Essay on Brian Friel's Translations

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Brian Friel's Translations

Brian Friel’s play Translations was the first production of the Field Day Theatre Company in Derry in 1980, which Friel co-founded with Stephen Rea. It describes the beginning of the process of Anglicization in a relatively remote Gaelic-speaking area during the 1833 Survey of Ireland, in which the English mapped Ireland, both culturally and geographically. Years of concerted anglicizing of the Irish by the British early in the 19th century led to the widespread fall into disuse of the native Gaelic tongue. National schools teaching exclusively in English began to open during the Survey of Ireland, and English culture encroached rapidly into Ireland. William Butler Yeats and Douglas Hyde write from the
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Hyde’s speech argues that the Irish had by that point indiscriminately adopted all that was English with little thought as to its value, that the Irish had “[ceased] to be Irish without becoming English.”2 He criticizes those Irish who claim to hate British dominance, yet speak only English, anglicize their Irish names, and remain ignorant of Gaelic literature. His central view is that the Gaelic language is the most important aspect of an Irish identity distinct to that of the British, and that only a return to Ireland’s native language can halt the process of Anglicization. However, he is careful not to make the claim that nothing English is of value, but emphasizes the necessity of not neglecting that which is essentially Irish.

The history of Ireland is one of early scholasticism and rich culture in times when the rest of Europe had less of a literary and artistic tradition. By the time of Hyde’s speech, the nation had become “one of the least studious and most un-literary”3 countries of the area, and he claims that the fault lies in a divergence from “the right path.”4 Progressive Anglicization has led the Irish to forget their own culture and its traditions. The British claim that because the Irish have forgotten much of their language and customs, they should be content as an integral part of the United Kingdom, and
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