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In Act 1 of 'Translations' Friel presents us with an 'intellectual Irish Arcadia'. How far do you agree?

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Introduction

In Act 1 of 'Translations' Friel presents us with an 'intellectual Irish Arcadia'. How far do you agree? 'Translations', by Brian Friel, presents us with an idyllic rural community turned on its head as the result of the recording and translation of place names into English; an action which is at first sight purely administrative. In Act 1 of the play, Friel brings together the inhabitants of this quaint Irish village in what can only be described as a gathering of minds - minds which study the classics, yet minds which study dead languages. In the same way, while this community is rich in culture and togetherness, it is also trapped in what is later described as a "contour which no longer matches the landscape of...fact". Thus, in expressing his ambivalence, Friel presents the reader with a question - is Baile Beag an intellectual Irish Arcadia? There is no denying that Baile Beag is an intellectual community. At the beginning of the play, Jimmy Jack Cassie, one of the central characters, is in the process of reading Joyce's 'Ulysses'. He is capable of reading the text fluently and understands it, despite it being in another language (although he later reveals that, while he is fluent in Latin and Greek, he knows only one word of English). ...read more.

Middle

Furthermore, while Hugh, Jimmy Jack and Manus are intellectual, as people they are flawed. To begin with, Hugh is a drunk. The stage directions describe his initial entrance - "And immediately Hugh enters. A large man, with residual dignity". From this we can gather that Hugh had once been respected, yet is now a drunk (although he has retained some dignity). He is also highly pompous and pretentious - his sentences are wordy and convoluted, and he speaks so much that he consistently fails to get to the point. Upon entering, his first words are: "Adsum, Doalty, adsum. Perhaps not in sobrietate perfecta but adequately sobrius to overhear your quip. Vesperal salutations to you all". Furthermore, he treats Manus, his son, as a servant - the stage directions describe how, after entering for the first time, Hugh "removes his hat and coat and hands them and his stick to Manus, as if to a footman". In fact, this is similar to how Manus treats Sarah, one of his pupils. Yes, Manus is committed to his work and treats it almost like a vocation, yet he uses her, at one point asking her to "set out the stools". ...read more.

Conclusion

Yes, Friel presents us with character such as Hugh and Jimmy Jack who are fluent in Latin and Greek, yet Baile Beag is also home to the less intelligent (Doalty and Bridget) and the less willing to learn. Certainly, the intellectual capacity of characters in the play cause the reader to look beyond his/her stereotypes of the nature of Ireland and its people at that time, yet Baile Beag is not what one would describe as a predominantly intellectual community. Furthermore, while Baile Beag is a place rich in community and in culture, a sense of threat and danger undercuts this. For, you see, Friel presents us with a society that teeters on a knife-edge; a people that live in constant fear of rural collapse and the horrendous poverty which would inevitably follow. Exacerbating the relentless grip which this fear has on people's lives is the prospect of the collapse of the Irish language at the hands of the national school, and the potential cultural and linguistic erosion as the result of the remapping of Ireland by imperial forces (although it is unlikely that the people of Baile Beag were aware of this erosion until it occurred). Therefore, while Baile Beag may be a relatively intellectual community, it is in no way an idyllic Arcadia. 1 Darren Anderson. 13PD. ...read more.

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