British literature is known for its charm and peculiar development of issues. Among the great gathering of poets, writers, and playwrights, there are two outstanding representatives – John Millington Synge and Brian Friel. Their plays The Playboy of the Western World and Translation respectively present the life of the Irish people to the audience. Although the playwrights depict different aspects of the rural community.
John Millington Synge is an outstanding playwright and one of the distinctive figures of Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. Particularly, he is a prominent representative of the Irish literary renaissance. His plays depict everyday life. Meanwhile, the central theme of his works is the dialect and folklore of the Irish peasantry. His writing is based mainly on two contemplative books about travel and observation: The Aran Islands and In Wicklow, West Kerry and Connemara. “They are of considerable personal interest, and they remain indispensable as setting out for us the sources of thought, plot, even the phraseology of many of the plays” (Henn 7). Furthermore, Synge determines the Irish authenticity in his works as “resolute, moral, in touch with the world around them, and – above all – proud and defiant” (Wilson).
The play The Playboy of the Western World is one of the most famous literary works he created. It is a comedy with elements of tragedy and satire. The playwright makes spectators laugh at the characters. However, he also exposes their human nature with all its faults and flaws. The actions take place in a lifeless part on the Atlantic coast of Ireland at the onset of the twentieth century. The audience observes people who are regular customers of Flaherty country tavern. The rural days are the same. They are filled with fishing and farming. Although the inhabitants are not satisfied with their lives, they do nothing to improve it.
However, Christy Mahon is an exception. He is an ordinary young man with a great ability to tell good stories. Namely, they make him a hero because he describes killing of his father. In such a way, he improves his self–esteem, becoming a better man by the end of the play.
Therefore, the leading theme of the play is rebellion and desire to find uniqueness in ordinary rural surroundings. Namely, it is Christy’s desire. He boasts about killing his father. Meanwhile, the society considers him a hero and accepts him favorably. Nevertheless, the situation is absurd because they applaud a murderer. However, people scold him when they find out that he lied them because the father is alive. When Christy endeavors to kill his parent in front of the public, he gains its disapproval.
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The theme of a person’s rebellion against the surrounding obstacles raises another aspect. The playwright depicts herd mentality of the community. Typically. The inhabitants of such settlements lead an ordinary way of life. It remains the same from generation to generation. Moreover, people do not have personal points of view. They follow the general tendencies without expressing themselves. For instance, people praise Christy at first and then they blame him. They are not interested in the truth, but the extraordinary story attracts their attention. Such reaction must appear due to the tranquility of the lifestyle and the lack of events. Consequently, the inhabitants move aside the moral aspect preferring amusement.
The other theme shown in the play The Playboy of the Western World is religion. The country inhabitants are normally distinguished from the urban ones by the moral order of their life and believes. Synge’s characters assume religious points of view for the sake of their own interests. For instance, the peasants become enamored by Christy when he depicts horrifying scenes in his story. Consequently, the liberty of religious deprivation allows for freedom in the stifling essence of the rural life. The crime Christy has committed inspires the inhabitants to dream of freedom and self, which is a realization out of religious deprivations. However, the playwright does not focus attention on religion in his work. It is mentioned as an antithetical issue to the personal liberty and individuality. According to this point of view, the conflict between religious regulations and the rural life forms another central theme of the play.
Thus, both themes are contradictory within the frame of one environment. The same rural settlement engages them. On one hand, it is the longing to be different and worthy. On the other hand, it is the ennui of everyday life and the lack of entertainment. For this reason, they stay in the local tavern and listen to various stories. The first aspect is represented in Christy’s figure. Meanwhile, the second one is embodied in the community’s perception of the situation.
Another famous English dramatist of Irish origin, Brian Friel, is a significant literary figure. He guaranteed himself a place within the best Irish playwrights. His works are distinguished by their power and provocative struggles of their characters. “What distinguishes Friel from many of his contemporaries and predecessors however, is the marked restraint of his criticisms and his unwillingness to engage in sardonic polemicizing” (Hayes 27).
In spite of a great number of outstanding works, Translation is by far the best known. It depicts a Catholic rural area with a Gaelic speaking population. Thus, it raises the theme of the vanishing Gaelic community and decay of their language. Furthermore, it raises the problem of nationalism, famine, immigration to England or the United States, and the unwelcome burden of the colonial rule. Nevertheless, the language is the central theme of the play. It centers all the other essential problems of everyday routine.
First, it is set in a small community in 1833. It is the time of the English colonization of Ireland. Particularly, it is “one of the years when the British Imperial army has come to conduct the Ordnance Survey in Ireland, an endeavor primarily concerned with mapping the colony” (McCabe 4). Its inhabitants spend their entire life having no experience of the world outside the village. At the same time, the problem of translation from Irish to English is faced while referring the geographical names during the compilation of the map.
Although the characters speak both languages, the latter is a major mean of communication between actors. It allows spectators to understand the dialogs as if the translator provided the translation. Nevertheless, misunderstandings between the characters occur. They cannot comprehend each other because of the differences between languages and the deficiency of compromise between the Irish and English. They refuse to learn each other’s language. Thus, it creates an even greater barrier and conflict between them.
The playwrights raise this theme as the language represents sovereignty, national independence, and identity. Friel focuses on the political awareness of his people. Additionally, he accentuates that history should be written and events should be documented in the language of the particular country. In spite of the colonizer’s endeavors to substitute it, Friel regards the language as a significant pillar of the history of the country. Thus, by erasing it the nation loses one of its cultural aspects.
Comparing the plays of the outstanding dramatists, both of them focus on elements of national identity and the representation of people as a whole. A rural environment is a place, where social order is depicted the most vividly, so they convey exactly such a community. However, different events are described. Synge refers to provincial inhabitants who lead a life of routine. They wake up, work the whole day, and end up in the tavern or drinking at home. Meanwhile, Friel depicts rural life interfered with by native urban citizens and Englishman.
Both playwrights depict archetypes of characters in the plays. For instance, Marie in Translation and Pegeen in The Playboy of the Western World are strong–willed female figures. The male characters are also endowed with certain Irish traits of character, both positive and negative. This fact intensifies the value of the plays as they present the peculiar features of the Irish to the world.
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Nevertheless, the dramas differ because they discuss distinct social aspects. Thus, The Playboy of the Western World shows the exiguity of the peasants’ existence and the lack of personal opinions on certain subject. Particularly, it is a reaction to Christy’s story about committing a murder. To the contrary, Translation expresses the people’s desire to claim their identity. However, a similar aspect is mentioned in Synge’s play too. Namely, Christy longs to reinforce his uniqueness via telling a story. He differs from other inhabitants by being the most popular person in his settlement. Meanwhile, the characters of Friel’s drama struggle for preservation of the meaning and beauty of geographical names in the process of translation from Irish into English.
Finally, the plays differ in the representation of language. Synge neglects it, while Freil attracts the spectators’ attention to its meaning in the development of the country. He highlights that it is an inevitable aspect of determining the identity. Undoubtedly, it preserves the people’s heritage and depicts their history. In fact, Yolland realizes that translation is a destruction of Irish language and culture.
Additionally, the plays differ in the representation of the role of religion. The issue is depicted in Synge’s work. The playwright creates a link between people’s beliefs and lifestyle. However, they mainly use it to profit neglecting its norms or claiming them distinctively. Additionally, misinterpretation of the situation, for instance, Christy’s storytelling, and some prejudice occur, as is typical to country communities.
To the contrary, Friel pays more attention to the political and economic situation in the country. He depicts the destruction of rural inhabitants’ property and famine that will obviously take place in the native land as a result of the English colonial policy. The playwright tells the audience that the Irish people experienced not only moral destruction but material as well.
In conclusion, both dramatists discuss the destiny of the Irish people. They claim that the struggle they lead is exhaustive and devastating. Such conditions in the country result in the decay of culture, language, and traditions. Both Friel and Synge use plays as a means of exposing the world to the problems of their country. In particular, the moral and material destruction as well as the lack of personal identity. Overall, the playwrights demonstrate their desire to change the situation in their homeland and return human rights and the importance of language to Ireland.