing about the places I've visited and sharing educational content about travel and culture. When I'm not writing or traveling, I like spending time with my family and friends.