Critical Context

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Translations is representative of the type of regional drama Brian Friel has become renowned for writing: from Philadelphia, Here I Come! (pr. 1964) through Translations, The Communication Cord (pr., pb. 1983), Dancing at Lughnasa (pr., pb. 1990), and Wonderful Tennessee (pr., pb. 1993). Friel has firmly grounded his plays in the village of Ballybeg in County Donegal. While most of Friel’s plays explore the question of Irish existence as defined by the continued presence of British culture and language, Translations is viewed as one of his most political works because of its historical perspective. Critics have noted that in the 1970’s Friel began to intensify the political dimension of his plays, and Translations is the culmination of that process. Translations sheds the pathos of Frank Hardy’s self-conscious, dramatizing monologues and false miracles in Faith Healer (pr. 1979) for a more objective treatment of language as a binding communal force. In part, this shift can be attributed to Friel’s work with the Field Day Theatre Group, which he co-founded in 1980 with the Belfast-born actor Stephen Rea, and for which Translations was the inaugural play.

In The Communication Cord, which Friel considers a thematic extension of Translations, a farcical tone replaces the tragic outcome of the earlier play. Tim Gallaher, a university lecturer in linguistics, believes that communication collapses when there is no “shared context” or “agreed code.” Tim is a younger modern version of Hugh O’Donnell, who witnesses in Translations this diminution in communication and awaits the very modernity Tim is attempting to displace. Translations and The Communication Cord balance each other in terms of tone, setting, and theme. If Translations centers on Ireland’s past and its surrender to the future domination by England, The Communication Cord harkens back nostalgically to the language which is intrinsically Irish. For Friel and many of his fellow Irish writers, such concerns are inescapable in a world of linguistic and cultural erosion.

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