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In drama, the opening scenes of the play normally provide an exposition, and
establish characters and themes. Translations does this, beginning by providing
a stage setting which contributes immediately to our appreciation of rural Irish
communal life in the early 19th century. As Friel describes it there is a hedge
school situated in a \'disused barn\' with the remains of \'five or six stalls\'. It
is full of \'broken and forgotten implements\', and the room is \'comfortless\' with
\'no trace of a woman\'s hand. This depicts a poor community in a place of
learning. The community however, emerges as a very active place with a sense of
social activity and togetherness, an atmosphere established through references
to people and places off stage. Pubs such as Gracies, Con Connie Tim\'s, and Anna
mBreags are well known meeting places. Characters who never appear on stage-Bed
Ned Frank, Biddy Hanna, Sean Beag, Seamus, and the Donnelley Twins contribute to
this feel of a busy community, hence the opening scene can be said to provide an
exposition, fulfilling the function of what opening scenes do.
Another thing the opening scene of ‘Translations’ does is introduce the
themes and devices of the play.
One theme introduced is Humour, which is used for two purposes; to bring
light-heartedness to the play to entertain the audience, and to break and
release tension, so that there are alternating atmospheres in scenes to make the
play more riveting.
Examples of the latter in the opening scenes are Jimmy Jacks humorous speech,
on Athenes ‘supple limbs’ and ‘flaxen hair’, and the fact that his only
knowledge of any English words is ‘bosom’. Also, is Maires one sentence of
English that she learnt from her Aunt, ‘In Norfolk we besport ourselves around
An example of the latter situation is when Marie brings news that the
\'English soldiers are below in the tents\'. The tension increases significantly
with Marie\'s reference to the English provoking a strong reaction from Manus,
when would not have otherwise responded to her nagging. \'What the hell are you
so crabbed about’. At this point, when the tension is rife, the intervention
of humour is used in the entrance of Doalty who enters imitating Hugh, the
schoolmaster, \'vespearal salutations to you. The humour serves as a contrast to
the tension before, therefore reinforcing in the audiences’ mind the violent
reaction of Manus before the humour. It serves to highlight an important point
for the audience, that Manus dislikes the English and can be characterised as a
person in opposition of them. This method of using tension, then humour in a
cycle keeps the play more riveting. It is a recurrent device, established in the
first act which is utilised in the rest of the play.
Irony is another device introduced in the play which continues throughout the
play. It is used to undermine important points. An example can be found in Scene
1 where Hugh\'s views are undermined. Hugh claims that the English are
particularly suited to the \'purposes of commerce\', implying that Gaelic is not,
but he then ironically shouts to Manus for a slice of soda bread, showing that
Gaelic is needed for those purposes. This shows that Gaelic is not necessarily
better than English as they are both used for commerce.
Politics is an important theme introduced in the opening scene of the play.
The Hedge schools in which the opening scenes are set were a form of rebellion
against English colonial rule in the early 19th century, thus the audience are
aware of the political context in which the play is set. . Events in the play
parallel events of that time. For example the English were in the process of
anglicising Ireland during the period when the play was set, and were occupying
Ireland, and Marie informs the audience that the English soldiers are \'below in
the tents\'. Similarly, Maire reference to the smell of \'sweet potatoes\' is
parallel to potato famine about to take place in Ireland. As well as this, is
the revelation from Owen that \'a new map is being made of the whole country\'.
This parallels the events of 1824-26 when ordinate survey maps were being drawn.
The political context in which the story is set is important, as it is a basis
of understanding the play. Its relevance throughout the play is marked from the
opening scene at the mention of ‘hedge schools.’
Another theme, Translation is established in the opening scenes and is
prevalent in the play. There are linguistic translations with Hugh constantly
asking his pupils to translate
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Irish language, Toponymy, Translations
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