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'It seems that history is to blame.' (Joyce, Ulysses) Discuss the representation of history in at least two of the course texts.

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'It seems that history is to blame.' (Joyce, Ulysses) Discuss the representation of history in at least two of the course texts. 'To hell with the truth as long as it rhymes.'(65)1 The presentation of history in Friel's plays, Translations and Making History and McGuinness's play Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme demonstrates both its complications and flaws. All three plays investigate the nature of history and its presentation to future generations. The predominant issue is that described above, does it matter if history is annaled completely truthfully? In a comparison between the truth and a good story, the narrative appears to win through. The corroboration between truth and 'storytelling' becomes such a complicated issue due to the many contradictions within Irish history and how the historians of either side compensate for these. 'History,' in these plays is no longer the presentation of factual evidence; due to the pervading element of propaganda the truth becomes subordinate to the story people want to tell, or the tale people want to hear. All three plays question whether the definite reality of the situation is all-important, or if it is only a version of the truth that we really want to hear. Terence Brown terms the years 1959-79, the 'Decades of Debate.' During this period a new approach to the historiography of Ireland emerged with Conor Cruise O'Brien as one of the main advocators. O'Brien wanted to introduce what he described as, sharp doses of realism necessary to cure the chronic low level fantasy induced by nationalist ideology.2 O'Brien wanted to destroy the myth that the 'Irish nation' was predestined from the Easter Rising of 1916. From the proclamation of the Irish republic by Pearse, one can see the romanticism surrounding the nationalist ideal of the Irish State.3 O'Brien set out to create a new representation of Irish history, which would distinguish between 'history proper' and the 'essentially 'literary current in Irish history.''4 He viewed the relationship that had developed between literature and politics as an 'unhealthy intersection' and the infection of reality of history by romanticism. ...read more.


In Making History the irony of the multiple interpretations develops through the presentation and juxtaposition of both points of view. Just as O'Donnell refers to Henry Bagenal as 'Butcher Bagenal' (14), Mabel declares that 'Henry calls him Butcher O'Donnell;'(17) both sides tell the same stories. Mabel is taken in by the stereotypes as she actually checks her hand to see if it has turned black after shaking hands with an Archbishop, an event reminiscent of Pyper's story about the three-legged Papist whore. The fact that Mabel and Moore do believe the stories, to whatever extent, demonstrates the dangers of 'stories' especially if they are based on falsity. The stories, which stereotype either side, create boundaries of fear and superstition between the two factions; a dangerous segregation of people, who share many of the same essential beliefs on standards in society, based on untruths. Many events in Irish history can be used or interpreted to serve the needs of both sides. Mary advocates the ideal that the colonialists, her father, 'tamed' and 'brought order' (14) to the ignorant, Irish savages. Mabel is able to see the nationalist, or Irish view of this, I imagine the Cistercian monks in Newry didn't think our grandfather an agent of civilisation when he routed them out of their monastery and took it over as our home. (24) The same events behave as tools of propaganda for both sides. The 'truths' of history can be contorted to serve the needs of the historian. The audience becomes the deciding factor over the presentation of what is portrayed as being 'absolute truth.' The life of Hugh O'Neill can be told in many different ways. And those ways are determined by the needs and demands and expectations of different people and different eras. What do they want to hear? How do they want it told?' (15) Lombard suggests that the figures in history and the historian are subordinate to the desires of the audience, that the truth is secondary to the desires of the individual. ...read more.


The sons of Ulster will rise and lay their enemy low, as they did as the Boyne, as they did at the Somme. (10) The truth being that 'the sons of Ulster' were slaughtered at the Somme. The incongruities of history arise due to the act of remembrance being the main ritual of history. In Translations, Owen is the only one to remember the story of Tobair Vree, yet Hugh says 'to remember everything is a form of madness,'(67) and the play ends on Hugh's forgetfulness. Pyper repeats this view, Did you intend that we should keep seeing ghosts? It was the first sign that your horrors had shaken us into madness. (9) Ghosts are the memories of history and to only remember ghosts would lead to madness. 'Observe the Sons of Ulster' commences with Remembrance, signifying its importance. One should remember events so that a lesson may be learnt. The irony of the ritual is that due to the inconsistencies of history, one may be learning a lesson from inaccurately represented information; one may be basing beliefs upon the accounts of 'historians' such as Lombard. The three plays I have examined all demonstrate the fatality of an unquestioned belief in history. The mistaken trust of the 'sons of Ulster' that they are 'God's chosen' and will always triumph as they did at the Boyne; the belief of the inhabitants of Baile Baeg that there will never be potato blight because of the prophecy of St. Colmcile, 'The spuds will bloom in Baile Baeg/ till rabbits grow an extra lug.'(21-22) The representation of history is that one should never accept it at face value, that it always carries the agenda of the historian. The individuals are deprived of their significance through their portrayal in history. Pyper, Roulston Moore, all become, 'the sons of Ulster;' Hugh O'Neill becomes 'The O'Neill,' individual place names are translated and a people and language are forgotten. The representation of history becomes the remembrance of useful, convenient facts, with no possibility for 'absolute truths. ...read more.

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