An Irishman referring to an Englishman as his friend at the time that the play is set was very extraordinary as many Irishmen were bitter due to the English take-over of Ireland and therefore Owen’s comment shows how he is perfectly suited for his role as the translator; he is neither pro-Ireland nor pro-England and acts as mediator between the two sides. A character that does not resist the prejudice views of his country is Captain Lancey, an English soldier that invades Ireland along with his men.
Brian Friel effectively builds up Captain Lancey’s character, as he did Hugh’s, by letting other character’s opinions and encounters with Captain Lancey to influence their opinion of him before he even appears in the play. One example of this is when Hugh is talking to his students about Lancey. Hugh tells his students the horrifying fact that Lancey does not speak a word of Latin or Greek, he only, ‘ speaks – on his own admission- only English; and to his credit he seemed suitabley verecund ‘
From Hugh’s description, one can understand that Lancey is a humble character that only speaks English and only speaks at all when it suits him.
This makes Lancey out to be an arrogant character as he does not appriciate the language of the country that he is in nor does he come across as a friendly, warm character. Lancey’s character is built-up further through stage directions. He is described to be a very organised, militaristic man who is excellent at his job but has weak communication skills with people,
‘ especially civilans, especially these foreign civilans.
His skill is deeds, not words’ Lancey is shown to believe that as he is English and in the army he has the right to look down on other people that are not to his rank. Therefore is he shown to be arrogant and not a people’s person and when Lancey finally appears in the play he lives up to all these characteristics as he treats the Irish people as though they are stupid and insignificant. Lancey seems to represent the stereotypical Englishman that many Irish people resented and had good reasons for.
Friel perhaps introduces Lancey so that the reader understands why the Irish resented the English so much and the Irish characters would therefore receive sympathy from the reader or audience. Friel however also introduces Lieutenant Yolland who has a contrasting character to Lancey. Yolland is not arrogant like Lancey and neither is he militaristic as he is described as, ‘ A soldier by accident ‘ It is important that Friel mentions that Yolland joined the army by accident as Yolland should not have any association with the harsh,strong image of the army.
Yolland is a very romantic character and instead of brushing the Irish language and people to one side and getting on with his job, he tells the people of Baile Beag that he has fallen in love with their country and that he feels foolish, ‘ to be working here and not speak your language’ Yolland apology to the Irish shows that he feels feels guilty for intruding such a beautiful country and that he does not wish to harm or insult it’s people, just get along with them. It is clear to see how different Yolland and Lancey are and Friel does this to show that not all Englishmen were like Lancey.
He may also do this as the effective comparison shows Yolland to be caring and considerate and therefore liked by the reader so they feel a connection with Yolland and any events that happen further on in the play to Yolland with have a greater impact. Yolland is not the only character that is desperate to speak another language besides his mother tongue. Maire is another character who although she speaks Irish,Greek and Latin, realises that English is the way forward and is anxious to learn how to speak it. She says to Hugh,
‘ We should all be learning to speak English’ By directly confronting her teacher with such a comment, when she knows that he is against the English language shows that Maire is very opiniated and is not afraid of speaking her mind. Maire’s stage directions also show her to be a strong character, ‘ a strong-minded, strong-bodied woman’ Yet again Friel builds up the character through their stage directions so that their characteristics are seen more clearly as they are focused on. Maire is also a practical character and this is shown through her wanting to speak English.
She wants to speak English so that she can go work in America and get out of the fatally-flawed town. This means she wants to swap a dying life for a life of prosperity, a very practical measure. Other characters are less serious about life and are not as practical as Maire. Such characters are Doalty and Brigdet who discard the serious matters in life and instead their life seems to revolve around having fun and gossip. Doalty enters the scene, ‘ doing his imitation of the master’ This is typical of Doalty, to be messing around and causing chaos.
Bridget however is not far behind, giggling and gossiping away to the other students of the hedge school. Although on the surface, it may seem that Doalty and Bridget are only mentioned by Friel to add a more light-hearted feel to the play, they also have a more serious purpose. Through the gossip and accounts that Bridget and Doalty tell or experience, the reader is told a lot of information of events outside the hedge school. An example of this is when Bridget tells the class of an incident involving the British army. ‘ two of the soldiers’ horses were found last night at the foot of the cliffs at
Machaire Buide’ This information is essential as it highlights the conflict between the English and Irish. It is assumed by the characters in Baile Beag and the reader that the Donnelly twins were responsible for the incident involving the soldiers’ horeses. The Donnelly twins are never seen on stage but are mentioned by other characters. Friel does this so that he can assure that there will be no sympathetic feelings towards these two characters as if they appeared on stage one may feel some sort of personal attachment to the characters and their violent and aggressive image will be lost.
The Donnelly twins are active characters whereas characters such as Sarah and Jimmy Jack are very unactive characters. Jimmy Jack spends most of his time with his head up in the clouds, thinking that he is in acient Greece and spends most of his time speaking Greek or Latin. Jimmy Jack is quite a ridiculed character and it is easy to see why none of the other characters have much respect for him. At the start of Act one, Jimmy Jack tells Manus that he has been thinking late at night, of three women and asks Manus which one he would choose.
This seems a reasonabley normal request until the three women are revealed. ‘ Athene, Artemis and Helen of Troy’ Jimmy Jack is so stuck in the past that he has lost touch with reality. This is a great flaw and Jimmy Jack cannot be seen to make any progress in life and is stuck so far into the past that he is basically in his own world. Sarah although in touch with reality is also a character that makes no progress. Her stage directions state, ‘ Sarah’s speech defect is so bad that all her life she has been considered locally dumb and has accepted this’
The fact that Sarah cannot communicate with otheres means that she cannot make any progress in life. She is therefore bound to the hedge school and cannot even venture in to Baile Beag as she cannot survive properly if people cannot understand her. She is the exact opposite of a character such as Owen who is able to leave the community and become successful due to his knowledge of different languages. The only time Sarah ever speaks is to Manus and even then she can only say her own name. Sarah speaks to Manus as it seems that she is in love with him.
To be in love with a man who is going no where is life and that is lame, also shows that Sarah is doomed and will never gain success in life. The importance of Friel making the reader aware of the different relations that a character has is essential in the understanding of the character. It can show them to be weak or strong and determines part of the character. Stage directions are also extremely valuable to forming a judgement of a character as their physical appearance and values that may not come across in dialogue are emphasised and therefore the reader has a greater understanding of the character.
Friel ends act one with probably the most conclusive stage directions in the play. ‘ Manus watches Owen move confidently across the floor, taking Maire by the hand and introducing her to Yolland. Hugh is trying yo negotiate the steps. Jimmy is lost in a text. Doalty and Bridget are reliving their giggling Sarah is staring at Manus ‘ This end to the act sums up how each character should have been interpreted in Act one. Manus, wary of his brother and focusing on Maire shows him to be passive and reluctant to move on.
Hugh is seen as drunk and unable to get to where he wants in life. Jimmy Jack is lost in his own world and in turn lost touch with reality and will get no where in life. Doalty and Bridget are having fun and adding light humour to the scene. Sarah is lusting after Manus, unable to confess her feelings for him and is stuck on a man that is lame thus rendering her a failure in life. Friel adds this last stage direction to ensure that the reader or audience have a complete understanding of the characters and their relations in his play ” Translations”.
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