Examination Thesis, 2002
84 Pages, Grade: 2.3
Brian Friel is considered one of the most successful contemporary Irish dramatists. His works have achieved international reputation and are staged throughout the world. Even in schools, especially in Ireland, his plays are dealt with. For language and literature teachers, who work with Friel’s plays in school, this paper shall serve as a kind of handbook. It is divided into two parts. The first is a theoretical analysis of Friel’s plays Philadelphia, here I come, Translations and Making History. It provides the basic theoretical knowledge about the plays that teachers need for professional teaching. The analysis examines Friel’s plays on political and historical topics. The plays mentioned all show many similarities concerning these topics and therefore seem very suitable for a detailed literary analysis.
The second part of this paper is more practically orientated. It provides classroom teaching ideas for Friel’s plays, including many exercises and teaching material. Although a lot has been written on Friel, only a few have looked at his work from a didactical point of view. A journal article by Philip Brady The Scholar in the Hayfield: Brian Friel and the Post-Colonial Classroom (1998) reports about the staging experiences of Translations by a university teacher for Irish literature. Brady mentions the international validity of the political topics in Translations that can be applied to many countries and cultures. Unfortunately the article does not provide teaching ideas and materials. A few teaching materials can be taken from the internet (see II.5., p. 52), but not much has been done here either. This seems to be surprising because the German syllabus as well the Irish syllabus both state that in order to live in this world one needs knowledge about historical, political social and economical coherences. (cf. Richtlinien, 1999, p. XIV) “Language […] is embedded in history, culture, society, and ultimately personal subjectivity.” (English Syllabus Higher Level, 1999, p. 2). The selected plays match the demand of both syllabi because they mainly deal with historical and political topics and illustrate how they affect a whole culture and its individuals. These circumstances show the necessity of a work such as this and it may prove to be something that fills an important gap in Friel studies.
In his plays Philadelphia, here I come, Translations and Making History Friel shows how political and historical forces affect the cultural and individual life in Ireland. His plays are largely based on historical events from Irish history and show the political influences of these events. Furthermore Friel himself has a political message which is conveyed through his plays. In the following chapters the relation between politics and language and Friel’s presentation of history will be discussed. When possible and necessary, autobiographical elements and comments by Friel are mentioned with reference to the plays.
Politics and language are closely related. Politics are made through language, and especially in Ireland, language is of great political relevance. Its origin can be found in Irish history. The British colonized the country and introduced the English language by means such as the Ordnance Survey. Of course other historical factors , for example emigration, led to the Anglisation of Ireland, but the effects of Irish colonial history still have political influence today. This may be observed in bilingual street signs and in the fact that Gaelic is taught to pupils at a very early age.
In Ireland, language was used as a political and social weapon by the British when the Irish language was abandoned. Since the late nineteenth century, however, tables have turned. Irish has become an offensive political weapon for the nationalist movement, which Friel and his Field Day Company 1 are a part of (cf. McGrath, 1999, p. 204).
In his sporadic diary (1979) Friel writes about the connection of language and politics when talking about his play Translations:
I don’t want to write a play about Irish peasants being suppressed by English sappers. I don’t want to write a threnody on the death of the Irish language. I don’t want to write a play about land-surveying. Indeed I don’t want to write a play about naming places.
And yet portions of all these are relevant. Each is part of the atmosphere in which the real play lurks. (Murray, 1999, p. 75)
Although there was no intention to write about Irish politics, these elements automatically come into the play when writing about language. Language is also closely related to a person’s identity, since a change of language also entails a change of expression and perception. It is thus the basis for communication which is essential to politics. In the following chapters these aspects of language in relation to politics will be examined with reference to Translations, Philadelphia, here I come and Making History.
Pine (1990) suggests that one’s identity can be changed by language. Language expresses what is perceived by a community of speakers. It is therefore a way of expressing the world. Changing the language also means changing identity. This concerns national and cultural identities as well as personal identities. Essential parts of our identities can be taken away when names are changed or withdrawn (cf. Pine, 1990, p. 163-164). The same applies to place names that are referred to by a community of speakers. Changing these names means losing part of a cultural identity. In a political sense, this can be taken advantage of by re-naming the places as a part of colonising. The connection between language and identity is mainly a topic in Translations, but it is also referred to in Making History and Philadelphia, here I come.
The Ordnance Survey (see I.2.1.1., p. 18), which occurred in the years 1824- 1846, aimed not just at mapping the whole of Ireland, but also at Anglicising place names throughout the country. It is the major topic in Friel’s play Translations. The naming of places is a way of identifying and marking. It is also a way of knowing and understanding. Accordingly the naming of place names is a means of making a place known and understood and therefore a means of securing and possessing it (cf. Bullock, 2000, p. 98-100). Cultural and national identity manifest themselves in place names. The names offer information about the history of a place as shown in the dialogue between Yolland and Owen when they speak of a crossroads called “Tobair Vree” (Friel, 1981, p. 420). Owen explains:
And why do we call it Tobair Vree? I’ll tell you why. Tobair means a well. But what does Vree mean? It’s a corruption of Brian - (Gaelic pronunciation) Brian - an erosion of Tobair Bhriain. Because a hundred-and-fifty years ago there used to be a well there, not at the crossroads, mind you - that would be too simple - but in a field close to the crossroads. And an old man called Brian, whose face was disfigured by an enormous growth, got it into his head that the water in that well was blessed; and every day for seven months he went there and bathed his face in it. But the growth didn’t go away; and one morning Brian was found drowned in that well. And ever since that crossroads is known as Tobair Vree - even though that well has long since dried up. (ibid., p. 420)
The places have their own ontology that would be lost by translating them into English, as would be the case with “Tobair Vree” and“ The crossroads” (ibid., p. 420) and with “Bun na hAbhann” and “Burnfoot” (ibid., p. 410). In losing the name Tobair Vree, Owen would lose a part of his own identity since the knowledge of the place has been passed on to him by his grandfather. In a more general sense this scene represents the loss of the over-all Irish tradition and culture. The place names have become a historical, cultural and social storehouse through the various associations that single persons have with these places (cf. Bullock, 2000, p. 112-113).
Pilkington (1990) suggests an irony in the re-naming of Tobair Vree, as it is an Anglisation already. Tradionally the letter “v” is not part of the Irish alphabet. Moreover phonetically obscurities arise since the Irish language would not lose a final nasal consonant as in Tobair Vree / Tobair Bhriain (cf. Pilkington, 1990, p. 228).
Whether this irony is intended by the author or not remains unclear, but Friel makes one of the characters in Translations explicitly talk about the relevance of the Irish language and Irish identity:
HUGH: Indeed, Lieutenant. A rich language. A rich language. You’ll find, sir, that certain cultures expend on their vocabularies and syntax acquisitive energies and ostentations entirely lacking in their material live. […] It is our response to mud cabins and a diet of potatoes; our only method of replying to … inevitablies (Friel, 1981, p. 418-419).
Irish culture and identity is coined by many negative historical events such as the Great Famine, emigration, the Ordnance survey etc., which will be explored later (see I.2.1., p. 17). As a consequence of these “inevitabilities” (ibid., p. 419) the Irish compensated this lack of material goods in their language by creating a rich and ornate language that manifests itself in the identity of the people. By substituting Irish by English, a part of this cultural identity would irrevocably be lost.
The question of identity is not just shown in a cultural and a national dimension but also within the character’s individual identities.
The matter of identity is also shown in the naming of the characters. In Translations Friel gives all Irish characters a typical and traditional Irish name. In his sporadic diary (1979) he notes: “I believe that I am reluctant even to name the characters, maybe because the naming-taming process is what the play is about.” (Murray, 1999, p. 76). Therefore Maire, Manus, Doalty, Bridget, Hugh and Owen are all common Irish names. Sahra, James and Jimmy are rather universal names. The Irish characters are only referred to by their
first names, whereas the English characters Captain Lancey and Lieutenant Yolland receive a military title and are addressed by their surnames. Yolland who sympathises with the Irish, has a name that indicates a relation to the Old-Irish settlers who gave up their own language and adopted to the habits and customs of the Irish people. This becomes obvious not just through his behaviour but also through his name; “Yola” was the name given to the form of English spoken by the first English settlers, the Old-Irish (cf. Jones, 2000, p. 69).
Name and identity are used synonymously throughout the play: Owen who is always called Roland by the British, insists on his original name and begins to recall his Irish identity. Towards the beginning of the play, Hugh mentions the “ritual of naming” (Friel, 1981, p. 397). One character in particular, Sahra, represents the process of finding identity. Her first words “My name is Sahra” (ibid., p. 384) are an act of identification. Having been betrayed by Manus, she loses her identity and is unable to articulate her name anymore (cf. Jones, 2000, p. 79).
Sahra is a personification of Ireland. As in Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan, Ireland is represented by an old or retarded woman. Being betrayed by her own people, Sahra, and therefore Ireland, loses her identity. One character, Jimmy, has found his identity in the classical languages and mythothodly. “He is fluent in Latin and Greek […] - to him it is perfectly normal to speak these languages.” (Friel, 1980, p. 383). Jimmy lives his life mainly through these languages and thinks only in the past. By living in his fantasy world he can exercise power over someone else, namely Athena and Ulysses. This is an analogy of the British colonisers, who like Jimmy have power over the Irish through language.
Changing identity with language is also a topic in Making History. According to the circumstances and affiliations Hugh O’Neill speaks in an ”upper-class English accent” (Friel, 1989, p. 247) that sometimes “fades until at the end his accent is pure Tyrone” (ibid., p. 338). Making History shows the possible inflections that can occur with different names: O’Neill’s circumstances change when he is referred to as Hugh, The O’Neill or Earl of Tyrone. This also influences the spectator's reactions and perceptions
(cf. Pine, 1990, p. 164).
In Philadelphia, here I come the matter of identity is central to the complete play. It depicts Gar’s own struggle shortly before he emigrates to America. In order to illustrate this internal struggle Friel has chosen a new and innovative dramatic device which will be looked at in the next chapter.
In Philadelphia, here I come Friel splits the main character Gar into a public and a private Gar. In the stage directions he notes:
The two Gars, PUBLIC GAR and PRIVATE GAR, are two views of the one man. PUBLIC GAR is the Gar that people see, talk to, talk about. PRIVATE GAR is the unseen man, the man within, the conscience, the alter ego, the secret thoughts, the id. PRIVATE GAR, the spirit, is invisible to everybody, always. Nobody except PUBLIC GAR hears him talk. But even PUBLIC GAR, although he talks to PRIVATE GAR occasionally, never sees him and never looks at him. One cannot look at one’s alter ego (Friel, 1965, p. 27).
With his dramatic device he opens an insight for the spectator into Gar’s psyche and identity. Private Gar is the one who acts out the unspoken words of Public Gar. He shows the social isolation of Public Gar who is unable to communicate with his environment, especially with his father. Private Gar utters the anxieties and hopes, happiness and frustration of Public Gar. By realising the concept of a split character, Friel creates a new dramatic device that expands an interior monologue into a dialogue between two characters (cf. Emmert, 1996, p. 38-39).
In the case of Philadelphia, here I come the identity and personality of the character has become accessible for the spectator through the splitting of the protagonist. In this way, the audience is presented with a commentary on the whole’s character’s attitude and behaviour. This helps the spectator to sympathise and identify himself with the character (cf. Jones. 2000, p. 21).
As with Hugh O’Neill in Making History, the characters in Philadelphia, here I come employ their own idiosyncratic accents. This, too, helps the spectator to identify with the different characters (cf. ibid., p. 29). Friel makes use of an innovative dramatic device not only in Philadelphia, here I come, bit also in Translations. The play is performed in English but the characters actually speak Irish. In his sporadic diary (1979) Friel states: “[…] a theatrical conceit will have to be devised by which - even though the actors speak English - the audience will assume or accept that are speaking Irish.” (Murray, 1999, p. 74). The new English language communicates the old and traditional Irish language. By that an outside audience is allowed to understand an inside situation which is usually incomprehensible to others (cf. Grene, 1999, p.45).
The audience is permanently reminded that the characters actually speak Irish in scenes where translations have to take place in order to communicate. An example for that is the scene in Act I where Lancey informs the people of Ballybeg about the plans for the Survey and where Owen translates him. In the beginning Lancey asks: “Don’t they speak English, Roland? OWEN: Don’t worry. I’ll translate.” (Friel, 1965, p. 405). In this scene as in many others the audience is reminded that the Irish characters indeed speak Irish only. Communication with the English can only be provided through translation. Therefore language serves as a basis for communication.
Communication is enabled through the use of language. It ensures that people understand each other. A lack of communication leads to misunderstandings, tensions, conflicts and sometimes even to wars. In his plays, Friel makes communication and language a subject of discussion. Translations deals with inter-cultural as well as intra-cultural communication. A central topic of Philadelphia, here I come is the communication between father and son. But Friel himself also communicates through his characters with the reader, as in Making History. We shall examine these topics in the following chapters.
As mentioned earlier, the Irish characters in Translations actually speak Irish although the language of the play is English. Thus translation has to take place to enable communication. But not in all cases, like the dialogue between Maire and Yolland, who would like to settle down in Ireland. Having listed the Irish place names, both come closer to each other. The sound of the Irish language seems to have enabled them to express the privacy of the their individual identity (cf. Pilkington, 1990, p.295).
They manage to communicate their love by uttering words (place names) in the other’s language. Although they have a language barrier they insist on going on talking. Both say: “Don’t stop - I know what you’re saying” (Friel, 1981, p. 428). This love-scene ends with both focusing in their mother-tongue on the word “always” (ibid., p 428):
MAIRE: Don’t stop - I know what you’re saying.
YOLLAND: I would tell you how I want to be here - to live here - always - with you
- always, always.
MAIRE: ‘Always’? What is that word - ‘always’? YOLLAND: Yes-yes; always. […]
YOLLAND: Don’t stop - I know what you’re saying.
MAIRE: I want to live with you - anywhere - anywhere at all - always - always. YOLLAND: ‘Always’? What is that word - ‘always’? (ibid., p. 428)
The parallelisms and frequent repetitions of the word “always” indicate Maire’s and Yolland's orientation towards the future. Yolland wants to live with Maire “here” in Ireland and Maire wants to live with him “anywhere”. This already indicates her intention to emigrate to America which she makes come true after the mysterious disappearing of Yolland. This scene represents the ideal of the British and Irish reaching out to each other and understanding each other (cf. McGrath, 1999, p. 186).
Here Friel draws a very romantic picture of relations between the Irish and the British. History has shown that in most cases relations and communication
between the Irish and the British are rather difficult. This is indicated by the statement of the native Irish Jimmy Jack who says that when you “marry outside the tribe […] both sides get very angry” (Friel, 1981, p. 446). Friel takes up this topic of the incompability of the Irish and the English in his later play Making History. Hugh O’Neill’s English wife Mabel Bagenal gets advice from her sister Mary:
MARY: […] Don’t plant the fennel near the dill or the two will cross-fertilize. MABEL: Is that bad?
MARY: You’ll end up with a seed that’s neither one thing or the other. […] (ibid., p. 275)
This metaphor stands for the hybridisation of Irish and English. It is a warning by Mary against the union of two different cultures, races and religions (cf. Jones, 2000, p. 135). The intermingling of the Irish and the English leads to a loss of identity, since you not the one “thing or the other” (Friel, 1989, p. 275). Against her sister’s warning, Mabel marries Hugh and as a result they have a baby. The baby as a product of the love between two different races is doomed to die and thus becomes a symbol of the incompability of the Irish and the English. The problematic relationship between the Irish and the English is also characterised by Hugh’s statement about the use of the English language in Translations:
HUGH: […] and then usually for the purposes of commerce, a use to which his tongue seemed particularly suited […] and I went on to propose that our own culture and the classical tongues made a happier conjugation. […] Indeed - English, I suggested, couldn’t really express us (Friel, 1981, p. 399).
Hugh accuses the British of being interested in commerce only, which is of no interest to the Irish. He excludes a “conjugation”, a joining together, with the English because the Irish better fit with classical languages such as Greek and Latin. His statement ends in a climax that shows that English is not the right language to express the Irish identity, because of the richness of the Irish language. Friel explains the relationship between the classical languages and
Irish in a self-portrait (1972): “[We were] translating, scanning, conjugating [the classical texts], never once suspecting that these texts were the testimony of sad, happy, assured, confused people like ourselves.” (Murray, 1999, p. 40). Friel’s and Hugh’s statement refers to the many similarities the Greek and Roman and the Irish have in common. Therefore the statements deny a valuable communication with the English since their culture and their interests differ strongly from the Irish.
The usage of English is also important for communication in other Englishspeaking countries. As many Irish people emigrated to the USA or to Australia, monolingualism was an obstacle to freedom. This economical factor of the English language was also a reason for the Anglisation of Ireland since people saw a need in being able to speak English. Maire states:
MAIRE: […] He said the sooner we all learn to speak English the better. […] I want to be able to speak English because I’m going to American as soon as the harvest’s all saved (Friel, 1981, p. 399-400).
The repetition of the word “soon” shows the urgency of acquiring English. Being able to speak English enables emigration to America and Australia. The urgency arises from the economic circumstances in Ireland which are coined by poverty and hunger. Therefore English is required for commercial reasons, just as Hugh stated earlier. The whole matter of emigration is a central topic in Philadelphia, here I come, but before that the communication between the Irish and Irish shall be discussed.
Intra-cultural communication among the Irish is only a random topic in Friel’s plays. Whereas Irish Maire and English Yolland in Translations can communicate without knowing the other’s language, Sahra and Manus, both Irish, have problems in their communication. Manus, who with great care, taught Sahra to speak, does not realize what she feels for him. In Act III he “addresses her […] without warmth or concern for her.” (ibid., p. 433).
Sahra is trying her best to stop Manus from leaving. Although she is “crying quietly” (ibid., p. 433), Manus leaves her and “kisses the top of her head - as if in absolution” (ibid., p. 434). He does not reciprocate her feelings and does not even seem to notice the love Sahra feels for him. Having said that Sahra is a personification of Ireland, this lack of communication can be applied in a broader sense. Manus, standing for an average young Irishman who is about to leave the country, does not realize that his mother country needs him, especially in hard times. Manus kisses Sahra goodbye in “absolution”. This word indicates that he forgives Sahra and thus Ireland for her sins, meaning the bad economic and political situation that does not offer perspectives for young people.
Manus does not reply the love of his homeland, just like Gar in Philadelphia, here I come, who is going to emigrate to America. About his home he says: “I hate the place, and every stone, and every rock, and every piece of heather around it. […] all this sentimental rubbish about ‘homeland’ and ‘birthplace’.“ (Friel, 1965, p. 79). Gar becomes more and more alienated from his birthplace Ballybeg. Before his departure to America, he feels hatred for his birthplace. Gar, just like Manus, does not value what his mother country has to offer him and thus turns his back on Ireland. In doing so, Gar not only alienated from his homeland, but also from his father. The defective communication between Gar and his father is dealt with in the next chapter.
Although Philadelphia, here I come obviously deals with emigration, Friel states in an interview (1972) that: “Philadelphia was an analysis of a kind of love: the love between a father and a son and his birthplace.” (Hickey and Smith, 1972, p. 222).
The relationship between father and son is coined by a defective communication. Father and son have no longer anything to say to each other. Friel indicates this by the use of silence: “It’s the silence that’s the enemy” (Friel, 1965, p. 93) or “To hell with all strong silent man. “(ibid., p. 89). “Screwballs, say something! Say something, Father" (ibid., p. 80).
Gar longs to communicate with his father like he used to in earlier times. He want to restore the relationship urgently, which is indicated by the repetition of “Say something father”. When they talk to each other they “embarrass one another” (ibid., p. 49). Gar has a memory of his father in which the relationship was still intact. He wants to restore this relationship before his departure to America.
Both father and son have happy memories of Gar’s childhood. But they differ highly from each other. Gar recalls this scene:
It says that once upon a time a boy and his father sat in a blue boat on a lake on an afternoon in May, and on that afternoon a great beauty happened, a beauty that has haunted the boy ever since, because he wonders now did it really take place or did he imagine it (ibid., p. 89).
Gar wonders if this happy recollection really took place or if it was just imagined. That is why he confronts his father with this memory, but he cannot remember. As S.B. tells Madge he has a different memory of Gar’s childhood, namely him going to school, wearing a sailor suit:
I can see him, with his shoulders back, and the wee head up straight, and the mouth, aw, man, as set, and says he this morning, I can hear him saying it, says he, ‘I’m not going to school. I’m going into my daddy’s business’[…]” (ibid., p. 96-97).
S.B. also has happy memories of the past with his son. He is emotionally touched by the scene which is indicated by his use of language like in “aw, man”. The relationship between him and Gar was intact, as Gar still called him “daddy” and not “Screwballs” (ibid., p. 49).
Emmert (1996) interprets the different memories as a sign of the a lack of comprehension for the prevailing similarities between father and son. This manifests itself in their inability to express emotions and to communicate with each other (cf. Emmert, 1996, p. 44). This is an contradiction with what Friel says about the memories in a self-portrait (1972):
Have I imagined the scene then? Or is it a composite of two or three different episodes? The point is […] I don’t think it matters. What matters is that for some
reason […] this vivid memory is there in the storehouse of the mind. For some reason the mind has shuffled the pieces of verifiable truth and composed a truth of its own. For me it is a truth (Murray, 1999, p. 39).
It does not matter if S.B. and Gar share the same memories, since the mind can falsify memories sometimes. For both of them the remembered scene took place the way they remember it. It has become their subjective truth. What matters is that S.B. and Gar both do have a happy memory at all, which shows that they do have a relationship and that they do feel love for each other. Even though the communication between father and son is defective, they have happy memories of the past. Not being able to utter this to each other makes the play very tragic.
The memory scene also has autobiographical aspects: Friel states in his selfportrait (1972):
My father and I used to go fishing on the lakes near the village. […] And there we are, the two of us, soaking wet, splashing along a muddy road that comes in at right angles to Glenties’ main street, singing about how my boat can safely float through the teeth of wind and weather (ibid., p. 38-39).
Friel’s memory strongly reminds one of Gar’s remembered scene. It also deals with a boat and it depicts a happy day with his father. Friel’s recollections are therefore obviously the basis for the memory scene in Philadelphia, here I come.
The communication does not just take part between the characters, but they also serve as Friel’s spokesmen. This will be the topic of the following chapter.
One also has to take into consideration that not just the characters within the play communicate with each other, but also that the author communicates with the reader through his characters. In Translations it is the character Hugh and in Making History it is the historiographer Lombard who serve as Friel’s spokesmen. In Translations, Hugh represents the point of view that the English language must be accepted and that the Irish have to accommodate to changes.
Unlike Jimmy, who only lives in the past, Hugh tells Owen: “We must learn where we live. We must learn to make them our own. We must make them our new home. “(Friel, 1981, p. 444). With this parallelism, beginning with “We must” the urgency and necessity of adopting to changes is expressed. The parallelism also contains a climax. Beginning with becoming aware of where the Irish live, with dealing with their homeland, they have to internalise and accept the new conditions. Finally they have to feel so comfortable with them that they feel like home. This goes far beyond the acceptance of the new place names. Hugh recognizes the necessity for modernisation. This is an open-ended cultural project that brings along many uncertainties, as the ending of the play suggests. Hugh is trying to remember a line from Virgil’s Aeneid where “she discovered that a race was springing from Trojan blood to overthrow some day these Tyrian towers” (ibid., p. 447). These lines indicate a prophecy of renewal. Just like Rome traced back its roots to Troy, Ireland may one day renew itself by revitalising its original roots. Moreover an analogy between Ireland, ruled by the British and Carthage, ruined by Rome, can be drawn (cf. Peacock, 1993, p. 131).
The fading end hints at the continuous development and leaves the reader in “confusion” (Friel, 1981, p. 446), a “fairly accurate description of how we all live, specifically at the present time.”(Murray, 1999, p. 88) The question arises if an acceptance of the English language will lead to a decay of Irish identity or rather to its renewal? (cf. Pilkington, 1990, p. 291) Hugh is a realist, who resists against fossilising, unlike Jimmy. He represents the same point of view as Friel. In an interview with Ciaran Carty (1980) Friel states:
There’s a line where the hedge-school teacher says that they’ll have to learn these names and they’ll have to make them their new home. And in some way that’s what the play is about: having to use a language the isn’t our own. ‘But I am not talking about the revival of the Irish language. I’m just talking about the language we have now what use we make of it and about the problems that having it gives us. The assumption, for instance, is that we speak the same language as England. And we don’t (Murray, 1999, p. 80).
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