Good Essays
Shakespeare once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” I would have to disagree with Juliet’s assertion that a name is a meaningless convention, and I think Brian Friel would as well. It is a concept addressed in his play Translations, set at a time of change for his native Ireland, when the country itself is on the cusp of submission to the imperialism of England. Two significant colonial events are taking place: the implementation of the National School System which replaced locally-run hedge schools like the one in which the play is set, as well as the remapping of Ireland and anglicising of place names by the British. To translate something means to change it from one condition to another, or adapt it from one system or language into another; indeed this metaphor can be applied to this play but also to Irish history. In this paper I will discuss this play as an examination of language as a defining characteristic of a particular culture and its consequent power as a colonizing tool, the way language and communication can manifest themselves as positive or negative influences and how Friel exposes the violence, figurative and literal, suffered by the Irish people as a result of these translations. The English colonizers are using language in a negative capacity, as a vehicle to exert their power over Ireland. They claim that the renaming of places is being done “to advance the interests of Ireland,” (31), when in fact it is a step to eradicating the Gaelic language. While the English may not be enslaving the Irish or moving them all to reservations, as in the case of Canadian and American First Nations peoples, this is an example of a more subtle, but equally as damagin... ... middle of paper ... ...slating a story (and struggling with the translation of it) that celebrates the triumphs of the Roman Empire, and written in Latin, the language of the conquering Romans. The irony of this final scene is that Translations is a play written by an Irish playwright, but written and performed in English, the language of Ireland’s conquerors. The message of Translations is simple: language is something much bigger than a way to communicate. Language is at the cornerstone of identity, whether it personal identity or that of an entire nation. To attempt to eradicate the language of a particular place is a crime against its character and legacy. Given Ireland’s unique colonial history and the challenges it still faces today in regards to the preservation of its culture and language, it is easy to see why this play has become such an important piece of Irish culture.
Get Access