In Brian Friel’s ” Translations” many different places are mentioned such as the hedge-school, Baile Beag, Ireland, England, America and India. However, the play is mainly set in the hedge-school and there is only one scene outside of the hedge-school which is set in a ‘ vaguely outside area’. Therefore one may question why Friel has mentioned such various places if they have no direct relevance to where the play is set and if these places are of great importance to the play and its characters. The hedge-school is the main setting of the play.
The hedge-school is held in a disused barn or hay-sed and is described to be, ‘ comfortless and dusty and functional’ This description of the classroom, is very contrasting to an average classroom as it is not clean,organised and suited for working conditions. It is appropriate for the classroom to be in such poor condition as hedge-schools were forbidden due to penal laws and education for Irish Catholics had to be held in secrecy so classrooms had to be hidden away in unusual places. Hedge-schools were therefore a lot of hassle for the Irish but still many Irish people attended these schools.
It was therefore appropriate for Friel to have chosen the hedge-school for the main setting of the play as it emphasises several different points. The first is that it shows how the Irish were rebelling against the English. By the main setting being the hedge-school the audience is able to realise that the Irish were determined to educate themselves despite the enforced restrictions of the English. The audience therefore see the characters that attend the hedge-school to be strong-willed and respect them for their actions.
Another reasons for the setting could be that it coincides with one of the main themes of the play, education. By setting the play in the hedge-school, the education of the characters and their desire to speak different languages is witnessed. Friel can then introduce different ideas about education and language as they are in a relevant topic area. Such ideas are extremely substanical as they can arouse many significant questions. For instance, in the process of registering his students, Hugh realises a woman called Nora Dan is not present. He is then told that she has decided not to return and he says, Nora Dan can now write her name – Nora Dan’s education is complete’ Hugh says this in a mocking manner but meaningful questions such as, ‘Is education nessecary? ‘ And ‘ Does being educated give you the right to act superior to those less educated? ‘ Arise from such comments. The third reason why Friel may have mainly set “Translations” in the hedge-school, could also be to raise awareness of the dying way of life that many of the characters are involved with. At the time that the play is set, hedge-schools were dying out as National schools were being introduced in Ireland.
National schools were free yet the students were taught in English whereas hedge-schools were taught in Irish but students had to pay to attend these schools. Many students were not well-off and so National schools were the more appealable option. The fact that they would learn English was also an asset as English was seen as a language of the future and they could therefore make progress in life. By showing that the characters in “Translations” were studying in a hedge-school, Friel is showing the reader that the hedge-school and in turn community are fatally-flawed as the students are studying in a dying institution and in a dying language.
Some characters realise that there is no life for them in the hedge-school and leave the hedge-school whereas, there are some characters such as Sarah John Sally who are bound to the hedge-school and shrink their life as they are trapped in a dying institute. Sarah is stuck in the hedge-school as she cannot speak and is considered by the community to be dumb as her speech defect is so bad. She is ranked in one of the lowest social positions because she cannot venture much further out of the hedge-school as she cannot communicate and it is therefore inevitable that she will never get far in life.
A character that tries to escape the hedge-school, is Maire. Maire is a key character that is involved in the only scene that takes place outside the hedge-school. The scene takes place in a, ‘ vaguley outside area’ and surrounds the love story between the English Lieutenant Yolland and Maire. It is highly significant that Friel sets this scene in a place outside of the hedge-school, as Maire and Yolland, for a small moment in time are not affected by Irish or English influences and if the scene was set in the hedge-school, then the Irish influences would affect the course of their love.
Friel also adds in the stage directions to, ‘ Fade the music to distant background. Then after a time it is lost and replaced by guitar music’ By fading the Irish music Friel is getting rid of any dominating Irish influences. It is significant that he instrusts guitar music to replace the Irish music, as guitar music is neither English or Irish, it is Mediterranean and does not seem to suit the play. Friel does this on purpose as the music is does not fit with Ireland or England and is out of place, just like Maire and Yolland’s love.
In turn, this helps emphasise the point that love can cross barriers and is not restricted by language or where you come from. The next obvious place that is mentioned in the play, is the town of Baile Beag. It is significant that Friel mentions Baile Beag as many events take place within the town that affect the characters of the play. For example, Bridget tells her fellow Irishmen that as soon as her brother, ‘ crossed over the gap at Cnoc na Mona – just beyond where ther solders are making the maps – the sweet smell was everywhere’ When Bridget refers to the ‘ sweet smell’ she is talking about the smell of rotting potatoes.
This concerened many of the characters as potatoes were their main source of income and nutrition and what was known as a potato blight, would ruin their community and lives. It is significant that Friel mentions Baile Beag as events in the town affect the characters and provide them with certain problems which in turn adds more drama to the play. It is also clear that it does not really matter that the audience never see the actual events as characters such as Bridget come in to the hedge-school and tell the other characters the details of such events.
It is also significant for Friel to mention Baile Beag as Baile Beag is portrayed as a dying town and therefore highlights the bad situation for those attending the hedge-school to a further extent. Characters that cannot escape Baile Beag such as Jimmy Jack and Hugh are also shown to be trapped and cannot make any progress with their lives. A perfect example of this is when Hugh and Jimmy Jack are speaking of past conflicts with the English. In 1798 Jimmy Jack and Hugh had been called to fight for their country . Hugh describes how Jimmy Jack and himself had been brave and marched twenty-three miles away from their town.
The two however then got, ‘ homesick for Athenes, just like Ulysses. The desiderium nostrorum – the need for our own’. The two therefore are incapable of leaving their dying town and so suffer the consequences. Jimmy Jack, so lost in Greek texts that he has lost touch with reality and Hugh, is always drunk and a bad father to one of his sons. It is clear that by mentioning Baile Beag Friel is able to show the audience or reader how being attached to certain places in the play can affect a character’s life and future. Hugh’s son Owen, is one of the characters who escaped the dying town of Baile Beag.
He moved to Dublin, became a successful buisnessman and gained much respect and love from the community. Friel does not need to set a scene of “Translations” in Dublin in order for the audience or reader to know that Owen had moved to Dublin as he uses Maire to get across the vital information. ‘ We heard stories that you own ten big shops in Dublin’ It is significant that Friel mentions Dublin as the reader can then understand that by moving out of Baile Beag, into other areas of Ireland, one gains a lot more in life and has a better way of living.
Although moving out of small Irish towns into more industrial areas seems to garantee a better lifestyle, Friel also gives the reader or audience the impression that coming from Ireland all together, no matter what part you come from, cannot compare to being English. Captain Lancey, Owen’s boss, is a recruit in the English army and his character makes it clear that he believes that to come from England gives you superiority over the Irish. His opinion is made apparent when he gives a speech to the hedge-school students. He speaks as if he were adressing children – a shade too loudly and emunciating excessively’ For Lancey to speak in such a way is extremely insulting to the Irish. He talks to them as though they were unbelievabley uneducated and slow when in fact the only reason they cannot follow what he is saying is because he cannot speak Latin,Greek or Irish. Compared to the Irish citizens of Baile Beag, who can speak up to four different languages, Lancey could emerge the uneducated one as he can only speak one language.
However, this also shows that if Lancey feels that because he can speak English he is superior to any Irishman, then being English gives you an advance in life. One of Lancey’s men, Lieutenant Yolland does not share Lancey’s attitude but is proud of where he comes from. When Maire recites the only English line she has ever learnt, ‘ in Norfolk we besport ourselves around the maypoll’, Yolland get’s overwhelmingly excited and replies by saying, ‘ That’s where my mother comes from – Norfolk. Norwhich actually. Not exactly Norwhich town but a small village called Little
Walsingham close by it’ Yolland is so passionate about familiar places in England that Maire thinks, as she does not understand what he is saying, that she had learnt something rude but the whole thing turns in to a joke between them and as a consequence they fall more in love. It is therefore significant that Friel involves England in “Translations” as it shows why the Irish and English clashed so greatly, the attitudes of some Englishmen and it also influences the love scene and story of Yolland and Maire.
Friel also involves countries a lot further away from Ireland and England, such as America. America is mentioned by Maire who is looking for a way out of Baile Beag. She tells Manus her reason for doing so, ‘ There’s ten below me to be raised and no man in the house’ By moving to America, Maire would be able to give her family a better life by sending some of her wages back to Ireland. Therefore life in America is suggested to be a lot greater than in Ireland.
Friel is creating a pattern, the further you move away from the the hedge-school and Baile Beag, the more successful you shall be and the better life you will have. Another far-off country mentioned by Friel is India. India was supposed to be Yolland’s military destination except he missed the boat and ended up going to Ireland instead. Yolland, although initially happy in Ireland suffers the consequence of not moving away from Ireland and moving in to it, as he dissapears and is thought to have been murdered by the end of the play.
Therefore Friel’s pattern is given more depth, as he is saying that although moving away can garantee success, moving towards Ireland can be very hazardous. Friel’s presentation of the world is of great significance to” Translations”, as it helps the reader get a better understanding of the play. By setting the majority of the play in the hedge-school, Friel is able to focus on important themes and ideas. The scene set outside the hedge-school is significant as it fits the situation of love crossing the barriers.
Baile Beag is mentioned to emphasise the dying ways of the hedge-school and also the events within the town, which are passed on by its inhabitants to other members of the community, add drama and depth to the play. It is important that Friel involves Ireland and England in the play as the play is very much set around the English take-over of Ireland and therefore the two countries need to be included in the play in order for the reader to understand the people from the different countries and why they are in such great conflict.
Countries outside Europe all together are also significant to the play as they introduce Friel’s pattern of, the futher you move away from the hedge-school and Baile Beag, the more success you will have in life. Another pattern that emerges from the different places in the play is that there are borders between each places. To get from Baile-Beag to Ireland you cross over from a rural, traditional place to a more commerical, industrial place and order to cross this boundry you must have determination and courage to be away from your own people and family.
From Ireland to England, you cross the boundaries of language and culture and from Ireland or England to America or India, you must be able to have a great amount of courage, practicallity and a desire to expand your knowledge. Some characters are able to cross the boundaries quite easily, like Owen who could move in and out of the community of Baile Beag however there are other characters such as Hugh who have tried to get outside Baile Beag but have failed and as a consequence have less successful lives.
By mentioning all these different places, Friel also gives a better understanding of the characters that are associated with the different places. For example Sarah is associated with the hedge-school and is not socially accepted and does not have a rich or respectable lifestyle, whereas Lancey is associated with England and has an enormous amount of power, respect and a good lifestyle.