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Remembering Differently: Historical Facts and Dramatic Truth in Brian Friel’s Translations

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2008, 21(1), pp.151-180
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama

Hyungseob Lee 1

1한양대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

Critical responses to Brian Friel’s Translations have largely focused on its political implications and undertones. Although the playwright has acknowledged that no contemporary Irish play can escape from its political context, he has also remarked that his overriding concern in the play is to explore “the dark and private places of individual souls.” The dramatic truth that the playwright aspires to should be private in nature. At the same time, the predicaments of private lives are seen through their entanglement with the process of socio-political and cultural transformations. By dramatizing the critical moments in modern Irish history in which the process of individual displacement began, Friel tries to reinstate those dispossessed private lives into Irish consciousness. This paper explores Friel’s dramatic retrieval of private lives displaced by the inexorable force of history, and in doing so considers the playwright's views concerning the dramatic exploitation of historical facts. In my reading, the aesthetic aspect of the play takes on central importance. Consequently, it is argued that all the politicized responses to the play are the result of misconstruing Friel’s dramatic use of mise-en-scène in terms of historical memory and its causational orders and relations. For him, dramatic art is an act of remembering differently — differently, that is, from historical memory. The dramatic form Friel adopts is essentially Chekhovian with its objective yet compassionate viewpoint, on the one hand, and its ironic action and tone of voice, on the other. However, Friel’s play is political in the sense that retrieving private lives from and against historical memory can itself be a political act. Furthermore, he believes that renewing the past images by creating new Irish-English vocabulary is one significant means by which the fragmented cultural identities of Ireland can be mediated. And yet, Friel’s ultimate achievement in Translations is to make us able to see those Ballybeg people as people, not just as agents of history, literary symbols, or national stereotypes.

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