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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Brian Friel's Translations

Translations poster

My last book in the november list has been Friel's Translations. 
Glad to deal with historic issues in the context of England-Ireland-Colonialism ans similar stuff.
I enjoyed the play and here you have a couple of reviews to engross in good literature form the periphery... The first one is focused on language and culture and the other on the fictional way of invading another land. As Heaney had it, We forgot to live in our British dimension. More sarcastically, Davies explores the interactions of the 4 cultures in his deep The Isles. Just a couple of isles on the west side of a peninsula of the Asiatic massland.

How Communication Prevents Chaos

Brian Friel's play Translations deals with the issues of the importance of language to an existing culture and to the forced re-creation of an already existing culture. The play explores the difficulties and impossibilities of trying to completely understand a language foreign to oneself and how those difficulties extend to other areas of social interaction which are necessary to the building of a civilization.
Regarded by many as Brian Friel’s theatrical masterpiece, Seamus Deane described Translations as “a sequence of events in history which are transformed by his writing into a parable of events in the present day” (Introduction 22).  My aim in this page is to firmly place Translations within its historical context, in order to understand the representation of colonialism in the play and to facilitate further post-colonial readings.

Translations may be located both temporally and spatially to a fixed point in Irish history. The characters hail from Baile Beag, renamed with the anglicised title of Ballybeg. The action of the play occurs over a number of days towards the end of August 1833. Before delving into the play it is clear, from these most general of points, that the mise-en-scene of Translationsis a period of great significance in the colonial relationship between Ireland and England.
(...) To go back another seven decades, in 1704 penal laws were enacted “which decreed that a Catholic could not hold any office of state, nor stand for Parliament, vote, join the army or navy, practise at the bar land” (Kee Ireland: A History 54). Thus, by 1778 a mere five per cent of the land of Ireland was owned by Catholics. The Irish people (most notably Catholics, though Protestants also) such as those portrayed in Translations suffered severe discrimination, poverty and hardship.
The French Revolution of 1789 jolted Irish political thinking into a new framework. Events in France, and later in America, coupled with grievances against British Imperialist powers inspired thoughts of an Irish Republic and a rebellion. This culminated in the Rebellion of 1798, lead by Wolfe Tone and the Society of United Irishmen, in which Hugh and Jimmy participated: “The road to Sligo. A spring morning. 1798. Going into battle” (445). But, as these characters soon discovered, the rebellion failed resulting in large executions and the passing of the Act of Union in 1800. This piece of legislation, effective from 1 January 1801, brought Ireland under the direct rule of the British Crown.
1823 saw the rise of Daniel O’Connell (the only real person mentioned in the play), a disillusioned veteran of 1798 who founded the Catholic Association. O’Connell campaigned for better civil rights and social conditions for the Irish people, hence Maire reporting that he said “We should all be learning to speak English” (399). O’Connell believed that it was necessary to use the English language in order to allow Ireland to progress in a quickly modernising Western world. In 1829, due to his efforts in Parliament, the Catholic Emancipation Act came into force overturning the penal laws.
It was at this juncture, when the play takes place, that Britain began to make deeper inroads to Irish society and culture. An attempt to colonise the mind and the people as opposed to conquering land through brute force. Translations is Friel’s vehicle for representing methods central to the colonial discourse of Imperialist aspirations. In the foreground of the play the audience is presented with the British Ordnance Survey of Ireland, a process of mapping, renaming and anglicising Ireland. 
On 21 June 1824 the Spring Rice Report was given to the British Government advocating a general survey of Ireland.
The playwright’s concern with the imposition of a colonial framework is the issue at hand, clearly set out by Lancey’s explanation “a map is a representation on paper” (405). No less, a representation imposed from outside and from above, from the coloniser to the colonised.
A second framework imposed from above was the National Education system and the use of the English language. In 1831 Chief Secretary Stanley introduced a system of National Education in Ireland where English was the sole medium of instruction. 
And from the very first day you go, you’ll not hear one word of Irish spoken. You’ll be taught to speak English and every subject will be taught through English (396).
Maire’s desire, at the opening of the play, to speak English shall soon be enforced by law throughout the National Schools in Ireland. Where Dan O’Connell and Maire both assumed the use of English would allow progress towards their respective national and personal dreams, Hugh believes that English was simply for “commerce” but that it “couldn’t really express us (the Irish)” (418). He realised that the use of Gaelic, of remaining true to their own traditions was a method of resisting colonialism, “our only method of replying to .... inevitabilities” (418).

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