Classical Languages and Cultural Memory in Brian Friel’s "Translations"

Benedetto Passaretti (Dipartimento di Lingue e Letterature Straniere, Università degli Studi di Udine)


This study explores the ways in which classical languages occupy the liminal space between Irish and English in Brian Friel’s play Translations, first performed in 1980. Set in a hedge-school of County Donegal, Ireland, in 1833, almost thirty years after the Acts of Union, Translations is a play about language. Latin and Greek are spoken fluently by both the pupils and the hedge-schoolmaster, in a multilingual environment which however excludes the knowledge of English. This is spoken by the British soldiers who are surveying the region, getting hold of the foreign landscape by renaming Gaelic toponyms into English. Classical languages, as ‘dead’ languages, might prefigure the fate of Irish itself, whose cultural power is increasingly fading in the face of the growing political influence of Britain. Yet, at a closer reading, the community’s attachment to the classics might be conceived as a most effective tool of anti-colonial resistance, as soon as the memory of the past embedded in language is ‘translated’ into an effective model for understanding and living the present.

DOI: 10.4424/lam32014-7


Brian Friel; Translations; Classical languages; Irish language; English language; English literature.

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