How does Friel involve his audience in the conflict between coloniser and colonised in his play 'Translations'

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Andi Lapworth

How does Friel involve his audience in the conflict between coloniser and colonised in his play ‘Translations’

        The play ‘translations’ by Brian Friel is set in Ireland in 1833. During this time, the area was undergoing colonisation by the English and the play represents a microcosm of the events occurring all over the nation at the time. The consequence of this colonisation was inevitably that the Gaelic language native to Ireland was eventually lost and replaced by English.

        Friel develops a pre-disposed bias towards the colonised through the characterisation of both Hugh and Lancey and this creates an allegiance between the audience and the Hedge school natives. Hugh’s humerous persona is in stark contrast to Lancey’s dictatorial character. The fact that the audience knows the inevitable outcome of the situation adds weight to the empathy felt for the Irish because the audience knows that no matter what Irish natives do in an attempt to protect their identity, it will eventually be taken away from them.

        During the complication of the play, Hugh discusses the difference between the English and the Irish languages. “English succeeds in making it sound … Plebian”. Hugh is referring to the translation from Irish to English and the fact that the poeticism of the words are lost in the translation and the phrase becomes “Plebian” in his eyes. The three dot ellipses used in this sentence adds to the emphasis of the word Plebian and the audience realises the passion that Hugh has for language, and this leads them to feel empathy for his cause. When Yolland comments on Latin being “enormously rich and ornate”, Hugh responds with an over elaborate and hyperbolic statement using complex lexical choices such as ‘ostentations’ and ‘opulent’. Hugh demonstrates his wide vocabulary as a form of rhetoric in order to persuade Yolland that these languages have more to offer than English alone. In Hugh’s final addition to this scene, he leaves the audience with his recognition of the situation. “It can happen that a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of …fact” After his continual rejection of the English language, this statement comes as a surprise to the audience because it seems that Hugh is giving up on his beliefs however the statement does highlight his knowledge of the situation. The stage direction “he leaves” is simple yet dramatic. He leaves the audience to contemplate his statement and this dramatic feature acts as discourse in the play. This is a key moment when we realise that Hugh has resigned himself to the fact that the Gaelic language is destined to be lost. The emphasis of the word fact, due to the three dot ellipses, shows that Hugh recognises that the colonisation is going ahead and that his people will be helpless against it.

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        Lancey assumes the role of the coloniser and Friel characterises him to appear as a microcosm for the entire English army, due to his callous and unforgiving nature. At the beginning of the Dramatic crisis, Lancey enters the hedge school abruptly and is dismissive of Owen. “I understand there was a class. Where are the others?” This confident, dictatorial address is a definite contrast to his initial nervous, fragmented speech. This change in speech represents the change in the situation that Lancey finds himself in. When Lancey first arrived he was interested in creating some sort of rapport with the ...

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