Riders to the Sea: Dramatic Significance of Two Sisters : Chorus in the Play?




J.M. Synge's Riders to the Sea is a short drama. Quite naturally, because of its short compass, the play does not accommodate a large number of characters. Synge, therefore, confines the number of his dramatic personae to just four. Maurya is acknowledged the central figure of the play, and next to her stands Bartley whose death marks the final catastrophe of the tragedy. The other two characters are Cathleen and Nora who despite being minor characters are of considerable dramatic significance. They are two sisters, Maurya being their mother,Bartley is their brother, the last of their six brothers. The play is concerned with the affair of a single family, consisting of four members Maurya, her two daughters and her youngest son. Nevertheless, the effect of the play is not merely one of a domestic tragedies; instead it breathes the universality that one finds in the classical tragedy, tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides. Anyway, what concerns us here is neither Maurya nor Bartley. The two sisters are the centre of our attention, and we should do well to examine the dramatic significance of these two characters as the chorus in Rider to the Sea.


Cathleen is a young girl of twenty. Her tender age notwithstanding, she shows perfect maturity of judgment. Her mother is old, too old to supervise the affair of the family. Hence it is she who virtually runs the domestic department after the sheep and hags and collects weeds. She also served as elder sister. Nora tells Cathleen that even if Bartley goes to the mainland in a stormy atmosphere, no harm will be done according to young priest, and so she has no concern about Bartley who is about to undertake a Journey over the wild sea. She is quite certain that no danger will tough Bartley during his Journey. However, though very young in age, Cathleen has a special capacity for reading the character of the sea. Hence Cathleen asked her to give an account of the condition of the sea prior to the Journey of Bartley.


The two characters have much in common, and yet they stand apart . These features reflected in their behavior patterns. Cathleen speaks less and thinks more. Nora speaks more and thinks less. Cathleen accepts nothing without examining the validity of it, but not so with Nora. She accepts what even comes her way. The domestic affairs are supervised by Cathleen, Nora only assisting her sister, showing little sense of sereneness.


Sometimes it is said that the two sisters play the role of the chorus in the play. But the chorus in a classical tragedy has no involvement in that action. Moreover, the chorus are more a machinery than a living being. But the two sisters in the play have their involvement in their action. Moreover, the chorus is more a machinery than a living entity. But the two sisters in the play have their involvement in their action. Furthermore, in no sense, they are just machinery without individual traits. Rather they bubble with vitality, each having her likes and dislikes, moods and sentiments, doubts and faiths. So these two characters should not be bracketed with the choric figures as we come across in the ancient classical play. However, to some extent, they perform the function of chorus. The conversation between Cathleen and Nora at the beginning of the play provides the information that Michael has been missing for several days and that the death of Michal is certain. Moreover, from time to time the chorus voices the mind of the author. When Cathleen says “It’s the life of a young man to be going o the sea”, her words seem to articulate the idea of the author. This is how both Nora and Cathleen serve as the chorus in certain portions which obviously highlights their dramatic significance in the play.

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An English Teacher;    M. A.(English) , D. Ed., B. Ed., UGC- NET Qualified

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