"Translations" is a three-act play by Irish
playwright Brian Frielwritten in 1980. It is set in Baile Beag (Ballybeg), a small village at the heart of 19th century agricultural Ireland. Friel has said that "Translations" is "a play about language and only about language", but it deals with a wide range of issues, stretching from language and communication to Irish history and cultural imperialism. Despite the 1833setting, there are obvious parallels between Baile Beag and today's world.
Baile Beag may be presumed to be a fictional village, although such a placename does exist: as a working class suburb of
Waterford, a village in County Wicklowand a village in County Down(all in Ireland). However, it is also a generic name for a small village, which Friel uses in several of his other plays.
Performance and publication
"Translations" was first performed at the Guildhall in
Derry, Northern Ireland, on Tuesday, 23 September 1980. It was the first production by the Field Day Theatre Companyfounded by Brian Friel and Stephen Rea. It was directed by Art O Briainand featured the following castFriel, Brian (1981). "Translations." London: Faber and Faber.] :
Jack Roy Hanlon(Jimmy Jack)
David Heap(Captain Lancey)
Shaun Scott(Lieutenant Yolland)
The play was staged in
New York Cityin 1981by the Manhattan Theatre Club, starring Barnard Hughes. It was briefly revived on Broadway in 1995in a production starring Brian Dennehy. In 2006-07, the Manhattan Theatre Club returned it to the stage at the McCarter Theatrein Princeton, New Jerseyand the Biltmore Theatrein New York, directed by Garry Hynes.Gluck, Victor. [http://www.theaterscene.net/ts/articles.nsf/BP/D23F6B296EAB9D73852572730026409E "Translations"] Review at Theaterscene.net, 29 January 2007. Retrieved 11 March 2008.]
This play is set in the quiet community of Baile Beag (later anglicized to Ballybeg), in
County Donegal, Ireland. Many of the inhabitants have little experience of the world outside the village. In spite of this, tales about Greek goddesses are as commonplace as those about the potato crops, and many languages (ancient and modern) are spoken in the village. Friel uses language as a tool to highlight the problems of communication - lingual, cultural, and generational. In the world of the play, the characters, both Irish and English, "speak" their respective languages, but in actuality English is predominantly spoken. This allows the audience to understand all the languages, as if a translator were provided. However, onstage the characters cannot comprehend each other if a common language is not shared.
The action begins with Owen (mistakenly pronounced as Roland by his British counterparts), younger son of the schoolmaster Hugh and brother to aspiring teacher Manus, returning home after six years away in
Dublin. With him are Captain Lancey, a middle-aged, pragmatic cartographer, and Lieutenant Yolland, a young, idealistic and romantic orthographer. Owen acts as a translator and go-between for the British and Irish.
Yolland and Owen work to translate local placenames into English for purposes of the
Complicating matters is a
love trianglebetween Yolland, Manus, and a local woman, Maire Chatach. Yolland and Maire manage to show their feelings for each other despite the fact that Yolland speaks only English and Maire only Irish. Manus, however, had been hoping to marry Maire, and is infuriated by Yolland. He sets out to attack him, but in the end cannot bring himself to do it.
Unfortunately, Yolland goes missing overnight (it is hinted that he has been attacked, or worse, by any of a number of locals with rebellious intent), and Manus flees. Maire is in denial about Yolland's disappearance and remains convinced that he will return unharmed. The British soldiers, forming a search party, rampage across Baile Beag, and Captain Lancey threatens first shooting all livestock and then evicting and destroying houses if Yolland is not found. The play ends ambiguously, with the schoolmaster Hugh consoling himself by reciting the opening of the
Aeneid, which tells of the impermanence of conquests. Unfortunately, Hugh's stumbling attempts at recitation are evidence that our memory is also impermanent.
Friel's play tells of the current struggle between both England and Ireland during this turbulent time. The play focuses mainly on (mis)communication and language to tell of the desperate situation between these two countries with an unsure and questionable outcome.
* The Englishmen in the play are a detachment of the
Royal Engineersand function as part of the Ordnance Surveycreating six-inch to the mile maps of all of Ireland. The characters of Lancey and Yolland are fictionalized representations of two real soldiers who took part in the survey: Thomas Colbyand William Yolland.cite journal
last = Bullock
first = Kurt
title = Possessing Wor(l)ds:Brian Friel’s Translations and the Ordnance Survey
journal = New Hibernia Review
volume = 4
location = St Pauls, MN
date = 2000
accessdate = ]
* The character Maire contemplates emigration to America, reflecting the mass emigration of Irish people to America in the 19th century.
* There are fearful references to
potato blight, reminding the reader of the Irish Potato Famineof the 1840s, even though the play is set in 1833.
* Irish politician and hero
Daniel O'Connellis mentioned and quoted as saying that Irish people should learn English and that the Irish language was a barrier to modern progress. Anglicizationof place names, including Baile Beag (the setting), is prominent in the dialog, because it is Lieutenant Yolland's professional assignment.
national schoolis to open in the town, replacing the existing hedge-school.
* Characters Hugh and Jimmy remember how they marched to battle during the
1798 rebellionagainst the British influence in Ireland, only to march back home upon feeling homesick.
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